A priestly ministry that began 100 years ago

Bishop Bartholomew J. Eustace, Camden’s first bishop, led the diocese 1938-56. Right, the bishop before his ordination in 1914.
Bishop Bartholomew J. Eustace, Camden’s first bishop, led the diocese 1938-56. Right, the bishop before his ordination in 1914.


By Father James L. Bartoloma

All Saints’ Day this year is the anniversary of something that Catholics in the Diocese of Camden should be aware of and grateful for. It is the 100th anniversary of the priestly ordination of our first bishop, Bartholomew J. Eustace. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of New York on Nov. 1, 1914. The ceremony took place in Rome where he had completed his seminary training and theological studies.

Our first bishop, even as a young student and priest, was brilliant and greatly respected for his dedication to the church. After he completed a doctorate in sacred theology, at the age of 27, Father Eustace returned to his diocese to begin a priestly ministry which would affect a great many people, first in New York and then in Southern New Jersey where, in 1938, he was officially installed as a newly consecrated bishop for a newly established diocese. Bishop Eustace led the Diocese of Camden for 18 years until his death in 1956.

Before he was the bishop of Camden, Father Eustace was an assistant priest at Blessed Sacrament Church in New Rochelle, N.Y., for just one year before he was sent to teach seminarians at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, N.Y. When he began teaching, many of his students would have only been slightly younger than he was, but after ordination they would go on to be faithful priests and continue the saving mission of Jesus Christ in their priestly work.

Some of Father Eustace’s students even went on to become renowned leaders within the church, including a future archbishop of Los Angeles, James Cardinal McIntyre. When Bishop Eustace died in 1956, Cardinal McIntyre traveled by train from the west coast to be present in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here in Camden for the funeral ceremonies of his former seminary professor, brother bishop and friend.

Father Eustace was fluent in French and Italian and was also a gifted Latinist. He was a recognized liturgical scholar and in 1935 published a book, “Ritual for Small Churches,” which became a standard reference and ceremonial guide that churches used when planning Masses and ceremonies throughout the liturgical year.

In 1937, Father Eustace returned to the parish which was his first assignment, but this time as pastor. He served as pastor for just one year before he was appointed, consecrated, and then installed as the first bishop of Camden in 1938.

As the first bishop of our diocese, Bishop Eustace devoted himself to shepherding the people of the Church in Camden and working to build up many of the parishes, Catholic institutions, and programs which have helped the people of the diocese grow closer to the Lord for almost 77 years now.

Bishop Eustace ordained 85 men who went on to minister as priests within the diocese. One of the priests whom he ordained in 1949, Msgr. Eugene Kernan, remembers how close his family was to Bishop Eustace because his father was the bishop’s driver. When he and his brother were teenagers, Msgr. Kernan and his brother would sometimes be able to ride along as their father drove the first bishop of Camden to visit seminarians who were gathered together during the summer for their time off from studies.

Another priest, Father Alfred Hewett, who was in the last class of priests that Bishop Eustace ordained in 1956, recalls that Bishop Eustace was kind and intelligent, always thoughtful of people and dedicated to the diocese. Father Hewett remembers how Bishop Eustace was determined to build up Catholic health care in the diocese through the construction of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden, and also how in the Marian Year, 1954, the first bishop of Camden presided over a great pilgrimage and procession in honor of the Blessed Mother which took place in Atlantic City.

The Diocese of Camden is very different from how it was during the lifetime of our first bishop. The mission of the church is always the same, though, and the important ministry of dedicated priests is as important and needed as ever. Just as our first bishop said “Yes” to the Lord 100 years ago and his life was changed forever as he was ordained a priest, God still needs men and women to say “Yes” to what he calls them to do. There is as great a need as ever, here and now, for young men to give themselves to God and serve as priests within the Diocese of Camden.

Father Michael Romano, the director of Vocations for the Diocese of Camden, said that “the celebration of Bishop Eustace’s 100th anniversary of ordination coincides with National Vocation Awareness Week, so it is a providential time for us to pray for and encourage young men to follow in the footsteps of Bishop Eustace to serve the Lord as diocesan priests.”

Any young man who feels that it might be God’s will that he become a priest should contact Father Romano at michael.romano@camdendiocese.org or call the Office of Vocations at 856-583-2864.

Anyone who would like to know more about how priests are trained to minister within the diocese or what a person can do to promote vocations to the diocesan priesthood is also welcome to contact him.

But Father Romano, as the diocesan Vocations director, cannot do his work alone. He needs the support of a great many people within the diocese who will help Catholic men say “Yes” to God’s call and serve the Lord and his people in the same sacramental priesthood that Bishop Bartholomew J. Eustace was ordained to 100 years ago.

This November, during the special month when we remember and pray for our loved ones who have died, we should also pray for Bishop Eustace and reflect on how God had arranged his life. We should remember and be grateful for the ministry of the first bishop of the Diocese of Camden. God can do great things when we say “Yes” to his will for us. We should do all that we can for many more priests within the Diocese of Camden who will serve God and minister faithfully and lovingly to his people.

Father James L. Bartoloma is the Chancellor of the Diocese of Camden.