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An Historical Reflection


The churches of a country are part of its religious culture. They speak to the people. They convey ideas. They make impressions. The Catholics understand this, and are erecting, I believe, more fine churches in America in proportion to their numbers, than any other denomination among us. I confess that if I could build a church in all respects to suit my own taste, I would build it in the solemn and beautiful style of the churches of England, the Gothic style, and I would build it of enduring stone that it might gather successive generations within its holy walls, that passing centuries might shed their hallowing charms around it, that the children might worship from age to age and feel as if the spirits of their fathers are still mingled in their holy rites.
— The Newark Daily Advertiser, May 30, 1843


St. Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral is a building and a community. For over a century and a half, it has been a sacred place where bishops and archbishops have come for their consecrations and been brought for their funerals, a place where hundreds of priests have been ordained. Each Sunday, the people of God have gathered for worship under its arches and have been strengthened by reception of the Lord in the Eucharist. Thousands have brought their children to receive the saving waters of Baptism and the anointing of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. Sinners have entered its doors for the divine forgiveness of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and left at peace with God. Young couples, and older ones as well, have walked down its center aisle to begin a life together sanctified by the Sacrament of Matrimony. Countless tears have been shed as final farewells were said at Funeral Masses within its walls.

Because it has served as a cathedral, the presence of a bishop always has been a part of its life. Another, perhaps grander, edifice was destined to take on its role as cathedral and so we find it called “cathedral,” “pro-cathedral,” “church.” It is all of these and this narrative uses all of these terms. At different times, its spiritual leader has been called “pastor,” “rector,” “administrator.” For simplicity’s sake, this reflection always calls him the “pastor.” Protocols for titles of bishops and monsignors have changed through the years. In most instances, the author has tried to refer to various individuals by the title they bore in their respective time. In the mid-nineteenth century, priests were titled “Reverend Mister,” and often addressed as “Mister.” At the same time bishops were “Right Reverend.” They became “Most Reverend” only about 90 years ago. Archbishops, on the other hand, have always been “Most Reverend.” The narrative in these cases walks a middle line between absolute accuracy and clarity.

The records of St. Patrick’s are uneven and incomplete. The accounts occasionally contradict one another but the author has attempted to sort out inconsistencies, omissions, and errors. For example, the list of former assistant pastors in the 1950 commemorative booklet omitted Winand M. Wigger, who served as assistant pastor shortly after his ordination, and later became the bishop of Newark. Some persons may not receive due attention and for this we apologize in advance.

The author is grateful to many for their assistance in the preparation of this account. Monsignor Neil J. Mahoney, pastor at the time of the sesquicentennial of the pro-cathedral, initiated and supported the project. Many others contributed to this project: Michael Bacigalupi of Baccicomputers, Rosemarie Brodeur, Steve Chambers and Christopher Collins of The Star Ledger, Monsignor Vincent Coburn, Joann Cotz and Alan DeLozier of the Special Collections Department of the Walsh Library of Seton Hall University, Charles F. Cummings of the Newark Public Library, Evelyn De Jesus, Administrative Assistant of St. Patrick’s, Robert Dylak of The Catholic Advocate, Bernard Flanagan, Tara Hendricks of the Media Center of Seton Hall University, Sister Elizabeth McLoughlin, S.C., Director of the Archives of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, Rev. Richard Nardone, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Seton Hall University, Ana Perez, Executive Secretary of St. Patrick’s, Rev. Joseph Quinlan, Dr. Dermot Quinn, Professor of History at Seton Hall University, Monsignor Francis Seymour, Vice Chancellor for Archives of the Archdiocese of Newark, Rita Shaw, and Monsignor C. Anthony Ziccardi, Associate Dean and Professor of Sacred Scripture at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology of Seton Hall University.

Revising and adding to this account, I owe a debt of gratitude to Rev. Pedro Bismarck Chau (Father Bismarck), Pastor of St. Patrick’s and St. John’s Parishes, Thomas McGee of the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center of Seton Hall University, Margaret Clark, Administrative Assistant of St. Patrick’s and St. John’s Parishes, Ana Perez, Secretary of St. Patrick’s and St. John’s Parishes, and Brandon Ocampo, Director of Communications of St. Patrick’s and St. John’s Parishes.

To all I am grateful. For all errors, I accept responsibility.

— Monsignor Robert James Wister, Hist.Eccl.D.

Immaculate Conception Seminary School of theology

Seton Hall University


Newark, NJ 07102

Prologue »