There beneath the blue Camden skies

There beneath the blue Camden skies

Church and community leaders cheer as a street sign that reads Michael Doyle Lane is unveiled in front of Sacred Heart Church, Camden. Jasper Street was renamed for the longtime pastor on Feb. 6.
Photo by James A. McBride

Michael Doyle Lane named for longtime Sacred Heart pastor

CAMDEN — As the church bells sung and the sun shone on the brisk February morning here on Monday, Feb. 6, the black plastic around the signpost was unfurled, revealing recognition for a “prophet,” “visionary,” “fighter” and “angel” for this city for more than four decades.

Msgr. Michael Doyle was honored with the renaming of Jasper Street, from Broadway to 4th Street, to “Michael Doyle Lane,” just outside Sacred Heart Church and elementary school, where he has been its shepherd since 1974.

At a ceremony in the church before the unveiling, Bishop Dennis Sullivan called Msgr. Doyle a “representative of the best of what a priest is all about,” and referenced Pope Francis’ call for priests to be shepherds with “the smell of the sheep.”

“He’s had the smell of the sheep from the day he was ordained,” Bishop Sullivan said of the beloved Camden icon.

“It is a great smell; it is a smell of many races and many languages, of many different people. To have this here forever, in this City Invincible, this naming of the street in your honor, to recognize here how you have pastored all sorts of sheep,” and helped them recognize that God is present.

A peace activist, poet and social justice warrior, Msgr. Doyle was a member of the Camden 28, a group of anti-Vietnam War activists who in 1971 executed a raid on a Camden draft board. Their acquittal in a high profile jury trial was seen as a victory for the anti-war movement.

The priest’s enthusiasm and charisma made him the subject of a “60 Minutes” segment in the 1980s. And he has managed to bring to his church the likes of Mother Teresa and actor Martin Sheen.

But arguably, his greatest success has been with his parishioners and the resident poor of this South Camden neighborhood.

Msgr. Doyle, now 82 and suffering from jaw cancer, was present at the ceremony, but did not speak.

“When I think about Father Doyle and Sacred Heart, I think of a father who loves his (school) children, and provides for their needs,” began Dana Redd, Mayor of Camden and alumna of Sacred Heart, just one of the many local and state individuals who lauded Msgr. Doyle in the parish church, before the church and school community.

“I think of a great man who answered the call to serve, and who has always believed in Camden, and seen its possibilities. He’s more than deserving” of this honor, she continued.

Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash confessed that he doesn’t consider himself a religious person, but he does “believe in angels who have made a difference for those who live in the city. Michael Doyle is one of those angels.”

Down the street from Sacred Heart Church, on Broadway, lies the school gym, the Doyle Fieldhouse, so named a few years back. Permanent fixtures for a rock of the city.

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