To begin the history of The Catholic Church of St. Mary, first close your eyes. Imagine yourself going back in time to the year 1937. Cherry Hill looks a lot different back then. No paved highways. No office buildings or stores. You find yourself standing in the middle of a farmer's field. What is known simply as Cherry Hill today had many different names back then. This field was located in Deer Park, Delaware County, New Jersey (close to where Route 70 and Route 295 cross each other today). Now, picture yourself standing beneath a tent in this farmer's field. Under this tent, those gathered have their heads bowed in prayer and are celebrating the Mass. With those images in your head, you can now begin to understand how the Catholic Church of St. Mary started. A simple mission church and yet its spiritual life was vibrant and strong, even in those early days, as it began to emerge and develop. In the years to come, a church building would be constructed on property near the present intersection of highways, which was donated by the Lynch family. The dedication ceremony for this new mission church would be held on March 27, 1938. The Most Reverend Moses E. Kiley, Bishop of Trenton, officiated. Father Joseph McIntyre, the Pastor of Christ the King Church in Haddonfield, was also in attendance. The Lynches, together with twelve other families, would become the original members of what is now known as the Catholic Church of Saint Mary.
In 1938, the parishioners of the small mission church built a shrine on the church property. It was a simple, wayside shrine, built of cut stone. It was dedicated on October 30, 1938 to "The Queen of the Miraculous Medal" and became known as the shrine to "Our Lady of the Highway."
The population of southern New Jersey would begin to grow rapidly at this time, especially in the area surrounding Deer Park. In 1955, Most Reverend Bartholomew J. Eustace, the first Bishop of Camden, designated Erlton, which neighbors Deer Park, to become a parish of its own. This parish is now known as Queen of Heaven Church.
The Reverend Anthony A. Kurylo was named as the first pastor of Queen of Heaven Church in Erlton. Prior to this assignment, he was an assistant at Christ the King Church in Haddonfield. Father Kurylo, although busy with the prospect of building a new church for the Erlton area, never lost sight of the importance of the Mission Church of Saint Mary. Under his guidance, the church in Deer Park continued to prosper.
In May 1960, Most Reverend Celestine J. Damiano, the third Bishop of Camden, began to make surveys of the various areas under his jurisdiction. It became apparent to his Excellency that something needed to be done in Deer Park. The contiguous areas were growing rapidly and while the church in Erlton was doing an admirable job, it could no longer cope with the number of Catholic families that had moved into the area. However, the mission church property was hemmed in by Route 295, Route 70, and the New Jersey Turnpike. Access to the small church was severely limited by the ramps to Route 295 from Route 70. In the name of progress, the mission church property was sold to the state of New Jersey for the sum of $104,000 and the demolition of the shrine took place. With the proceeds of the sale, the Diocese of Camden purchased a heavily wooded ten acre site and reestablished the mission Church of Saint Mary. On June 10, 1961, Archbishop Damiano established the parish of Saint Mary's Roman Catholic Church, later to renamed the Catholic Church of Saint Mary. The Reverend Paul R. Gallagher was appointed the first pastor of the new church and by December 1961, there were 555 parish members.
On June 29, 1962, the multipurpose building of Saint Mary's Roman Catholic Church was dedicated by Archbishop Damiano, with Father Gallagher assisting. In keeping with the tradition of the original members of the Mission Church, the shrine to Our Lady of the Highway that once stood in front of the original building in Deer Park was rebuilt and relocated on the parish grounds facing 2001 Springdale Road. The shrine was rededicated on May 22, 1964 at the parish May procession. Today, it is located in the parking lot oval in front of the Church.
The late 1960's saw many more Catholic families moving into the area. The parish population at Saint Mary grew to an overwhelming 2,509 members, precipitating the founding of another mission church in Cherry Hill. This mission Church would become Saint Thomas More Church. Up until this point in time, Saint Mary's was ministering to the vast number of parishioners in the parish on its own.
The Catholic Church of Saint Mary grew from a dream held by twelve families; from that day long ago in a barren field when Mass was celebrated under a tent and these families bowed their heads in prayer. We celebrate in that same spirit in our church today. It is dedicated to Saint Mary, nestled among the trees in a wooded field, "hearing the sound of travelers on their way. Underneath the hum of traffic where there is stillness that calls us together as family
A history of The Catholic Church of St. Mary would be incomplete without noting who her pastors were and giving a brief synopsis of their time here.
The Pastors of St. Mary ...
Monsignor Paul R. Gallagher was the first pastor of The Catholic Church of St. Mary. During his tenure, he also served as Papal Chamberlain and Director of Radio and Television for the Diocese of Camden. He remained Pastor of the Catholic Church of St. Mary until February 1973.
Monsignor Anthony A Kurylo was appointed as the second Pastor of The Catholic Church of St. Mary in 1973. Before his appointment to St. Mary, Monsignor Kurylo served in the diocese as Chaplain for the Catholic Boy Scouts in Camden County. He also served as the Diocesan Commissioner of Liturgical Music and was appointed Dean of Camden County. He was made a Domestic Prelate in 1964 and Camden County Area Chairman for the Diocesan Census in 1967. He remained at St. Mary until his retirement to Sea Isle City, New Jersey in June 1979. He remained there until his death on November 13, 1979.
Father Patrick Weaver was appointed as the third Pastor of The Catholic Church of St. Mary on June 15, 1979, by Camden Bishop George Guilfoyle. In December 1980, Fr. Weaver was appointed to the Diocesan School Board. He remained at St. Mary until 1983.
Father John C. Killeen was appointed the fourth Pastor of The Catholic Church of St. Mary on September 15, 1983. He was ordained at St. Patrick's Seminary in Carlow Ireland on June 12, 1959. Before coming to St. Mary, Fr. Killeen taught religion at Camden Catholic and Paul VI High Schools over a ten year period and has also served as the Assistant Vicar of Religions. Upon his arrival to the parish in 1983, Fr. Killeen saw the immediate need for a new church building. He was successful in bringing this dream to fruition. In 1987, the new church building was dedicated. In the following years, a new Rectory would be built, while the existing Rectory was converted to Offices for the various ministries of the parish. In 2005, the church hall, which was once the church building was renovated with six (6) multipurpose rooms added. This renovated structure was dedicated in May 2006. Father John remained pastor of our parish until June 30, 2011, the year in which we we celebrated our parish's Golden (50th) Jubilee.
Monsignor Thomas J. Morgan. During the reconfiguration of the Camden Diocese, it was determined that St. Mary, and nearby St. Thomas More would become a "Cluster Parish". On July 1, 2011, Monsignor Thomas J. Morgan was appointed the Cluster Pastor of both The Catholic Church of St. Mary and St. Thomas More.
Father Edward Maher, who had been serving as the parish's Parochial Vicar since June, 2010, was appointed the sixth Pastor of The Catholic Church of St. Mary. With his appointment, on July 1, 2012, St. Mary returned to being a stand alone parish. We look forward to many faith-filled years of spiritual growth and blessings, under his pastoral leadership.