The 1960s were a revolutionary time. The population of Newark declined. Many joined the exodus to the suburbs: “up the road” to Livingston, “down the shore” to Sea Girt and Brick, “south” to the warmth of Florida. “Urban Renewal” projects weakened the parish as entire residential blocks were demolished to make way for public institutions and housing projects. St. Patrick’s experienced a drop in the number of parishioners, but continued to serve its long-time members and reach out to newcomers.
Puerto Ricans now constituted a third of the parish. St. Patrick’s was the first parish in the Archdiocese of Newark to have an organized Hispanic Apostolate and began the first Spanish Mass in 1954, when Father Gennadius Diaz, O.S.B., of St. Mary’s Abbey, came to preach in Spanish and developed congregational singing in Spanish. He was joined by Father Placid Alvarez, O.S.B., who taught classes in English, assisted by Marguerite McLaughlin and by Mrs. Blake, a Berlitz School of Languages teacher.
The Spanish Mass and Apostolate continued to grow under the direction of Rev. Thomas W. Heck. Father Heck, a son of the parish, studied Spanish in Puerto Rico and was assigned as assistant pastor in 1959. The Puerto Rican presence would continue to grow until the development of the Rutgers University campus within the parish displaced parishioners, including many of Latino background.
Finances became a serious concern. In 1965, a pulpit announcement asked for a donation of $2.00 in the monthly collection — hardly a great sum, but all many could afford. Aware of the needs of others, the parish conducted a clothing drive for the poor in Santo Domingo and encouraged participation in a Summer Festival for the benefit of the Sisters of Charity. Expenses were met by income from a bi-monthly car raffle, usually a Chevrolet Impala, and by the introduction of Bingo.
The Second Vatican Council “opened the windows” and ushered in “winds of change.” The wind sometimes seemed like a gale. Liturgical renewal caused joy in many and consternation in others. Mass was now celebrated in English and Spanish. The Baltimore Catechism, familiar to generations, disappeared and was replaced with a constantly changing catechesis. Many priests and sisters left the priesthood and the convent. For many, the Church had lost its way. The war in Vietnam sparked protests that split families and the nation. The Civil Rights Movement, led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., demanded that rights guaranteed in the Constitution finally be granted to the African American population. Civil disorders broke out in many cities, including Newark, in 1967. After Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, troubles broke out again. When peace was restored, the cities of America had profoundly changed. In spite of the tumult, the parish moved forward. Perhaps as a symbol of confidence, a new organ, designed by the Peragallo Organ Company of Paterson, NJ, was blessed by Archbishop Boland in November 1968. The centerpiece of the ceremony was the performance of Flor Peters’ Te Deum by the Pro-Cathedral Choir. The organ was dedicated to the memory of Rt. Rev. Monsignor James F. Looney, P.A., who had died earlier that year after a pastorate of fifteen years.
The loss of parishioners, priests, and sisters meant that St. Patrick’s had to adapt once again to a new environment. The parish had been founded by poor Irish Catholics. It saw them move up the social and economic ladder to the heights of economic and political influence. It welcomed Catholics of other nationalities into its family. There were new people in Newark. African Americans had become the largest group. Puerto Ricans continued to be a significant part of the population. The revolution of Fidel Castro drove thousands of Cubans to seek a new life in the United States, and many came to Newark. They were joined by immigrants from almost every country in Latin America. In 1965, the United States immigration laws changed, and so for the first time Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indians, Bengalis, Africans, and others became part of the ever-changing mosaic of Newark.
In 1975, with great sorrow, Rev. Thomas F. Brennan, who had become pastor in 1968, announced the closure of St. Patrick’s School after 125 years. It had served the parishioners and citizens of Newark and New Jersey, graduating many who later became the business and political leaders in the area.
Some felt that the parish had “declined.” Residences had been replaced with educational and health care institutions. The number of families living within the parish boundaries had decreased, and many who moved into the area were not Catholics. Meeting expenses was increasingly difficult. In the past St. Patrick’s had made loans to parishes in need, now it sought aid from the archdiocese and relied on income from rental properties to meet expenses. These challenges were confronted by a new pastor in 1976 — Rev. John J. Maloney, later Monsignor Maloney. With only 60 families, about 300 persons, registered in the parish, Maloney quickly dispelled any clouds of gloom, telling the parishioners:
Many told me when I first arrived at St. Patrick’s that the good old days were over and it was just a matter of time before the church just could not exist any longer. I refused to believe that because a parish may change but its work does not. It should never die if it is truly carrying out the work and Gospel of Jesus Christ. The great past and involvement of the people stands before us as an incentive to move on to the future. A future that I believe has great promise and hope.
Maloney set to work immediately and transmitted his spirit to the parish, the neighbors and eventually the entire city. About Newark, he said:
Newark is alive and well and undergoing a physical and cultural renaissance. The city is changing and the ethnic background, numbers and needs of the parishioners are changing. It is the Church’s responsibility to keep abreast of these changes and modify our practices to conform with the newly developing needs.
