Early History of the Catholic Church in South Jersey
When Jesuits from Maryland Province took over Holy Name Catholic Church in North Camden in 1983 they were retracing in a small way the steps of heroic Jesuits who first consecrated bread and wine on kitchen tables in South Jersey 200 years ago. Great priests like Fr. Theodore Schneider from Baltimore, Maryland who celebrated Mass in the house of Maurice Lorentz and baptized John Martin Alter near a glassworks factory in Salem County in October, 1743. It is the first recorded baptism in the Catholic Church of South Jersey and it initiated a Catholic ministry that now includes 127 parishes from Camden to Cape May. Sacred Heart in Camden is one of them, and as we focus on our beginnings in this special centennial time, we feel the need to peer into a more distant past and trace gratefully, even though inadequately, the strong seeds of the faith that first fell on the soil of South Jersey.
Interestingly enough Salem County, like North Camden, was initially Quaker country, with prominent Quakers John Fenwick, famous in the former, and William Cooper famous in the latter. It was to Fenwick’s friendly territory that Casper Wister brought four Catholic families from Belgium to blow glass in 1739. Others joined them from Ireland and Germany, and this group of glassworkers at Wisterburg near Allowaystown was the first Catholic congregation in South Jersey. Their priest was Fr. Schneider, who was an assistant at St. Joseph’s in Willings Alley, the first Catholic church in Philadelphia, built there by the pastor Fr. Joseph Greaton SJ in 1741. Philadelphia, like Camden and all New Jersey, was then in the Diocese of Baltimore. Its Bishop, John Carroll, was deeply connected with the American Revolution. In George Washington’s words: “Of all men whose influence was most potent in securing the success of the revolution, Bishop Carroll of Baltimore was the man.”
Fr. Schneider labored in South Jersey until he died in 1759, and in that year Fr. Ferdinand Steinmeyer, a Jesuit born in Swabia, Germany in 1720, and who later became known in South Jersey as “Father Farmer,” began to labor up and down the state from New York City to Salem County. His 28 years of persistent and perilous ministry are unmatched in the history of the Catholic Church in this state or maybe in any other. In fact, he even formed the first Catholic congregation in the City of New York which had no resident priests before 1785.
Father Farmer died in 1786 and Fr. Lawrence Grassel from Bavaria, born there in 1753, came to Philadelphia in 1787 to take his place in the South Jersey mission. Six years later, he was dead, stricken by the plague of yellow fever that hit Philadelphia in 1793. He had been selected as an auxiliary Bishop to the now Archbishop Carroll, but he was dead two months before the Papal confirmation arrived by mail. Bishop Carroll continued to send priests to Philadelphia and South Jersey. Fr. Michael Ennis and Fr. Joseph La Grouge came in 1793, but both died of the yellow fever in 1797. At that time, Fr. Leonard Neal was in charge of the South Jersey mission and later he succeeded Archbishop Carroll in the See of Baltimore. He was the last of that first Jesuit ministry to South Jersey. The hardships endured by these missionary priests as they traveled in disguise, in fear of penalty, through the “mosquitoed” swamplands and forests of South Jersey, are known only to the God who gathers up the goodness of great human lives.
In 1796 the Augustinian Fathers bought the site of a church at 4th and Vine Streets in Philadelphia. Contributions were made by Catholics and Protestants alike, and even by George Washington himself. So the care of South Jersey Catholics passed into the hands of the Augustinians as the world passed into the 19th century.
On April 8th, 1808, Pius VII divided the See of Baltimore, and the new Dioceses of Philadelphia New York, Boston, and Bardstown were formed. For the next 45 years, Camden and all of “West Jersey” – that is everything south of a line drawn from Hightop to Egg Harbor – were in the Diocese of Philadelphia, and ruled successively by Bishops Egan, Carroll, Kenrick and the saintly Neuman. But almost twenty years passed before the First Catholic church in South Jersey was erected – St. Mary of the Assumption, built in 1826 at a shingle factory in Pleasant Mills, Atlantic County. This church, one of only four built in 45 years, was used as long as workers remained in that area, then abandoned in 1860. Discovered. in 1865 by Fr. Patrick Byrne of Camden, it never recovered its early usage and was finally destroyed by fire in 1899.
