The following is derived from
A Heart in Camden for A Hundred Years
the 100th anniversary booklet of the Church of the Sacred Heart
published in 1985

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 Dennisville, and opened there as St. Elizabeth's of Goshen.

The third church was St. Mary's of Gloucester. It was built 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.