Polish hymns and polka tunes will resound when Saint Joseph’s Church in South Camden celebrates its 125th anniversary, Sunday, Oct. 22.
Bishop Dennis Sullivan will welcome the congregation to the 10 a.m. Mass of thanksgiving in the church at 10th and Mechanic streets.
Father Krzysztof Wtorek, recent administrator of Saint Joseph’s, will be the principal celebrant of the bilingual Polish-English Mass. Father John J. Fisher, OSFS, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, will concelebrate. The anniversary luncheon follows at noon at the Tavistock Country Club, Haddonfield.
The event will display pride in a parish founded in 1892. Ethnically-costumed members of the Polish Intercollegiate Club will greet those arriving for Mass and later escort the bearers of Offertory gifts. Fifteen musicians from the Polish-American String Band, in Mummers costumes, will perform at the luncheon.
The church’s treasure, a first-class relic of Saint John Paul II, will be placed prominently in the sanctuary during the Mass. The relic, a drop of blood on white cloth, is housed in a brass-framed glass case.
The “rite of introduction” of the relic took place at the parish’s 120th anniversary Mass in 2012, a year after the Polish Pope’s beatification. He was canonized in 2014. The relic was brought from Poland by Father Pawel W. Kryszkiewicz, former pastor, who was granted it for enshrinement in Saint Joseph’s, the only ethnic Polish church in the Diocese of Camden.
Worshippers’ eyes also will be drawn to the line of about 90 illuminated relics atop the marble altar rail. The collection was moved from the rectory last year and installed in low glass cases that follow the curves of the railing.
Eye-catching too are the stained-glass windows, the most dramatic depicting the martyrdom of Saint Adalbert — in bishop’s miter and vestments — under attack by spear-wielding Prussians. Another window, showing the serenity of the Annunciation, was donated by Father Stephen Wierzynski, pastor when the building was dedicated in 1914.
The gray-granite church is the fourth site of Masses since Saint Joseph’s was incorporated in the Diocese of Trenton, nearly a half-century before the Camden Diocese came into existence.
The first Mass was celebrated in a founding family’s home on Kaighn Avenue; later ones, in a rented building on Broadway near Kaighn. By 1895, the parish had a brownstone church/school building on the corner of 10th and Liberty streets. It is still in use for meetings, social events, history displays and weekday Masses in its chapel.
The current church — recognized for its European-style architecture — is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the New Jersey Register of Historic Places.
The parish grew into a complex of rectory, convent and grammar school. It expanded further — to include Saint Joseph’s Cemetery, Saint Joseph’s High School and the Annex Chapel — during the pastorate of Msgr. Arthur B. Strenski. He served as pastor from 1934-66 and as pastor emeritus until his death in 1980, just months before reaching his 100th birthday.
The school has since closed, the Felician Sisters moved away and, as of July 31, Saint Joseph’s Parish was merged into Camden’s Cathedral Parish. The church remains open, standing tall and proud above its rowhouse neighborhood. This year is dedicated to the founding of the Saint Joseph Polish Catholic Apostolate whose mission is “to celebrate and share our Polish Catholic heritage in the Diocese of Camden.”