Bartholomew J. Eustace
First Bishop Installed May 4, 1938.
On December 15, it was announced that the first bishop of Camden would be Father Bartholomew J. Eustace of New York, then fifty years old. On May 3, 1938, five thousand people lined the streets leading from the railway station at Haddonfield as the new bishop made his way in a motorcade down Haddon Avenue to the rectory of his new cathedral, Immaculate Conception Church, in Camden.
The past history of Catholicism in South Jersey strongly inspired Bishop’s Eustace’s homily at his installation May 4 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. He dedicated the new diocese to the Blessed Virgin Mary “to take under her care and protection from this moment henceforth the infant Church of Camden.”
In the homily, Bishop Eustace committed his whole self to Camden when he said: “By the cross I bear I vow to be a faithful leader, gentle father and true Bishop. Floreat Camdenum! (May Camden flourish).” He pointed to the many challenges that he and his people were to face and said, “In proportion as afterwards a building rise high, so the foundation must be deep, and all that Camden is ever to be is rightly founded in commencement on my heart.”
A Beginning—St. Mary Catholic Home
In human services, the establishment of St. Mary Catholic Home in 1941 by the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, with the zealous support of Bishop Eustace, would have major implications on the growth of social ministry in the diocese. At St. Mary’s, the Sisters tilled the land and raised the animals so that the elderly and sick residents could receive good care.
A major undertaking was the erection of Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, still the only Catholic hospital in the Diocese. Archbishop Walsh blessed the hospital on May 28, 1950. The inscription over the entrance to the hospital reads: “The body is often curable—the soul is ever so.”
Kingdom of God Primary Priority
In his first pastoral letter, Bishop Eustace joined the history of the past with the goals of the future when he wrote: “Intent as we are on one thing—the spreading, namely, of the Kingdom of God on earth, we confidently turn to you to ask your help…We must now ourselves begin to make such contribution as we can in order to assure that a glorious past may be crowned by a yet more brilliant future.”
Participation of Laity Widens
Bishop Eustace established structures for the participation of laity in the public forum, which indeed made him a forerunner of the Second Vatican Council. His great support of the Holy Name Society in the parishes resulted in a series of pre-war and post-war rallies with thousands present at each one. Bishop Eustace’s basic purpose was for the laity to demonstrate the strength of the Church and the character and faith of his people.
In the early 1940’s and during World War II, with the expansion of industry in the area, the population experienced a rapid growth with the development of great numbers of new housing communities. The growth continued throughout Bishop Eustace’s time, and indeed, the transformation of South Jersey during and after World War II seems almost incredible. Census figures and economic statistics demonstrate the changes from a poor, depressed industrial and agricultural area to a populous suburban residential community, at least financially comfortable, and in many instances, well-to-do. Large numbers of families moved into South Jersey during this time from directly across the Delaware River.
The Bishop’s record reads that some 50 students from Ireland were recruited, either by himself or his Vicar General, Monsignor Augustine Mozier, and were eventually ordained priests for the Diocese. The policy of recruiting young men with residence outside the Diocese not only built up clergy personnel numerically, but it also resulted in the advantages of diversity of family, cultural and geographical backgrounds, adding to the strength and depth of priestly ministry in the Diocese.
Under Bishop Eustace’s direction, 31 new parishes were founded, 25 missions opened (16 of which later became parishes). Three new high schools were opened and six expanded; 22 elementary schools were opened and 14 existing ones expanded.