Michael Doyle came to Camden, New Jersey, in 1968, sentenced to serve in one of America’s poorest parishes because of his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War. He was 33 and arrived with all his worldly belongings in the back seat of his Chevrolet. He has been the priest at Sacred Heart ever since, and has watched Camden go from destitute to desolate. After 9/11 a young parishioner told him that he felt safe in the city . . . because anyone flying above it would think the terrorists had hit it already. Father Doyle is a man of deep faith, who has chosen to serve his God by devoting his life to serving Camden’s poor, accepting as a given his own life of poverty. He writes monthly letters to church supporters that are filled with compassion, and also with sadness, with anger, and occasionally with despair, as he bears witness to what he calls a national crime: the urban neighborhoods where America has discarded its poorest people and delivered its most toxic wastes. Among Camden’s abandoned buildings and violent crime, New Jersey has sited a sewage treatment plant, a trash incinerator and a dump.
“The threat to the future of this nation is not in Iraq,” he wrote a few years ago, “but in the inner core of our deadly cities. If only we had a national guard with hammers and saws and marines who did nothing but plumbing.”
Michael Doyle’s letters are the basis of a documentary, “Poet of Poverty.”