No. 0 March 2001
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early churches of New Jersey
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St. Patrick's Pro-Cathedral
St. John's Church
of the month
Is this the second oldest Catholic
Church in New Jersey?
wood frame Church of the Sacred Heart in Mount Holly may be, after Saint
Patrick's Pro Cathedral in Newark (built in 1849), the oldest extant
building erected for Catholic worship in New Jersey.
Partisans of St. John's Church in Newark may object, arguing that it
is the oldest in the state, based on a erection date of 1826 or 1828.
My reading of the sources leads to the conclusion that those early dates
are unsupportable; I believe that 1858 is more likely to be the year
when the church assumed its present form. In any case, I have not yet
photographed and documented all the old churches I know or suspect still
exist, so I must suspend final judgment for the moment.
Although the initial Roman Catholic services
were not held in the Mount Holly area until 1848 when Father Mackin
of Trenton visited the area, the parish got its start with the arrival
in Burlington of a boat from Ireland in 1843. Services were most likely
held in private homes until this modest frame structure was built on
Mount Holly Avenue in 1852. Land for a cemetery was purchased in 1857,
and in 1871, this building, then in dilapidated condition, was moved
to a recently purchased lot on West Washington Street, then known as
the Sand Hill, an expanse of sand with no houses for a quarter of a
mile. That street was already home to the Mount Moriah African Methodist
Episcopal church, which was built in 1826 several blocks east, on the
site of what was then and remains the Mount Moriah cemetery.
In 1872, a new Sacred Heart church was
started and the original building, somewhat enlarged, was used as a
parish hall, and later as a school. The
new building, designed by Charles Keely, appears now to be abandoned,
succeeded in recent years by a third Sacred Heart church several miles
away in a section that would probably have been regarded back in 1872
as off limits to Catholics. In the nineteenth century, the earliest
Catholic churches, like the A.M.E. churches, would only have been found
on the outskirts of the towns, and not simply because that's where their
members lived. A couple of sympathetic Protestants bought property on
Bridge Street in Lambertville in their own name, later transferring
it to the parish of Saint John the Evangelist, because such a prominent
site would not have been sold to Catholics, even late in the nineteenth
In the center of the town, on the commons or
at a prominent site on the main street, you would have found the church
of the original settlers, most likely a Presbyterian church in much
of the state, or that of the grandees, the Anglican church. In south
Jersey, of course, it would have been a Quaker meetinghouse, and in
Bergen and Somerset counties, it would have been a Reformed church.