The second church was St. Elizabeth, built in 1842 at a window-light glass factory in Port Elizabeth in Cumberland County. It also lasted as long as workers remained, closed down in 1879 and was floated on a raft (!) down the creek to Denisville, and opened there as St. Elizabeth’s of Goshen. ~ The third church was St.. Mary’s of. Gloucester. It was buil in 1848 and Fr. Edward Quincy Cheafe Waldrun was sent by BIshop Patrick Kenrick of PhIladelphIa to mInister there. Gloucester, — one of the first places in New Jersey to be inhabited by Europeans, had been visited by Fr. Farmer in 1778.
The fourth church in South Jersey was built in Salem. Salem County, since 1743 the first center of Catholicism in South Jersey, hosted an influx of famine-sent Irish people in 1847. Fr. Patrick O’Hara, pastor of St. Patrick’s in Philadelphia and later Bishop of Scranton, came to Salem periodically to minister to the people. He began a fund-raising drive that did not accumulate much initially, but succeeded when John McDermott was appointed pastor there in 1851. A church, originally called St. Philip and St. James, was built in 1852.
Then in 1853 Bishop Neuman handed over the jurisdiction for South Jersey to the new Diocese of Newark and its Bishop, James Roosevelt Bayley. Bishop Bayley was part of the family tree of President Roosevelt, as well as a nephew of Mother Seton, in whose honor he subsequently,::: erected Seton Hall College in New Jersey. So Camden and South Jersey passed into the Diocese of Newark for the next 28 years.. While many towns were served from these first four churches of South Jersey (for example, Fr. Waldron said Mass in Camden in 1848 and also in Cape May, Bridgeton and Woodstown), it was in the 1850’s and 1860’s that small churches sprang up all over South Jersey: St. Nicholas in Atlantic City in 1858, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Camden in 1859, St. Patrick in Woodbury in 1859, St. James in Lawnside in 1859, St. Mary Magdeline in Millville in 1861, St. Joseph in Swedesboro in 1861, St. Nicholas in Egg Harbor in 1866, and St. Peter and Paul in Camden in 1867.
Of all these towns, Camden grew most rapidly and its first church, St. Mary’s, built by the pastor James Moran, soon proved to be too small. In 1864 the second pastor, Patrick Byrne, started a new church of the Immaculate Conception at Broadway and Market. It was this pastor who established a mission of his parish in South Camden when he bought a plot of land at Eighth and Van Hook Streets. There, in 1872, a little wooden building was erected. The Bishop of Newark sent down Dean William McNulty of Paterson to bless it. The people gathered, the Mass was offered, the sanctuary lamp was lit, and the Church of The Sacred Heart came to life in Camden.
When the first rays of the rising sun reach a certain point on this planet called Camden, New Jersey, they illuminate the stained glass of a sanctuary window and the words “William H. Lynch” inscribed in it.
Those words are the first and most honorable signature to the parish of Sacred Heart because they form the name of the young priest who founded it in 1885, built its holy church in 1886 and broke his health trying to pay for it. In that same glance of the morning sun, the light also brightens up his chiseled name on a stately stone in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. He died on August 27, 1921.
He himself saw the first light of day in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on August 5, 1859. Two days later his parents John and Honora had him baptized in St. Peter’s Church by Fr. John Rodgers, formerly of Fermanagh. Educated at St. Charles College in Elliott, Maryland, and at Seton Hal1, he was ordained in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Newark on June 7, 1884, by Bishop Winand Michael Wigger. His first assignment, for only three months, was at Holy Cross, Sea Bright, and then he came to Gloucester. Somehow that association of the Holy Cross and the bright sea hints at the difficulties that oftened shadowed the bright light of his life.
Some years before he arrived at St. Mary’s, Gloucester, three nuns had died there because of the dampness of the old building they lived in. The saintly pastor, Fr. Engelbert Kars, gave the rectory to the nuns and he and Fr. Lynch dwelt in the dampness themselves.
In September 1885, Fr. Lynch was appointed pastor of Sacred Heart parish in South Camden, but it did not have a rectory at all until 1887. The young priest lived at 1911 Broadway, and said Mass in a little wooden church at Ninth and Van Hook Streets. On November 13, 1885 he bought a site for a church from John Bamford at Broadway and Ferry, a pivotal spot, it seemed at the time, where tram lines for his scattered parishioners converged from several directions. With his trustees, Hugh Greenan and Richard Boyle, and his small congregation he decided to build the church of Sacred Heart.
