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Bartholomew Eustace, Bishop of Camden, New Jersey


On December 9, 1937, the six southern counties of New Jersey (Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, and Gloucester) became a new diocese of the Catholic Church. The announcement was met with a variety of responses. When the Camden daily newspaper reported the event the next morning, many priests did not believe the report to be accurate.

The major apprehension was that a new diocese in southern New Jersey was neither feasible nor possible because of the area's poor financial condition, the small Catholic population, the small number of priests and the financial position of the existing parishes. There were relatively few Catholics and the parishes that did exist were weak financially. The new diocese contained about 2700 square miles and included a Catholic population of about 100, 000. There were 49 parishes served by a total of 86 priests. The new diocese also had 31 mission churches and 35 parochial schools.

A week went by before Catholics in the Diocese of Camden learned that their first bishop would be Father Bartholomew J. Eustace of New York. Father Eustace was born on Manhattan's lower east side October 9,1887. His parents Bartholomew and Elizabeth Eustace had left Ireland shortly before his birth. He received elementary education in New York City public schools, completed four years of high school and two years of college at St. Francis Xavier College on sixteenth Street in New York City and began seminary studies at St. Joseph Seminary in Dunwoodie, NY and completed theological studies at North American College in Rome. He was ordained a priest November 12, 1914 and remained there to complete his doctoral thesis in theology before returning to NewYork in the summer of 1915.

Father Eustace served as assistant pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church, New Rochelle for one year before being appointed to the faculty of St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie. He remained at the seminary where he became Professor of Philosophy and Liturgy until he returned to New Rochelle as pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church. At St. Joseph's Seminary, Father Eustace wrote numerous texts on the rubrics of public worship, the rites of baptism, marriage and funerals and became a recognized authority on the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Father Eustace often arranged ordinations and other ceremonial occasions for New York's Patrick Cardinal Hayes.

It was Cardinal Hayes who officiated at Father Eustace's ordination as bishop at St. Patrick's Cathedral on March 25,1938. Three archbishops, twenty-six bishops and 700 priests were in attendance-

The bishop's elderly mother, Elizabeth Eustace, proudly sat in the front row with her younger son, Arthur Eustace. The bishop's father, who became an accountant after coming to America had died in 1917.

Bishop Eustace arrived in Camden late in the afternoon on May 3,1938 by train from New York. After a formal welcome by the mayor of Camden, he was escorted by motorcade to the rectory of Immaculate Conception Church, his cathedral. The new diocese contained, nearly 2700 square miles and had a Catholic population of about 100,000. There were 49 parishes, 75 diocesan priests and11 priests of religious communities. There were 31 mission churches and 35 parochial schools. The Great Depression still cast a shadow over the economy of the area, yet in the 6 county area there was not a single Catholic welfare institution or school of higher learning.

Bishop Eustace led the Diocese of Camden from May 1938 until his death December 11,1956. Monsignor Charles Giglio in "BUILDING GOD'S KINGDOM".... A history of the Diocese of Camden states : (Bishop Eustace) demonstrated a unique and extraordinary ability to lead his priests and in turn, his people, to build a Catholic community in South Jersey that would greatly satisfy the needs at hand. Bishop Eustace's own courage, founded upon confidence in the Lord, became a contagious spirit among the clergy and the facilities and ministries began to grow rapidly.

The Bishop Among His People

From the beginning, Bishop Eustace made strenuous efforts to become acquainted with each priest in the diocese and to participate in parish activities. This surprised and delighted the faithful, many of whom had rarely seen a bishop from one year to the next. Just 4 days after his installation in May 1938, the new bishop surprised about 15,000 attending Mass in the huge military field in Cold Springs Park, Gloucester City. Although the printed program for the ceremony included the bishop's photo, no one anticipated his attendance. Shortly before the procession from St. Mary's Church to the field began, Bishop Eustace and his vicar general arrived by car, completely unannounced. Arrangements were hurriedly made for the bishop's participation in the ceremonies.

Bishop Eustace heard confessions regularly at the Cathedral. He often walked through the aisles of the churches to meet the parishioners. He considered himself primarily a pastor whose work, was chiefly to lead priests and the people.

Bishop Eustace led the Diocese of Camden from 1938 until December1956. Under his leadership 31 new parishes were founded; 25missions were opened, 16 of which became parishes during his time and 9 later. Four new Catholic high schools were opened and 6existing high schools expanded. 22 elementary schools were opened and 11 existing ones were expanded. In addition, the bishop witnessed the erection of 50 churches, 30 rectories and 20convents.

Bishop Eustace made evangelisation in the Black and Hispanic communities a priority. He established St. Monica’s in Atlantic City as a separate parish for Blacks. Camden had a large Black population and a parish was erected there also. After World War II, a large number of Puerto Rican migrant workers came to work on farms in southern New Jersey. Our Lady of Fatima parish was established in Camden and a Spanish-speaking priest was assigned as pastor.

The Bishop’s Health Fails

Despite frail health, except for his the last three or four yearsof life, Bishop Eustace worked ceaselessly in his pastoral endeavors. He was stricken with diabetes in 1941 and in 1950suffered the first of 3 heart attacks. After his third heart attack, in February 1955, the Bishop was confined to the rectory.

Around mid-November 1956, Bishop Eustace could not leave his bed, however he continued to conduct diocesan business and had Monsignor Mozier review the work in the evenings. During November Cardinal James McIntyre of Los Angeles came to see the Bishop. When the Cardinal left the Bishop's room, he was weeping and said to Monsignor Mozier, “The church is about to lose one of its great minds and you should deem it a privilege that you lived with him all these years."

Bishop Eustace died in his bedroom December 11, 1956 at the age of 69. He was survived by a brother Arthur and several relatives in Ireland. Cardinal McIntyre offered the funeral Mass on December 15th. Archbishop (later Cardinal) O'Hara delivered the eulogy.

Words of Praise and grief poured in from many sources. The Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano, pointed to the increase of Catholic population in the diocese from 100,O00 to 200,000 and the increase in priests from 86 to 195 during Bishop Eustace’s tenure.

Adapted from BUILDING GOD'S KINGDOM. A History of The Diocese of Camden, Seton Hall University Press, Charles Giglio, Editor (1987).

These pages Ronald Eustice, 2009