The Irish Community of Camden NJ

Last Edited September 15, 2007

In a city known for soup, it is appropriate to say that over the past 200-plus years successive waves of immigrants of all ethnicities and religions have come to Camden, adding their own particular energies to the "soup" that is Camden. It is indisputable that the constant infusion of new people looking to improve their situations has benefited the city throughout its history.

The Irish community of Camden certainly was one of the most visible. Active in all sorts of businesses, law, real estate, and politics, Camden's Irish community faced its own peculiar set of problems, being the first post-Revolutionary War immigrant group to come to America with major differences in custom, language, and most important of all religion from the bulk of American citizenry of the day.

The Irish influence on Camden cannot be understated. In politics, law, business, journalism, sports, and entertainment, the Irish played a (if not at times the) leading role in Camden for the better part of eighty years, and even today neighboring Gloucester City is a heavily Irish town.

On this page you will find pictures, news articles, and links to other web-pages on this site and elsewhere about Irish people and families in Camden, events they were involved in, and related activities.   Most importantly, to understand the history of the Irish in Camden, read John Joseph Kelly's 1984 work, THE IRISH IN CAMDEN COUNTY, which is also on this website.

The Irish Connections of Sacred Heart

When Kathleen O'Toole and Kathleen Mauger, parishioners of Sacred Heart, poured Easter water from their century-old church in Camden, New Jersey, on a big flat rock in Downpatrick County Down on July 18, 1985, they were celebrating a continuous connection between their beloved brownstone building in Camden and the precious dust of a saint in Ireland - St. Patrick himself! Not just a connection between rocks and buildings or bodies and bones and blood, but the unbreakable bond of an enduring Irish spirit. They were celebrating the centennial of their church by concentrating on that connection. When they lit the candle they had carried from Camden, their tiny flame was a spark that had held Since Patrick's fire on Slane. Held out in high and icy wind since the Fifth Century, when he lit new flames on Easter Eve before the angry Druids lit old ones in Tara, County Meath.

Whether he admitted it or not, Patrick built his fire on the coals that Druid hands had raked in the ancient ashes of Ireland. Since then, for 1,500 years, bright sparks have flown as shovels hit the stones and broke ground for countless Irish churches across the world.

It was the same spark that stirred the people and moved the stones when William Lynch, a young 26-year-old priest put his shovel in the sands of South Camden on May 20, 1886, for the building of Sacred Heart. He had purchased the site at Broadway and Ferry Avenue in November of 1885, one month after the parish was incorporated on October 13th. Another Irish parish had started and the people who came to worship had names like Boyle and Doyle, Blake, Doran and O'Toole, Hughes, Larkin and Durkin, and, yet, it would be 90 years before the parish got its first Irish-born pastor, Michael Doyle, on November 11, 1974.

Exactly 119 years before, on November 11, 1855, Camden City got its first resident priest, Father James Moran of Roscommon, born there in 1824, related on his mother's side to Daniel O'Connell, the Irish patriot. Fr. Moran broke ground for St. Mary's Church on June 9, 1859. In 1863, he was succeeded by Fr. Patrick Byrne. It was this Irishman, born in Templeport, County Waterford, who established the second Catholic Church in the City of Camden, a little wooden building as a mission in his parish. The year was 1872 and Camden was in the Diocese of Newark, and this little church was the first in New Jersey to be called Sacred Heart. Following Fr. Byrne, it was serviced by Fr. Peter Fitzsimmons who was born near Virginia, County Cavan in 1840 and in his pastorate, Sacred Heart became a parish, and Fr. Lynch came up from Gloucester to run it. He hired Jeremiah O'Rourke, a well-known Newark architect to design it, Philip McDonald to build the walls, and Mahlon Harden of Camden to do the roof, windows and woodwork.

