Church of the Sacred Heart
Mt. Holly, Burlington County
West Washington Avenue
founded 1849, built 1852
This small frame building is the second oldest Catholic church in the state, erected in 1849 or 1852. There were many earlier Catholic churches, of course, but of those, only Saint Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral in Newark has survived. This church was succeeded in 1872 by a large red brick Gothic church next door. This building served as a school and parish hall for a number of years, but now seems little used.
The parish priest in 1883, Rev. Robert Burke, writing of his church in Woodward & Hageman’s history of the county, described the church as “only a wooden structure of no artistic pretension, and having barely the requisites for comfort.” That's a fair description. Still, the triple window above the entrance signals that this is a church, not a dwelling or small school. It is obvious that Father Burke was inordinately proud of the new church they had recently built—also named Sacred Heart—a design of Patrick Keely, the most important Catholic architect of the nineteenth century.
Its location is significant. In the mid-nineteenth century in Mt. Holly, that was "the sticks," as they say. Methodists, Roman Catholics and the black churches were effectively banished from the better parts of town and West Washington is where they were allowed to build. Ultimately, both the Catholics and the Methodists moved uptown.