Irish-American parishioners at St. Patrick’s maintained many ties with friends and families in Ireland. The outbreak of the “Great War” in Europe provoked mixed feelings. Americans wanted to keep out of the war, but many Irish-Americans hoped that England’s preoccupation with it might allow Ireland to throw off British rule and achieve independence. The 1916 Easter Week Rising encouraged that hope. Many Irish-Americans, including St. Patrick’s parishioners, contributed to the Irish Republican Army and prayed for their victory. The next year the St. Patrick’s Day Parade took on a decidedly political tone.
Just a month later, in April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. Monsignor Whelan was a man of high culture, dignified, and forceful. When the United States entered the war, he participated in a rally on the steps of City Hall, urging the thousands gathered there to defend the flag. Still desiring Irish independence, St. Patrick’s Irish-Americans flocked to the colors, even though it meant fighting as allies of the British. Such ambivalence permeated the Newark population. Newark’s many German-Americans believed that they had to prove their American patriotism. Hamburg Place became Wilson Avenue, frankfurters became “hotdogs,” and the German Catholic parochial schools ceased teaching German. The war ended just 18 months later, but Irish independence would not be achieved for several years, and then for only part of Ireland, the southern 26 counties. St. Patrick’s commemorated the “martyrs” of the Rebellion at the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. A Celtic cross with their names was and still is placed in front of the church on the day of the parade.
In 1919, Monsignor Francis P. McHugh became pastor. St. Patrick’s and the city of Newark enjoyed a period of relative stability that would last until the fall of the stock market in 1929. During the war many women had entered the work force for the first time, but at its end, they returned home. Concerned about the lack of facilities for young women, McHugh established the Catholic Young Women’s Club in 1919. Its goal was to serve young, unmarried women under the age of 16 and to provide a forum for those whose education often ended before completion of high school. Specifically, its charter declared that the club would “carry on community and civic service, foster religion, education, and social development of American young womanhood.”
Just as St. Patrick’s was the focus of the annual parade on its patronal feast, it was the center of many civic activities. After the war, the 113th Infantry held annual ceremonies in the cathedral commemorating the November 11 armistice. In 1923, the Newark Fire Department Holy Name Society initiated an annual Mass to commemorate its deceased members. It continues to this day.
During these decades, St. Patrick’s financial condition remained stable. The parish population also remained constant but was becoming more diverse. Immigration had slowed during World War I and was further reduced by the restrictive immigration laws of the 1920s.
Parishioners had entered the professions and were able generously to support the parish. In 1924, annual expenses of $64,000 were exceeded by income of $74,000, and there was an additional $48,000 in the bank. Income increased to almost $90,000 in the fateful year of 1929. Affluence was matched by generosity as, in addition to special collections for needy institutions, St. Patrick’s loaned significant sums to less affluent parishes: $42,000 to Queen of Peace in North Arlington, $30,000 to Our Lady of the Valley in Orange, and $5,000 to Holy Trinity in Westfield.
Although McHugh’s health was frail, he began to plan for the parish’s Diamond Jubilee in 1925. In February 1924 a new organ was installed by the Odell Company of New York and dedicated with a concert by composer Marcel Dupre, organist of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Retaining some of the pipes of the Erben organ, the new instrument included all of the mechanical improvements of the time. Monsignor McHugh died the following September and was succeeded in February 1925 by Monsignor Edward M. Quirk.
The Diamond Jubilee was duly observed on March 17, 1925 with a Pontifical Mass celebrated by Bishop O’Connor assisted by seminarians from Seton Hall. The occasion also commemorated the Golden Jubilee of the consecration of the pro-cathedral. Before his death, McHugh had ordered new stained glass windows for the church and chapel. Quirk oversaw their installation in June 1925. These are the third set of stained glass windows that have adorned the pro-cathedral. According to a 1925 newspaper report, these windows were made “in Holland.”
The Young Men’s Catholic Association, which was less active than in former years, suffered the loss of its building at 76 New Street in a fire on February 21, 1925.