Jeremiah O’Rourke, an architect from Newark, drew the plans and the ground was broken on May 20, 1886. Philip McDonald, a native of Cavan, Ireland, with his six half brothers, the Beattys of Philadelphia and his cousin Alexander Monroe from Inverness in Scotland began to lay the Trenton brownstone at Broadway and Ferry. On July 4, 1886, Bishop Michael Joseph O’Farrell of Trenton laid the cornerstone in the presence of 7,000 people. Work moved rapidly. Mayberry Hardin of Camden did the woodwork and nine months after the shovel was sunk in the sand to start it, the church opened for the first Mass on March 6, 1887.
But the rapidity with which it was completed contrasted desperately with the long, dogged effort to pay for it. The mortgage of the new church, rectory and furnishings was $35,000.00 but the Sunday collection was only $2.50. Economically, the area of South Camden did not develop and the poverty clung. The weight of the impossible debt hung heavily on the young priest and damaged his health.
Less than two years after the new church opened with bright enthusiasm and hope, Fr. Lynch left his church and his people behind and was transferred to St. Joseph’s in Keyport. There in a place bigoted against Catholics he filled a vacancy brought about by a misunderstanding between the Bishop and the former pastor. Eight months later he was on the road again, to St. John’s in Allentown, where he ministered for six years.
On May 14, 1895, he linked up again with Fr. John Fox, to whom he was an assistant in his first assignment in Sea Bright, and “labored assiduously” (History of the Diocese of Trenton) in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Trenton until 1898. He finished out the century as pastor of St. Mary’s in Salem, near where the first Catholics had gathered in South Jersey 150 years before.
Then at last there was a long uninterrupted time for pleasant walks by the Delaware River and 19 years of rich, wholesome ministry in the lovely town of Lambertville. There, to this day, Mary Hartman remembers the kind pastor of St. John’s who baptized her on October 7, 1900, five days after he arrived. He was there when she was old enough to know him. “He came into the school every day” she says “and he used to go for long walks with his heavy cane – not that he needed it – he would just walk along and swing it.” She remembers his kindness when her mother died in 1913.
Yet debt dogged his footsteps there too – $32,000.00 when he came. World War I began in 1914 and desperate unemployment resulted from it and a deadly influenza followed it. But he was there, stopping by at every house, stronger now, swinging the heavy cane and not needing to lean on it.
Mary Hartman was also present when he left St. John’s in 1919 and nearly all of Lambertville lined up to say good-bye to him. It was indeed Good-bye. Fr. Lynch did not live long in Deal where they sent him. One year later, he had a serious operation from which he only partially recovered. On August 27, 1921, he died, in his 62nd year.
The old pewter mug that Mary Hartman treasures is much older now than he was then, dented from falls, but still beautiful like herself. It is the prize that Fr. lynch gave her when she won his baby contest in 1901.
May his prize be better. And may the light always shine bround his name, brightly and clearly, like his stained glass window in the morning. Thanks, good priest, for “the house that you shaped in your heart.”
The Irish Connections at Sacred Heart
When Kathleen O’Toole and Kathleen Mauger, parishioners of Sacred Heart, poured Easter water from their century-old church in Camden, New Jersey, on a big flat rock in Downpatrick County Down on July 18, 1985, they were celebrating a continuous connection between their beloved brownstone building in Camden and the precious dust of a saint in Ireland – St. Patrick himself! Not just a connection between rocks and buildings or bodies and bones and blood, but the unbreakable bond of an enduring Irish spirit. They were celebrating the centennial of their church by concentrating on that connection. When they lit the candle they had carried from Camden, their tiny flame was a spark that had held since Patrick’s fire on Slane. Held out in high and icy wind since the Fifth Century, when he lit new flames on Easter Eve before the angry Druids lit old ones in Tara, County Meath.
Whether he admitted it or not, Patrick built his fire on the coals that Druid hands had raked in the ancient ashes of Ireland. Since then, for 1,500 years, bright sparks have flown as shovels hit the stones and broke ground for countless Irish churches across the world.
