Diocese History


At a time when the force of anti-Catholicism limited freedom of worship, clusters of Catholics began to rise across the six counties, and the first recorded Baptism and Mass was October 5, 1743.  The place was a glass factory in Salem County and the celebrant was the apostle of South Jersey, Father Theodore Schneider, S. J. from St. Joseph’s, Philadelphia, a university professor and rector.  Father Ferdinand Farmer succeeded him in 1759 and made his last circuit in exhaustion in 1785.

In 1808 South Jersey became part of the Diocese of Philadelphia under Bishop Francis Kenrick.  The first church in the present-day Diocese of Camden was dedicated at Pleasant Mills on the Mullica River in Atlantic County by Bishop Kenrick in 1830.  Only the cemetery remains as an historic site.  The church built in 1845 at Port Elizabeth in Cumberland County, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, was the site of the earliest confirmations, all at the hands of Bishop Kenrick.  In May of 1879, most of the church was transported down river and creek to Goshen.

In the mid-1800’s Jesuits, Redemptorists, Augustinians and diocesan clergy from Philadelphia traveled across the South Jersey missions on horseback or afoot, crossing streams and rivers, through forests in intolerable heat, with their sack strapped across their backs containing what was needed for Mass and the Sacraments.  Finally, Father Edmund Waldron, the first priest assigned to work primarily in South Jersey, arrived in Gloucester City in 1848 in spite of warning that he might be stoned there. The first Church of St. Mary in Gloucester was blessed by Bishop Kenrick in 1849; it was replaced by the present church in 1889.  St. Mary is not only the oldest parish in the Diocese of Camden but has the oldest school, built in 1859.

After Bishop (now Saint) John Neumann requested that his Diocese of Philadelphia be made smaller, the Diocese of Newark was established in 1853 headed by Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley.  Camden was now part of Newark and in these days Salem, Gloucester and Millville were centers of Catholic worship along with Immaculate Conception in Camden.  In 1855, Father James Moran, the first priest ordained in New Jersey, was sent as pastor of the new parish. The first church there was replaced in 1866 with what is now the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.