CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY
ST. GEORGE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
The Lithuanian Parish
2100 South 9th Street
South 9th Street & Chelton Avenue
following is derived from
books describe the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1005, as a disaster for
Russia which hastened a revolution that changed the face of the world.
But no book ever took note of the fact that the same war gave rise to an
extensive emigration of young Lithuanian men that changed the face of
South Camden. They came to avoid conscription. "They didn't want to
serve in the wars of the Czars," says Rose Pritchard of Chelton
Avenue, whose father Peter Balunas came in 1910. Many followed. They
found work in the yards of New York Ship because John Vasikonis, a
native of Lithuania, was a foreman there. Others found work at the old
Camden Forge. One of them, Anthony Matueswic, on his way to the forge,
saw that the Mt. Zion Baptist Church at Ninth and Chelton was for sale.
Previous owners of the property had been Howell M.E. Church and Howell
Congregational Church. It had been built in 1895 but sold at a sheriff's
sale to Samuel G. Smith in 1912. The Lithuanian community went to their
oldest member and told her that Smith would sell the building for $2,500
dollars. Rose Malunas said: "Buy it." It was purchased on
March 7, 1913.
near Morgan's old farm on Sweet Potato Hill, it opened in 1913 as St.
George's, with 200 Lithuanian and Ukrainian families. Father Bric of
Sacred Heart was temporary rector. In the beginning, Father Andrew
Szosztokowski came from Burlington by train each Sunday and said Mass.
Later, Father J. Kutas, from Lithuania, served but he had to return home
because of ill health. It was he who baptized Rose Balunas (Pritchard).
Then Father Peter Vanagas came and lived on Ninth Street. In 1919,
Father Joseph Halaburda arrived from Cleveland, Ohio, and lived at 928
Bulson Street where Josephine Lagocki lives today. She purchased her
house from Anna Srusra whose mother did housekeeping for Father
Halaburda. In 1925 he baptized 25 children including John Opacak,
presently a member of Sacred Heart.
Father Halaburda's departure in 1929, the parish was for a time in the
care of Our Lady of Mount
Carmel, Camden, until the arrival of Father
Benedict Werbeck who ministered for the next quarter of a century. He
had the rectory built in 1934. He had the basement dug out for a parish
hall. According to Tony Matueswic (nephew of the man who found the
church for sale), "He had novenas and confessions and saved
everything. He would send us to the dump at 8th and Bulson to find what
was left in paint cans to paint the window sills."
Tony Matueswic and Rose Pritchard remember the parish life: a Holy Name
Society of 40 men, St. George's Benevolent Society, double decker buses
bringing parishioners on picnics to Clementon, and Communion breakfasts
at Kenney's in Camden.
Father Tom Sharkey came in 1957 he had a new altar installed. According
to Rose, the old altar, as well as the pews and confessionals, (later
removed by the next pastor Father Vince Doyle) had been the original
furnishings of the first Sacred Heart at 9th and Van Hook
"The pews were certainly very old," says Josephine Lagocki,
"the splinters used to stick in my stockings."
its final decade, St. George's priests were Stanley Krzysiak, John
Clarke, Joe Fusco, Eugene Pack, Paul Zavodny, and Michael Doyle. The
congregation dwindled. Tillie Kazlacunas with her Altar and Rosary
Society and later her 50/50 group, tried very hard to raise funds. It
was left to the kindhearted
Father Eugene Kerley and 23 parishioners to celebrate the last Mass on
Sunday, July 1, 1973 in this holy house of Lithuanian life in Camden.
Hearts were heavy. None grieved more than Rose Pritchard, Tony Matueswic
and Louise Zitts. For Rose, it was the memory of the bent form of her
mother on her knees, scrubbing the rough boards, the smell of all the
fresh linens she herself ironed and the flowers she placed on the altar.
For Tony, it was the life of his parents as well as his own and the
Masses he served on the altar. For Louise Zitts, the place in which her
children, especially James (Father Nicholas) and her daughter Josephine
(Sister Nicholas Marie) were nurtured.
Most of the Lithuanian people have left Camden and many have left this world. They are buried in New St. Mary's. "Father Bric made sure they had graves together in his new cemetery. They are clustered around the only tree in the place," says Tony Matueswic. Years ago they clustered around St. George and there they prayed, laughed, cried and remembered the homeland. It was their little bit of Lithuania ... on Sweet Potato Hill.
Camden Courier-Post - February 2, 1938
PLAY TO BE GIVEN FRIDAY BY ST. GEORGE'S CHURCH
A dance will be held after the Play. Members of the cast include Catherine Martusevieco, Tillie Martusevieco, Anna Balcikonis, Veronica Balcikonis, Kitty Parker, Frances Visgil, Anna Robar, Stella Stridick, Anna Paglione, Helen Shukes, Monica Vaskonis, Rose Balunes, Bertha Madden, Carmela Del Bono, Thomas Bayruns, and Charles Kader.
Camden Courier-Post - February 22, 1938
CHURCH GROUP PLANS DANCE FOR ORGAN FUND
A pre-Lenten dance will be given by the Holy Name Society of St. George's Lithuanian Roman, Catholic Church, Ninth street and Chelton avenue, at New Hall, Tenth street and Kaighn Avenue, on Friday night.
The society is raising funds for an organ to be presented to the church on its twenty-fifth anniversary and in honor of a new prelate, Bishop-elect Bartholomew L. Eustace being named for Camden and South Jersey. Funds from the dance will be turned over to the organ fund, Henry Morgan, chairman, said.
Joe Gary will sing and music will be played by the Jersey Cavaliers.
Other members of the committee are Alexander Anderson, vice chairman; William Anderson, Victor Anderson, Peter Balunas, John Digmas, Joseph Fedak, Walter Gregal, Justin Jacob, Leon Janis, Peter Janis, Stanley Janis, Joseph Janis, Charles Kader, Joseph Kader, Elwood Krown, John Lucas, John Matuesawic, Russe11 McGrath Frank Menalgo, John Novick, Frank Olsack, Leon Paulikas, Benjamin Phalunas, Michael Raab, Anthony Sabalis, Charles Schmidt, Anthony Visgil and Ambrose Yanish.
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