It was the same spark that stirred the people and moved the stones when William Lynch, a young 26-year-old priest, put his shovel in the sands of South Camden on May 20, 1886, for the building of Sacred Heart. He had purchased the site at Broadway and Ferry in November of 1885, one month after the parish was incorporated on October 13th. Another Irish parish had started and the people who came to worship had names like Boyle and Doyle, Blake, Doran and O’Toole, Hughes, Larkin and Durkin, and, yet, it would be 90 years before the parish got its first Irish-born pastor, Michael Doyle, on November 11, 1974.
Exactly 119 years before, on November 11, 1855, Camden City got its first resident priest, Father James Moran of Roscommon, born there in 1824, related on his mother’s side to Daniel O’Connell, the Irish patriot. Fr. Moran broke ground for St. Mary’s Church on June 9, 1859. In 1863, he was succeeded by Fr. Patrick Byrne. It was this Irishman, born in Templeport, County Waterford, who established the second Catholic Church in the City of Camden, a little wooden building as a mission in his parish. The year was 1872 and Camden was in the Diocese of Newark, and this little church was the first in New Jersey to be called Sacred Heart. Following Fr. Byrne, it was serviced by Fr. Peter Fitzsimmons who was born near Virginia, County Cavan in 1840 and in his pastorate, Sacred Heart became a parish, and Fr. Lynch came up from Gloucester to run it. He hired Jeremiah O’Rourke, a well-known Newark architect to design it, Philip McDonald to build the walls, and Mayberry Hardin of Camden to do the roof, windows and woodwork.
Six weeks after breaking ground, the foundation stone was laid on Sunday, July 4, 1886 with a show of green pomp and power that “shouted from the housetops of Camden” that “the faith of our fathers was living still.” The winds had carried Patrick’s fire to Nova Caesarea (New Jersey) just as surely as when “Jesus came to Caesarea Phillipi,” another colony in another time.
The Irish came to Camden to build a railroad, the Camden and Amboy Line that linked Philadelphia to New York in 1834 and changed the city in a century from a few mudhole lanes of pigs and people into the most dynamic city of its size in the nation. The population, only 1,100 in 1828 when the city was incorporated, swelled to 75,000 by the end of the century. The “coffin ships” of Ireland’s desperate famine dumped some of their tired “huddled masses” in New York and many came down to the end of the line, Camden. In time, they got to their feet with pick or potstick, shovel or washboard and took their place in America.
They came together in little clusters of Catholicism to cling to their faith and start a church if they could. They were consistently poor and always powerless, held back, as they were, at the hurting edge of prevailing prejudice. Their church became a haven of respectability, social activity and spiritual support. In and around it, they learned urban survival, urban participation, and ultimately, urban power.
Irishmen in thousands had walked with Washington in the war with the British, giving limb and life in a desperate revolution. They had pranced with him on the Union Jack at Mass in Willings Alley in Philadelphia, when the war was won. Indeed, many of the stripes – by the stars in the new flag – are streams of generous Irish blood.
So, the Fourth of July 1886 was the day! The faith and the flag and the foundation stone of Sacred Heart! The Bishop of Trenton, Limerick-born Michael Joseph O’Farrell with the crozier, and Lynch of New Brunswick with the trowel, and 7,000 people looking on.
The Camden Daily Courier for July 3rd, 1886, headlined the next day’s event as, “A cornerstone laying that will attract attention.” It did. Three days later, the same paper describes the mighty event:
The cornerstone of the new church of the Sacred Heart, at Broadway and Ferry Avenue, was dedicated with impressive ceremonies, and no such – demonstration of a religious character had ever been seen in this city.
The newspaper added that the church would cost about $16,000 and would most likely be ready for dedication by Christmas, 1886. It was not ready by Christmas, but it was completed shortly afterwards in what was an extraordinary achievement because from the “breaking of the ground” on May 20, 1886, to the breaking of the bread at the dedication Mass on March 6, 1887, was a period of only nine months. However, the reported estimate of $16,000 turned out to be inaccurate because the actual cost of the church and rectory was more than $35,000. An awesome amount when one considers the total Sunday collection of Fr. Lynch’s small congregation was $2.50. Two years after the establishment of this beachhead of Irish Catholicism, Fr. Lynch, broken by the burden of heavy debt, had to be removed from Sacred Heart. The task of carrying on the effort fell on the yong priest, Maurice Bric, who became pastor of Sacred Heart for 25 years. For 13 of those years, he went on to the highways and byways, five days a week, collecting pennies and nickels from his poor, scattered parishioners to pay the mortgage on Sacred Heart Church.
