Periodically I will be placing stories of outstanding missionaries, both at home and abroad, who inspire us all and help us to celebrate with gratefulness this Year of the Priest. Here is the first installation.
Msgr. Michael Doyle, is a modern-day hero of justice who presently serves as the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Camden, New Jersey. Msgr. Doyle is a community leader and activist who works tirelessly to bring Camden's residents the human dignity and living conditions they deserve as American citizens. Born in County Longford, Ireland in 1934 and ordained a priest in 1959, Fr. Doyle first set foot in the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey in 1959 at the invitation of the bishop. A gregarious man with a contagious smile, he exudes a compassionate spirit and welcomes everyone as a friend. His parish is known for its hospitality and welcome.
Msgr. Doyle stands against injustice on every front. He stands with those living in poverty, he stands with those who are addicted, he stands with the marginalized and alienated. In response to the injustices around him, Fr.Doyle takes action. In his 35 years in Camden, Msgr. Doyle has operated Sacred Heart Grade School, founded the Heart of Camden Housing in 1984, which renovates abandoned houses and assists low-income families to become homeowners; established a free medical clinic in 1992 which serves people without medicalinsurance or benefits and has helped to start the organization, Camden Churches Organized for People, a church-based community organizing effort. He works to bring about better living conditions by building relationships with those around him.
In 1974, Msgr. Doyle was appointed pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, on the south side of Camden. In that capacity, Doyle has served for 35 years – years filled with sweat, tears and hope at addressing and alleviating the neglect of Camden’s suffering people.
Msgr. Doyle is vivacious and lively, and 35 years on, Doyle is still moved to compassion and action by the suffering poor of his parish and city. Said Doyle, “I’m saying almost the same words that I said 25 years ago about this city and the tragedy that continues… the same ache and struggles and difficulty are there for us.” Recently a film was made about Msgr. Doyle entitled, “The Poet of Poverty.” The film features a scene of Doyle leading members of the community in the via crucis, the way of the cross, across city blocks stained with the blood of slain citizens of Camden. Indeed, the Cross – that terrible image which in some mysterious way signifies hope and victory – has been persistently present before Doyle during his 40 years in Camden. Perhaps it is
this mystery which moved him in 1993 to entitle a published collection of his letters “It’s a Terrible Day; Thanks Be to God.”
In Doyle’s tenure as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, he has also led a project to restore the Sacred Heart church building, an extension of his belief that “liturgy leads to justice.” Doyle’s love and appreciation for” the beautiful” have also inspired him to promote a ministry of the arts.Recently, Msgr. Doyle has invited in celebrated artist Br. Michael O’Neill McGrath, OSFS to Sacred Heart Parish to set up his art studio. In his dedication to the arts, Msgr Doyle has helped to build a community theater, and led an initiative to cultivate gardens and develop an “urban farm” in Camden. Because of Msgr. Doyle’s efforts, hope can truly be said to “grow” in Camden.
“Seven children were splashing on cascading water like shining wet dolphins in the sun… the powerful pressure sent the water upward on an old sheet of plywood into the tub and sent the children into ecstacies of delight in spite of all the awful misery around them… Nothing could daunt the wild surge of their young lives and hopes. What is it about hope! Does its real inspiration only rise out of the tragic emptiness to take its pure and unsupported stand against all the odds!”
Film: The Poet of Poverty This 55-minute film is about one man’s words. These are the words of an Irish priest who came to Camden, New Jersey, forty years ago and never left. They are the extraordinary words of a natural-born poet, Father Michael Doyle, the Poet of Poverty. Father Doyle’s words bear witness to a horrendous crime: the total neglect of America’s poorest city, Camden, New Jersey. They began as words written for monthly letters that serve as a lifeline to those who support his church. But, as a friend once told Doyle, these prose-poem letters are really his ministry.
To purchase DVD:
Book: “It’s a Terrible Day…Thanks
Be to God”
This collection of letters and poetry written by Monsignor Doyle touches every part of yourheart and soul. There are hearty laughs and stinging tears on the pages of this book, and the words and the works of Monsignor Doyle are an inspiration to us all.
To purchase Book:
Sacred Heart Parish, Camden, NJ
Camden Churches Organized for People (CCOP) is a powerful, faith-based community organization working to transform conditions for individuals and families in Camden, NJ.