Six weeks after breaking ground, the foundation stone was laid on Sunday, July 4, 1886 with a show of green pomp and power that "shouted from the housetops of Camden" that "the faith of our fathers was living still." The winds had carried Patrick's fire to Nova Caesarea (New Jersey) just as surely as when "Jesus came to Caesarea Phillipi," another colony in another time.

The Irish came to Camden to build a railroad, the Camden and Amboy Line that linked Philadelphia to New York in 1834 and changed the city in a century from a few mudhole lanes of pigs and people into the most dynamic city of its size in the nation. The population, only 1,100 in 1828 when the city was incorporated, swelled to 75,000 by the end of the century. The "coffin ships" of Ireland's desperate famine dumped some of their tired "huddled masses" in New York and many came down to the end of the line, Camden. In time, they got to their feet with pick or potstick, shovel or washboard and took their place in America.

They came together in little clusters of Catholicism to cling to their faith and start a church if they could. They were consistently poor and always powerless, held back, as they were, at the hurting edge of prevailing prejudice. Their church became a haven of respectability, social activity and spiritual support. In and around it, they learned urban survival, urban participation, and ultimately, urban power.

Irishmen in thousands had walked with Washington in the war with the British, giving limb and life in a desperate revolution. They had pranced with him on the Union Jack at Mass in Willings Alley in Philadelphia, when the war was won. Indeed, many of the stripes - by the stars in the new flag - are streams of generous Irish blood.

So, the Fourth of July 1886 was the day! The faith and the flag and the foundation stone of Sacred Heart! The Bishop of Trenton, Limerick-born Michael Joseph O'Farrell with the crozier, and Lynch of New Brunswick with the trowel, and 7,000 people looking on.

The Camden Daily Courier for July 3rd, 1886, headlined the next day's event as, "A cornerstone laying that will attract attention." It did. Three days later, the same paper describes the mighty event:

"The cornerstone of the new church of the Sacred Heart, at Broadway and Ferry Avenue, was dedicated with impressive ceremonies, and no such demonstration of a religious character had ever been seen in this city."

The newspaper added that the church would cost about $16,000 and would most likely be ready for dedication by Christmas, 1886. It was not ready by Christmas, but it was completed shortly afterwards in what was an extraordinary achievement because from the "breaking of the ground" on May 20, 1886, to the breaking of the bread at the dedication Mass on March 6, 1887, was a period of only nine months. However, the reported estimate of $16,000 turned out to be inaccurate because the actual cost of the church and rectory was more than $35,000. An awesome amount when one considers the total Sunday collection of Fr. Lynch's small congregation was $2.50. Two years after the establishment of this beachhead of Irish Catholicism, Fr. Lynch, broken by the burden of heavy debt, had to be removed from Sacred Heart. The task of carrying on the effort fell on the young priest, Maurice Bric, who became pastor of Sacred Heart for 25 years. For 13 of those years, he went on to the highways and byways, five days a week, collecting pennies and nickels from his poor, scattered parishioners to pay the mortgage on Sacred Heart Church.

In 1900, New York Shipyard opened in the shadow of the church and the population increased and the parish prospered. The third pastor, Fr. John McCloskey, burned the mortgage in 1915. He built the school, visited Ireland and gave a parish donation of $1,500 to the Patrick H. Pearse branch of the American Commission for the Relief of Ireland, in 1921. In his words, the donation was "proof of our enthusiasm and willingness to aid our ancestors in the Emerald Isle in their hour of distress."

Times have changed in the Sacred Heart section of Camden. The Irish have long since left the flat roof factory homes of South Camden. But over the years the connection with Ireland has not been severed and Irish priests like James Gaffney, Michael Coyne, Donal Sheehan, and sisters such as Patricia Margaret Foley of Kerry, Agnes Holmes of Mayo, and Marie McGloin of Leitrim have done good work in this parish of Sacred Heart. Present parishioners like Linda Delengowski and Dan Dougherty have worked with Paddy Doherty of Derry and his Youth Project in that special city. Good workers in Sacred Heart today are Paddy Mulligan and Rose Knebles, both of Ireland.

