The Soulless Shells of Religious Buildings | faith matters
My religious institutional history is disappearing in my lifetime.
St. Bridget’s Church in Jersey City, where my parents were married 72 years ago next month and where I was baptized, is being converted into high-end condominiums. His school, attended by my mother, his convent and his rectory had, fortunately, been transformed into affordable housing for the elderly a few years ago.
My high school, Holy Rosary, a few blocks away on Brunswick Street, is now a swanky gym, daycare, and cafe. However, it still belongs to the church, which rents it.
I said my first mass in the modern St. Peter’s Church on York Street, which was sold to St. Peter’s Prep and is now called The Commons. The school uses it for plays, socials, etc., adorned with contemporary stained glass.
The Marist high school in Bayonne, where I taught for four years, risks being demolished soon.
All of the memories and sacrifices of the mostly immigrant Catholics who built and sustained these institutions over the decades are history. Religious groups that flourished only 50 years ago are slowly shrinking and seeking resources that their parishioners can no longer afford. There are fewer people on the benches and the pandemic has made things worse when it was almost impossible to attract new people.
The recent purchase of St. Rocco’s Church Hall by the Township of North Bergen for $2 million shows that the trend that began in the 1980s continues. It was during this time that the old buildings of St. Michael’s Convent, Grammar and High School in Jersey City were turned into condominiums.
A new state-of-the-art homeless shelter is being built opposite the closed St Lucia Church, near the Holland Tunnel, whose school now houses the adapted shelter. But to get the new shelter built, the Archdiocese of Newark has struck a deal with a high-end developer, who will retain the church’s facade on a skyscraper of more than 200 luxury apartments, and that’s disappointing. . The church adhered to the endless cycle of catering to the wealthy while failing to provide affordable housing, contributing to increased poverty and homelessness and ensuring that the new haven would be filled.
As a student of St. Peter’s Prep, I used to tutor children at St. Lucy’s School and the now controversial St. Peter’s Grammar School building, both of which were occupied by Sisters of Charity.
The St. Peter’s property in the Paulus Hook neighborhood of Jersey City has a history that dates back to founding father Alexander Hamilton and a group called the Associates of the Jersey Company, according to the University of New Jersey City. “Jersey Town Then and Now” Web page. The group’s plans for the land never materialized, and in 1831 they donated part of Grand Street to local Catholics.
On January 29, 1831, St. Peter’s was the first Catholic parish established in Jersey City – and in all of Hudson County. The construction of the new church began immediately but “the piles did not hold in the marshy ground, however, and the structure collapsed before it was completed”, reports from the “Past and Present” website.
In 1837, the reconstruction of the new church began at 112 Grand Street. The parish school opened at the corner of York and Van Vorst streets, where a Methodist church was demolished, in 1861.
The second Church of St. Peter, at Grand and Van Vorst streets, was consecrated in 1867. After a hurricane in 1950 damaged the church, it was demolished in 1958 because it too was sinking and unsafe. The third church was consecrated in 1961. It was a modern, modest, cinder block building.
The high school closed in 2005 and was sold to Prep and is now plagued by the same swampy deterioration that has plagued other buildings previously constructed on these two plots of land. Flooding from Super Hurricane Sandy sealed its fate according to the findings of the assessment conducted by Prep. The Jersey City Historical Commission resisted Prep’s request to tear down the school building.
Some conservationists say the school may be the last pre-Civil War building left in the city and want Prep to rehabilitate it. Prep replies that it is dangerous and the cost would be prohibitive. It now passes the city zoning board.
What matters most is that St. Peter’s Prep, which has rehabilitated several historic buildings – the Freshman Building, Mulry Hall, Hogan Hall and the original college, prep and Jesuit residence – remains able to continue his mission. Selling him to maintain a dangerously damaged building that is sinking into the swamp is ineligible and could threaten his financial health.
Better they keep the “soul” in the rest of their historic buildings and continue the Jesuit mission of education than waste resources on another doomed structure on this site. If the conservators are so concerned about the structure, they should raise funds to raise the building and move it to another location. It would be a Jesuitic win-win solution.
Reverend Alexander Santora is the pastor of Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph, 400 Willow Ave., Hoboken, NJ 07030. Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @padrehoboken.