The Lithuanian Parish
2100 South 9th Street
South 9th Street & Chelton Avenue

The following is derived from
the 100th Anniversary booklet of 
Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Camden NJ

published in 1985

St. George Church

History 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.

Situated 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.

Following 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."

Both 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.

When 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 Streets. "The pews were certainly very old," says Josephine Lagocki, "the splinters used to stick in my stockings."

In 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


A play entitled "The Old Maids' Club" will be presented by St. George's Church, 910 Chelton Avenue, on Friday at 8 p. m., at New Hall, 942 Kaighn Avenue.

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 23, 1938

Camden Courier-Post - February 22, 1938


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. 

Father Michael Doyle
St. George Church - 1970s

Father Joseph Halaburda
Pastor at St. George's from 1919 to 1929

1960's Photograph of Father Joseph Halaburda who served Saint George's parish in Cleveland, Ohio from December 1906 until February 1919.  Born in 1870 in Lithuania, Father Halaburda came to the United States in 1884.  When he returned to his native land for a visit in 1894, Russian officials seized his passport, his American citizenship papers, all of his personal possessions, and put him in jail.  There he languished for two months until he made friends with a Russian officer.  The officer told him, ``hammer on your cell door and demand to see me.  When the soldiers bring you to me, renounce your American citizenship and say you want to live forever in Russia."  This was done and the officer put Father Halaburda on parole.  For 40 rubles he was transported to the border where he escaped into Germany and made his way back to the United States.

Father Halaburda studied at the St. Charles Seminary, Overbrook Philadelphia, Pa.; the University of Pennsylvania; and Baltimore Seminary.  He was ordained at Saint Mary's church in Baltimore for the Diocese of Trenton, N.J. in 1905.

  He served as pastor of Saint George's parish in Cleveland when it was at East 21st and Oregon (now Orange) Avenue from 1906 until 1919 where he developed a strong and vocal position within the community against the rising Communist movement that was fomenting trouble.  Although Father Halaburda was instrumental in the fundraising for the current parish's construction and acquired the land it currently resides upon, he moved on before its full fruition, to the Russian-Polish church at Great Meadows, N.J.

Father Halaburda knew several languages, and because of this served a number of churches outside his diocese.  He was pastor of churches in Philadelphia, Camden, N.J., Reading, Pa, and a chaplain at Villa Maria, Langhorn, Pa. Father Halaburda acquired 200 acres of ground at Newton, Pa., where he established an academy for girls for the Sisters of Saint Kasmir [sic] of Chicago.

 After retiring in 1934 and moving to St. Leo Abbey in St. Leo Fla. in 1943, he returned to Cleveland several times for visits.  He observed the 50th anniversary of his ordination at Saint George's in Cleveland in 1955.   Father Halaburda passed away at St. Leo Abbey on November 17, 1966 at the age of 95.