Sacred Heart in 1985 is made up of a coalition of neighborhood people and those who come from near and far to this old church on the corner of Broadway and Ferry. Because injustice is high in the consciousness of those who come, they are often called to pray and work for the people of South Africa, Central America, the North of Ireland and the South of Camden.

The old walls of Sacred Heart have been enhanced by the music of Mick Maloney and Eugene O'Donnel and by the splendid Gaelic singing of Barbara Dever. They have throbbed to the piano playing of James McCafferty of Derry and the golden voice of his daughter, Una. They have braced themselves for the brilliance of a Daniel Berrigan and the eloquence of a John MacNamee, and the charming courage of a Paddy Doherty. But most recently, when Kathleen O'Toole and Kathleen Mauger returned to Sacred Heart with the stump of a Camden candle they had lit on St. Patrick's grave in Downpatrick, the circle of the Irish connection was wonderfully renewed.

lt will undoubtably endure like the Celtic crosses of Clonmacnoise, the brave spirit of Camden's poor and the bright flame of Patrick's Easter fire on Slane. 


This section grew and continues to grow to a size far beyond what I imagined it would. My idea of "People of Note" is better defined as "Interesting People", and Camden sure has had and continues to have them! To make things easier, I will color-code some of the cells, to make it easier to find people. As always, suggestions are more than welcome! 

Phil Cohen

Law Enforcement Medicine Firemen
Real Estate & Construction Education Funeral Directors
Lawyers Journalism & Writing Government & Politics
Bars, Brewers, & Bottlers Lumber & Hardware Banks, Finance, Insurance
Businessmen & Shopkeepers Show Business, Musicians, & Entertainment Notorious Characters
Religious Leaders Ship Captains &
Naval Heroes
Soldiers, Pilots, & Airmen
Musicians Artists & Sculptors Barbers & Beauticians
Labor Leaders Scrap Merchants Science & Invention
Sportsmen Community Leaders Transportation
David Baird Sr. David Baird Jr. John A. Burke
John J. Burleigh    
  Frank C. Carle  
  John H. Carroll  
Thomas J. Daley Jr.  John Francis Daly Richard Daly
  Neil F. Deighan Sr. Richard Deighan
  William A. "Billy" Dolan.  
  Larry Doran  
    Mickey Duffy
Fr. Peter J. Fitzsimmons Jefferson J. "Jeff"
Joseph "Mose" Flannery
  James J. Flynn Jr.  
Bernard J. Gallagher    
  John F. Healy  
William Leonard Hurley Albert C. Hurley Sr.  
Joe Hyde  

Mrs. Emma Hyland 

Edward J. Kelleher Sr. Daniel Kelly  
Leo Kelly Michael F. Kelly William J. Kelly
William Kelly William Kennedy  
  Samuel A. Kilpatrick  
    Mrs. Mary Kobus
James J. Large Philip J. Large William F. Large Jr.
Ferdinand Larkin    
Samuel Lennox Harry Leonard William J. Lorigan
Walter H. MacClaskey Gordon Mackay  
Clarence T. Madden Michael McCaffrey John McCloskey
Mary McClyment Daniel P. McConnell Harry McConnell
Sidney P. McCord Sr. Sidney P. McCord Sr.  
James V. McFadden John F. McKenna Rev. Rufus McLendon
  Andrew J. McMahon James McTaggart
  William "Paddy" Miles  
Harry A. Moran   Patrick Michael Mulvihill
Charles T. Murray Joseph H. Murray Thomas Murphy
James Henry O'Brien T. Carroll O'Brien William J. "Reds" O'Brien
Jack O'Grady James M. O'Neill Dr. William H. O'Neill
  William Joyce Sewell  
    Bernard J. "Barney" Tracy
  Edmund A. Walsh James F. Walton Jr.
John J. Welsh    
  George A. Wonfor  

The Large, Magee, & Tracy Families of Camden