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Storms and Celebrations — The Forties and Fifties

Archbishop Walsh Blesses New Stainless Steel Cross for St. Patrick’s Spire
Courtesy of the Archives of the Archdiocese of Newark at Seton Hall University

The entire United States was changing. People were on the move. Returning soldiers were given government loans to purchase houses. Many chose not to return to the city of their birth, but opted instead for homes in the suburbs. The “G.I. Bill” gave the urban poor opportunity to receive federal money for college tuition. Urban Catholics entered college in unprecedented numbers. Education provided the key to the professions and increased affluence. The suburbs were their destination. St. Patrick’s was still considered an “Irish” parish by many, but that was no longer accurate. In the 1930s, half the parish was Italian; in the 1940s, the school enrollment, normally about 300, included students born in America, Ireland, Italy, England, Scotland, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Poland, and Spain. Just as there was a migration from the cities, there was a migration to the cities. Left out of the post-war prosperity, thousands of African Americans left the southern states and sought a better life in northern cities. Many Puerto Ricans left their impoverished island on a similar quest.

St. Patrick’s was also under new leadership. In 1943, Rt. Rev. Monsignor Paul L. Collins succeeded Monsignor Delaney and would remain until 1953. As mid-century approached, Monsignor Collins prepared for the centennial of the dedication of the pro-cathedral. In 1946, the wooden cross on the spire was replaced with a stainless steel cross weighing 75 pounds, measuring five feet six inches in height and three feet seven inches in width. Over the years the spire, which was originally wood-shingled, had been replaced with copper sheathing and reinforced with steel. Archbishop Walsh enhanced the occasion with a solemn blessing of the new cross. This cross, the third, would remain in place until 1999.

The Sacristy after the Storm
Courtesy of the Archives of the Archdiocese of Newark at Seton Hall University

Collins contracted with Gonippo Raggi, who had already played a part in the interior decoration of the church, to oversee renovations to mark the centennial. The parish’s financial situation was not as healthy as it had been in the recent past. Collins was compelled to borrow $45,000 from the archdiocese to cover the cost of the renovations. Raggi repaired the paintings, refinished the pews, repainted eight statues, and re-varnished the doors. He also grained and varnished the wainscoting in the sanctuary. Raggi had wanted to do a much more elaborate redecoration but was turned down. He had suggested covering the capitals of the pillars and other sculptured decorations with 24-karat gold leaf. In the final project, gold leaf was replaced by gold paint. Extensive repairs were conducted to strengthen the spire, weakened by the pealing of the bells. Several layers of paint were removed from the exterior of the church and the original brickwork was sandblasted clean. The church and chapel roofs had been replaced in 1940 so they were in good order.

The celebration of the pro-cathedral centennial was scheduled for December 1950. In November 1950, a hurricane roared through Newark, extensively damaging the church. Falling pinnacles crashed through the church and sacristy roofs. The 200-foot spire began to sway. Newark police closed several blocks around the cathedral to traffic until the worst of the storm passed and the spire appeared out of danger. Pews, candlesticks, and missals were destroyed. Repairs and replacements cost over $40,000. Monsignor Collins was a faithful steward. Among the insurance claims he filed was a claim for 60 cents for a leather-bound Novena Booklet.

The centennial was observed a year late in 1951 with a Solemn Pontifical Mass celebrated by Archbishop Walsh. A high point of the celebration was the unveiling and installation of a new statue of the patron saint of the cathedral. The statue of St. Patrick was a gift to the cathedral in memory of Rev. Edward J. Kern, who had been director of the Catholic Protectory at Arlington, now Kearny, New Jersey.

In startling contrast to the anti-Catholicism of 1850, the centennial celebration was marked by a resolution of the Newark City Council commending “St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the first Cathedral in the State of New Jersey, the scene of the impressive pomp and reverent solemnity of the Catholic Church during these one hundred fruitful years.” The resolution also praised “the present, priestly, princely, paternal Archbishop Thomas Joseph Walsh…and…the unselfish and untiring endeavors of the long and impressive list of the clergy associated with St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”

The year before the anniversary the pro-cathedral had seen Archbishop Walsh’s “golden jubilee” of priestly ordination. The next year, on June 13, 1952, he was brought to St. Patrick’s for the last time for the Funeral Mass before his burial in the crypt of the almost-finished Sacred Heart Cathedral. The following year, Most Rev. Thomas Aloysius Boland was installed as Archbishop of Newark. Since construction at Sacred Heart Cathedral precluded holding the ceremonies there, and St. Patrick’s was considered too small, the installation took place at Sacred Heart Church in the Vailsburg section of Newark.