Father Jack was true to his word. He began by meeting people. One way was by feeding them. He loved a good dinner, and would even cook it himself. A Parish Picnic he held in the Rectory Garden was described thus in the Church Bulletin:
Parish Picnic in Rectory Garden — Priests Cook
Delicious food was prepared and served by the Reverend Chefs. While enjoying the epicurean specialties, the guests were serenaded by the enchanting music that came from the magical accordion of Charles Nunzio.
Everyone was conscious of a very special warm feeling that existed. Old acquaintances were re-acquainted and new friendships were formed. It was the kind of day that will be remembered by all. Like everything else good in life, it ended too soon.
Maloney reached out to the business community and the new college and university community in the area. To improve revenue, he rented the school and other parish buildings and increased the frequency of Bingo games. To prove the vitality of the parish he embarked on a renovation of the church. The chapel was enclosed and used for daily and some Sunday Masses, resulting in extensive savings in heating and air conditioning costs. True to his Irish heritage, he considered naming the chapel “Our Lady of Knock,” in honor of the site of an apparition of the Blessed Virgin in Ireland. To be inclusive of the various devotions to Mary found in his diverse flock, it became simply “Our Lady Chapel.”
Monsignor Maloney took great pride in his Irish ancestry and clearly loved being pastor of a church named in honor of Ireland’s patron. As a way of bringing together the Irish “founders” of St. Patrick’s and the now ethnically diverse parishioners, Maloney initiated an Easter liturgy to commemorate the “Easter Rising” of 1916. To this day, the cathedral is still packed as Irish bagpipers march from Military Park and fill the church with the skirl of the pipes. Step dancers add to the festivities. The Celtic cross bearing the names of the fifteen Irish Republican leaders executed by the British after the rising is placed in the sanctuary surrounded by flowers. The Irish Proclamation of Independence is read and an offertory procession to the altar bears a potato as a symbolic reminder of the “Great Famine” (1845-1848) in which one million people died and many more left Ireland, some to become founders of the parish. The ceremony was designed by Maloney to remind the now-successful Irish of their heritage as poor immigrants and of the continuing neglect of the poor, as well as to bring together in celebration of freedom the “old” and the “new” parishioners.
Most Rev. Peter L. Gerety, who had succeeded Archbishop Boland in 1974, began a study of the pastoral situation in the City of Newark. In 1976, there was a possibility that St. Patrick’s would be transformed into a “university parish” but this did not take place. In 1982, discussions began that led to a merger of St. Patrick’s and St. Bridget’s in 1985. St. Patrick’s population had become more than one-half Latino and Maloney encouraged the Mass in Spanish. In many ways this liturgy is a family gathering filled with music and fellowship. The Latino community also sponsored family dances and special Mothers Day and Fathers Day celebrations that contributed greatly to a sense of community. In 1985, a statue of Our Lady of Providence, Patroness of Puerto Rico, presented by the Hispanic community to mark the 135th anniversary of the parish, was officially enshrined in ceremonies at which Archbishop Gerety presided.
Maloney used the parish buildings in a variety of ways. The Mount Carmel Guild conducted a special education program in the school. The auditorium served as a bingo center for other parishes and for shows for St. Vincent’s Academy. The janitor’s house, which had been the brothers’ residence, was occupied by one of the priests and a college student. Augustinian Recollect sisters, who worked in the parish or at nearby St. Michael’s Medical Center, took up the third floor of the convent. College girls from Rutgers, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Essex County College rented rooms on the first two floors. Catholic Community Services directed a day care center in the school as well.
Retreats, Parish Missions and Youth Missions held on Sunday afternoons were well attended. Spiritual renewal movements and programs such as Marriage Encounter, Cursillo and RENEW became part of the parish program. Daily Mass and Lenten and Advent services continued to draw members of the Newark business community. Students from nearby universities and hospital staff also worshiped at the pro-cathedral.
Senior citizens were not neglected. Sister Elaine Maguire visited shut-ins and arranged whatever assistance they might need. Maloney remarked that Sister “takes them to the doctors, in some cases even giving the disabled a bath before they go.” Sister also established hot meal and lunch programs in the school for the elderly and needy. Suburban parishes assisted this hot meal program with food, and once a month people from the parishes come in to operate the program. Sister Elaine, assisted by Sister Margaret Kirby, also provided lectures and discussions on spirituality and liturgical worship.
In the midst of all these activities, Monsignor Maloney became ill. The parish was stunned as his health declined. Parishioners could not believe that their pastor was soon to be taken from them. His death, on October 23, 1989, brought an outpouring of grief throughout the city and the archdiocese of Newark. His own words best describe his ministry and the continuing ministry of St. Patrick’s:
As St. Patrick’s has met the challenges of different languages and cultures of the past, so will it meet them of the future. it will do this by building on the good of the past for the betterment of times to come. It will learn different cultures and languages – and it will teach the same faith – it will learn the problems of the young – and it will remain true to its roots – it will adapt to the dance.