The eight decades of the Diocese of Camden

The eight decades of the Diocese of Camden

The papal bull establishing the Diocese of Camden was recently cleaned, restored, stretched and framed. The six counties of South Jersey became a new diocese under Pope Pius XI on Dec. 9, 1937.
Photo by John Kalitz

Ministry to Hispanics. Education. Religious freedom. Vocations.

All of these are topics of concern for today’s Catholic Church — as they all have been throughout the 270-plus year history of the Church in South Jersey and, now, the 80 years of the Diocese of Camden. During the first decades of the 20th century, the Catholic population in the six southern counties continued to grow, and on Dec. 9, 1937 Pope Pius XI decreed the beginning of the Diocese of Camden.

Bishop Bartholomew J. Eustace (1938-56)

From New York, 50 years old, the first Bishop of Camden arrived in Camden on May 3, 1938, greeted by thousands lining the streets of Haddon Avenue to take charge of his new cathedral, the Immaculate Conception.

With his installation the next day, May 4, Bishop Eustace dedicated the new diocese to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “to take under her care and protection from this moment henceforth the infant Church of Camden.”

During his tenure, Camden’s Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital opened. In the almost 20 years he served here, Bishop Eustace was responsible for the founding of 31 parishes; the opening of 25 missions (16 would later become parishes); the establishment of 22 new elementary and three new secondary schools, and the expansion of 14 elementary and six secondary schools.

Bishop Justin J. McCarthy (1957-59)

Although only here for a short time, having been installed on March 19, 1957 and dying from a heart attack on the day after Christmas, 1959, Bishop McCarthy’s impact has been felt, especially in the area of Catholic education.The establishment of new schools and expansions increased enrollment by upward of 5,000 in the diocese’s elementary schools, and by 1,000 at high schools. As well, Bishop McCarthy began requiring intensive training for religious education teachers to best be equipped to teach the faith to public school students. At the time of his death, some 20,000 youth were enrolled in Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, representing an increase of almost 100 percent from when he began his work in South Jersey.

His ministry was also characterized by his outreach to the some 20,000 Hispanic immigrants in the area, mostly from Puerto Rico, who worked on the farms.

Archbishop Celestine J. Damiano (1960-68)

Like his predecessor, Archbishop Damiano was dedicated to Catholic education. Camden Catholic High School, whose Camden location was destroyed by fire, found new life on Cuthbert Boulevard in Cherry Hill, and four new secondary schools opened. A diocesan Board of Education was also created in 1965.

Archbishop Damiano opened a pre-natal clinic for expectant mothers in Camden, and in 1962, a Spanish Catholic Center began operations in Vineland. The House of Charity-Bishop’s Annual Appeal, the main fundraising arm of the diocese for human services, was created under his leadership.

Bishop George Guilfoyle (1968-89)

The fourth Bishop of Camden, by the end of his first year, gave instructions for each pastor to create a parish council; the following year, Bishop Guilfoyle had established a diocesan Pastoral Council.

His time in Camden was marked by a period of transition in the liturgy, as directed by the Second Vatican Council.

On Oct. 24, 1970, he led the diocesan pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., a tradition that continues to this day. Six years later, the diocesan Marian Commission was formed.

In 1976, he presided over the first diocesan ordination to the permanent diaconate. Realizing the need to help financially-strapped families provide their children with a Catholic education, in 1980 Bishop Guilfoyle began the Tuition Assistance Fund.

Auxiliary Bishop James L. Schad (1966-93)

The first and only Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Camden, James L. Schad was the first pastor of the new Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Westville Grove in 1958. Eight years later, he became bishop. He remained in Westville Grove for one more year and also become vicar general, and director of Catholic Charities and the House of Charity.

From the 1970s until 1990 he was moderator of the diocesan Charismatic Renewal Movement, and during this time also served as pastor of Saint Rose of Lima, Haddon Heights (1967-79); Maris Stella, Avalon (1979-85); and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Camden (1985-2002).

Bishop James T. McHugh (1989-99)

Called the “father of the pro-life movement in America,” Bishop McHugh’s 10-year ministry in Camden was represented by his passionate defense of the faith, and his belief in the sanctity of all human life.

From Sept. 11-13, 1992 at Cherry Hill’s Camden Catholic High School, a synod event took place, the culmination of a year-long process undertaken by thousands of Catholics from all over South Jersey.

During his time in Camden, the diocesan offices were moved from Haddon Avenue to its current location on Camden’s Market and Broadway streets, across from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

On Dec. 7, 1998, Bishop McHugh was appointed coadjutor of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio (1999-2003)

As chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Migration, Bishop DiMarzio was an outspoken champion for immigrants and refugees.

Under his guidance, Egg Harbor Township’s Saint Katharine Drexel Parish began. Bishop DiMarzio created a Catholic School Scholarship Fund for low-income students, and oversaw the dedication of the new Bishop McHugh Regional School in Dennis Township, and Guardian Angels Regional School in Gibbstown.

On Aug. 1, 2003 he was named Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Bishop Joseph A. Galante (2003-13)

Philadelphia native Joseph Galante returned East to become the diocese’s seventh bishop.

To ensure compliance with the U.S. Bishop’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, he started the diocese’s first Office of Safe Environment for Children, Youth and Adults (since renamed the Office of Child and Youth Protection),

After Hurricane Katrina ravaged residents and their homes in Louisiana and Mississippi, he charged the Diocese of Camden’s Catholic Charities to initialize “Project One,” and send volunteers to these areas.

Sensing the need to strengthen the diocese’s institutions, he led reorganizations of parishes and schools across the six counties.

He retired in 2013, due to illness. This Sunday, he will celebrate his 25 years as a Bishop of the Catholic Church.

Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan (2013-present)

With the previous two of three bishops of Camden relocating to New York, South Jersey got one back in 2013, as Bishop Sullivan, previously vicar general for the Archdiocese of New York, moved down to Camden.

His time in the diocese has been marked by a noted increase in vocations, with 19 men currently in formation for the priesthood.

Under Bishop Sullivan’s leadership, the VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services was established to assist the elderly and persons with disabilities, and their families, and address their health and well-being, consistent with the Gospel message.

Compiled by Peter G. Sánchez.

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