In 1900, New York Shipyard opened in the shadow of the church and the population increased and the parish prospered. The third pastor, Fr. John McCloskey, burned the mortgage in 1915. He built . the school, visited Ireland and gave a parish donation of $1,500 to the Patrick H. Pearse branch of the American Commission for the Relief of Ireland, in 1921. In his words, the donation was “proof of our enthusiasm and willingness to aid our ancestors in the Emerald Isle in their hour of distress.” Times have changed in the Sacred Heart section of Camden. The Irish have long since left the flat roof factory homes of South Camden. But over the years the connection with Ireland has not been severed and Irish priests like James Gaffney, Michael Coyne, Donal Sheehan, and sisters such as Patricia Margaret Foley of Kerry, Agnes Holmes of Mayo, and Marie McGloin of Leitrim have done good work in this parish of Sacred Heart. Present parishioners like Linda Delengowski and Dan Dougherty have worked with Paddy Doherty of Derry and his Youth Project in that special city. Good workers in Sacred Heart today are Paddy Mulligan and Rose Knebles, both of Ireland.
Sacred Heart in 1985 is made up of a coalition of neighborhood people and those who come from near and far to this old church on the comer of Broadway and Ferry. Because injustice is high in the consciousness of those who come, they are often called to pray and work for the people of South Africa, Central America, the North of Ireland and the South of Camden.
The old walls of Sacred Heart have been enhanced by the music of Mick Maloney and Eugene O’Donnel and by the splendid Gaelic singing of Barbara Dever. They have throbbed to the piano playing of James McCafferty of Derry and the golden voice of his daughter, Una. They have braced themselves for the brilliance of a Daniel Berrigan and the eloquence of a John MacNamee, and the charming courage of a Paddy Doherty. But most recently, when Kathleen O’Toole and Kathleen Mauger returned to Sacred Heart with the stump of a Camden candle they had lit on St. Patrick’s grave in Downpatrick, the circle of the Irish connection was wonderfully renewed.
It will undoubtably endure like the Celtic crosses of Clonmacnoise, the brave spirit of Camden’s poor and the bright flame of Patrick’s Easter fire on Slane.
On The Early History of Sacred Heart Parish.
Since I have been a parishioner for eighty-five years I thought it would be appropriate to review some historic events that occurred before and after 1886, which I think would be useful and interesting information to the present and future members of the Parish:
The history of the Parish began when a small frame Chapel was built and located at 9th and Van Hook Streets for several years before the present Church was built and services were held there on Sundays only, under the direction of the late Rev. Dean Fitzsimmons, pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception until a pastor was appointed by the Most Rev. Bishop of the Diocese who appointed the late Rev. William Lynch as the. first Pastor of the Parish who started a campaign to raise funds to build the present church.
This review of the Parish would not be complete unless the names of the pioneers who founded the Parish were remembered and also the names of the early members who joined the pioneers in a united congregation after the church was built at Broadway and Ferry Avenue. I have compiled two lists of the Original members of the Parish, one lists the names of families who attended services at the Chapel at Ninth and Van Hook, the other lists the families who attended services at the Church at Broadway and Ferry Avenue after 1886. They all took an active interest in the welfare of the Parish and their generous efforts should be remembered. . . .”
|Hugh Greenan||Daniel Kelly||Bernard McCormick||John Higgins|
|William Greenan||John Kelly||Hugh Morgan||Hugh Weizst|
|Margaret Connolly||Patrick Quigley||Harry Tobin||Humphrey Toomey|
|William O’Rourke||Timothy Collins||William Chamberlain||Patrick Whalen|
|Michael Hendricks||Thomas Fogarty||James McManus||Mrs. Charles Lind|
|Charles Kelly||Michael Clark||Steve McKenna||Margaret Carr|
|Mrs. Louisa Brough||John King||John McKenna||Michael Reilly|