Fifteen years later, in 1940, the association was dissolved. St. Patrick’s suffered a further loss in 1927. After 61 years of service the Christian Brothers withdrew from St. Patrick’s Boys School. Apparently, Monsignor Quirk and the Brothers differed over the admission of boys from outside the parish to the school. As a token of esteem, 500 alumni hosted a testimonial dinner at the Robert Treat Hotel during which the departing Christian Brothers were honored. At the dinner, Brother Felician, F.S.C., an alumnus of the Cathedral School, addressed the gathering:
If we, after all these years that have been spent among you, did nothing else but keep alive in the hearts of two or three the precious heritage of the Catholic faith, so that when the time came and the time will come, that you can stand up and give a reason for the faith that is in you, as did a Brother’s boy not so very long ago, our labor will not have been in vain.
The reference was to New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, taught by the Brothers at Manhattan College. The next year Smith would be the first Roman Catholic candidate for the office of President of the United States. The Boys and Girls Schools were eventually consolidated under the direction of the Sisters of Charity.
The spiritual welfare of the parishioners remained a preoccupation. As in years past, the activities of the parish societies, missions, and novenas were the major focus of spiritual activities. The preachers were from various religious orders: Dominicans, Jesuits, Augustinians, Franciscans, Redemptorists, and Passionists. Many of the sermons at these services had the character of “fire and brimstone.” In a 1930 triduum for the Holy Name Society men, the Jesuit preacher thundered:
Irreligion is rife. Naturalism and materialism are trying to get their hard hands on the hearts of the people to crush out, if possible, the life of grace. Infidelity and indifference grow apace…Riches, social prominence, worldly prosperity — these are the things that engage men heart and soul, that absorb their minds and tax their energies…In this impetuous stream of worldly interests and activities, souls are perishing; they are being carried along and hurried fast and deep into hell.
Later that year, during the Immaculate Conception novena that attracted 1,400 people, the Dominican preacher warned:
Catholic girls, educated in our own schools, almost under the very shadow of the altar, are aping and following the vulgar sinful manners of a pagan world, with the immodest dress, the questionable dance, and the familiarity that always leads to spiritual ruin.
Holy Week services took on new splendor. Rt. Rev. Thomas Joseph Walsh, who succeeded Bishop O’Connor in 1928, had a special interest in ceremony and music. He insisted on the most elaborate liturgy and perfection in its execution. For Holy Week, Christmas, Pentecost and other feasts, the choirs of Immaculate Conception Seminary and of the Filippini Sisters of Morristown joined the Cathedral Singers. Professor Nicola Montani, a professional conductor and composer, directed the music. On these occasions the Pontifical Mass was celebrated with splendor rarely seen in this hemisphere. Bishop Walsh’s entry into the pro-cathedral, to a polyphonic arrangement of Ecce Sacerdos Magnus, was an event comparable to a Renaissance pageant. Two Papal Chamberlains of the Sword and Cape, one of them the artist Gonippo Raggi, escorted him. These chamberlains were arrayed in the military-style uniform of Knights of St. Gregory, gold-embroidered tunics, gold chains of office, plumed hats and swords. Walsh was vested in an ermine cape over his magenta cappa magna, a long silk train. As many as six young pages, in costumes of silk and velvet, carried the train. One of these pages was Thomas W. Heck. Heck was ordained a priest in 1957 and would serve the pro-cathedral parish as an associate pastor from 1959 to 1968, ministering to the Latino community. The annual ordinations to the priesthood were of equal magnificence. For all of these events, St. Patrick’s was jammed with overflow crowds.
In 1929, Professor Gonippo Raggi, an Italian artist of international reputation living in East Orange, was commissioned to fill the pro-cathedral church with paintings. Over the arches of the nave he placed portraits of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, of the New Testament evangelists and apostles, and of the doctors of the church. Between the windows above the sanctuary he painted portraits of Irish saints: Cormac, Columbkill, Kieran, Brendan, Patrick, Bridget, Colman, Columbanus, Kilian, and Malachy. The lower wall of the sanctuary, forming a background to the altar, was decorated with panels showing the coats of arms of the bishops of Newark. The emblems were enriched with elaborate decoration and large figures of angels. The baptistery was decorated with peacocks, pelicans, wheat, and grapes. The upper sanctuary and baptistery paintings have succumbed to damage from time and water, but those in the nave and lower sanctuary remain intact. Raggi finished his work on November 3, 1929, just after the crash of the New York Stock Exchange set off the beginning of America’s “Great Depression.”