Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Status: Active, Roman Catholic

642 Market Street
Camden, NJ 08102

Visit its website

Original visit: June 7, 2008

Where Is It?

Get ready for this...drumroll, please...Camden, NJ!

The Skinny

Wait, don’t run away!

Sure, it’s Camden. But believe it or not, Camden sometimes gets a bad rap. There are actually parts of it that aren't complete disasters, and going there doesn’t necessarily mean taking your life in your hands.

The place is shady as hell, but we’ve seen far worse.

As for why we’re here, well, like it or not, Camden is a fairly historic city in its own right, and there are some pretty interesting church finds to be had. What better place to start with than with the mother church of the Diocese of Camden, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Yes, another case of the Immaculate Inception.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is an enjoyable building, if not a completely stellar one. There are some things to like here, such as the high-quality stained glass, soaring gothic columns and nifty organ.

Negatives include the use of the Project’s archenemy, wooden ceiling beams, as well as a reliance on generally unadorned white plaster. Oh, and the altar, while done in an interesting green marble-like substance, possibly green marble, suffers from having no real back piece, so it’s not as impressive as it could be.

Look for it: The stations of the cross are actually done in copper. You can tell because most of them are slowly turning various shades of green.

Look for it, Part 2: The exterior is notable for having some lovely garden work, which you don’t see much in city parishes.

It’s not an upper-echelon church, but I like it enough to recommend it.

How's It Doing?

It’s no secret the Camden Diocese hasn't been doing very well. They made headlines a few years back by announcing a radical reorganization plan involving the merger or closing of nearly half their parishes.

And you thought the North Philadelphia Swath of Destruction was bad!

Regardless, this particular building is in no danger. It’s the mother church of the Diocese, and as such, it’s not governed by the normal rules of parish life. Anything short of the complete and utter implosion of the Diocese will not send this church packing. It’s almost as ridiculous a concept as the Philadelphia Archdiocese deciding to close the Cathedral Basilica. As long as the Camden Diocese exists, this church will exist.

There’s proof of that in the building itself, which recently completed a $2.1 million renovation of the masonry and the stained glass. The mother church, after all, has to look good — regardless of what’s going on with her children.

Travel Tidbits

The Cathedral is actually amazingly easy to find. Just take the Ben Franklin Bridge to the first exit, Broadway, and you’ll run right into the church after a couple of blocks. The Project finds it supremely ironic that it’s easier to get to downtown Camden than it is to, say, South Philadelphia.

And yes, it’s Camden, but the church has the good fortune of not being in a slum-ridden area. And it even has a parking lot! Sure, Camden is sketchy no matter where you go, but this is pretty inoffensive. If you can handle St. Veronica, St. Martin de Porres and Ascension of Our Lord, then this is a piece of cake.

Interesting Note

After the Saturday vigil mass the Cathedral holds a community dinner for any and all parishioners who wish to attend. Catholic churches usually shy away from this kind of communal gatherings, except for special occasions or fundraisers, so it’s nice to see.

And no, the Project didn’t attend. I wasn’t very encouraged by the priest’s declaration that they’d be having “whatever the cook felt like making.”

Image Gallery

The Final Word

Good, not great, but still worth a trip.