After the renovation, the hurricane, and the repairs, life in the parish returned to normal. Again, the sons and daughters of St. Patrick’s answered the call and served in the Korean War that ended in 1953. That year Monsignor James Looney became pastor. Throughout these years the Monday Novena to the Miraculous Medal drew large numbers. There were five services each Monday consisting of the devotional prayers, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the blessing of religious articles and confession. After St. Bridget’s Church burned on July 5, 1953, the custom of nocturnal adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which began at St. Bridget’s, moved to St. Patrick’s. Each Friday, from 9:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, men of the parish would take turns in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Each night Mass would be celebrated at midnight. Members of the business community often would attend the noon Mass. Rev. Denis Whelan, associate pastor, organized these men into a corps of Mass servers. It was not unusual to see corporate leaders serving as “altar boys,” among them George H. Smith, vice president and general manager of the Petroleum Heat and Power Company of New Jersey.

The daily life of the parish priests was not always routine. Monsignor Vincent Coburn, a former curate, recalls a Christmas Eve when Rev. Charles Murphy, a priest of Seton Hall University, was hearing confessions at 10:00 p.m. before the Midnight Mass. A nervous Father Murphy came to the rectory where Father Coburn was having a cup of tea in the kitchen. He told Coburn that several rather “exotic” ladies had appeared in the church for confession and he was perplexed at what he should do. The ladies had told Murphy that they had come directly from work. Coburn told him to hear their confessions. When Murphy, becoming more frantic, demurred, Coburn went to the church to hear the ladies’ confessions. Murphy did not realize that there were several burlesque houses near the pro-cathedral. After confession, Coburn chatted with the ladies and discovered that they were working to send money to their impoverished families in the coal-mining districts of Pennsylvania. The collapse of the market for coal had driven many unemployed miners and their families to the cities seeking employment.

Rev. Francis C. Barry, associate pastor, dedicated much of his time to the youth of the parish. The Catholic Youth Organization, the “CYO,” provided many activities. Father Barry brought the youngsters to the CYO Center in Jersey City where they would participate in plays and radio broadcasts. The parish CYO sponsored bowling teams and other athletic competitions. Rev. John Fahy, associate pastor, began a series of retreats for young people. They traveled by bus to the Cenacle Retreat Center in Lake Ronkonkama in New York for retreats lasting up to seven days. The Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops continued to draw many youngsters. A special treat for the scouts were overnight outings to South Mountain Reservation. Rev. James F. Conti, assistant pastor, would drive to the reservation with blankets and sleeping bags for those youngsters who forgot that September nights in unheated cabins could be very cold. He would return on Sunday for Mass in the Girl Scout Oval in the reservation.

In these years St. Patrick’s sponsored the first Hispanic Girl Scout Patrol in the city of Newark.

A new associate pastor, Rev. Joseph Quinlan, revived the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, the parish religious education program. Father Quinlan went to the public schools for names of students from the parish area. He received over 1,000 of them. Members of the Holy Name Society then visited the families of these students and several hundred returned to or began religious instruction. Qualified teachers were required. Jolanda Sansone, a senior at Kean College, sought volunteers from her class. These volunteers, upon graduation, were all state-certified teachers. The quality of the religious education was assured under the direction of Miss Sansone, who became the CCD Principal. For the adults, Monsignor Looney opened a circulating library in the “Pine Room,” the lower hall of the school. Another educational forum for parishioners was the comprehensive pamphlet and magazine rack in the church vestibule.

The parish societies, the Rosary, Holy Name, and Sodality, embarked on new endeavors. Each year saw a musical exhibition that highlighted parish talent. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s “St. Patrick’s Combined Societies” provided entertainment and raised funds through such presentations as Lyrical Capers, the Emerald Review, April Showers, Hits and Misses, and April Froliques of ’63. As the 1950s ended, declining school enrollments provoked discussions to merge the parochial schools of St. Patrick’s, St. Joseph’s, St. Augustine’s, and Sacred Heart Cathedral. These discussions brought no decisions.

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