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St. Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral
Newark, New Jersey

An Historical Reflection

St. Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral
An Historical Reflection

Monsignor Robert James Wister, Hist.Eccl.D.
Seton Hall University

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 70 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 the last 150 years 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 book.  Rev. Monsignor Neil J. Mahoney, pastor, 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, Rev. C. Anthony Ziccardi, Associate Dean and Professor of Sacred Scripture at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology of Seton Hall University.

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


For more than 12,000 years, the Lenape (Delaware) Indians and their predecessors lived along the rivers and streams of Lenapehoking, the Land of the Lenape.  These earliest inhabitants organized themselves into nomadic bands and eventually established permanent villages.  The Hackensacks, a clan of the Lenape, inhabited the land that would become the city of Newark.

In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian mariner sailing in the service of King Francis I of France, explored the eastern coast of North America and entered what later would be called New York Bay.  Henry Hudson visited the same area in 1609, and the great Hudson River was given his name.  A century after Verrazano, settlers from The Netherlands established a town called New Amsterdam, on the island of Manhattan. What we call the New Jersey-New York Metropolitan area, together with the valley of the Hudson River, would, for forty years, be the Dutch colony of New Netherlands.

In 1664, the English captured New Amsterdam.  King Charles II gave New Netherlands, the land between the Connecticut and Delaware rivers, including Long Island, to his brother, James, Duke of York.  The Duke, in turn, granted the lands between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers to two of his friends, Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, naming them “Lords Proprietors.”  This land was named Nova Caesarea, or New Jersey, recalling the island of Jersey in the English Channel, near the coast of France.  In August, 1665, the first governor of New Jersey, Philip Carteret, arrived with a great company and established himself at Elizabethtown.

The Lords Proprietors knew that they must have colonists, and they encouraged dissatisfied residents of Connecticut to move to their new colony.  These settlers, led by Robert Treat, chose a site near Elizabethtown.  They sailed up "ye Pesayak river" in May 1666. The native inhabitants at first refused to let them settle.  Negotiations were opened with the Hackensacks, and a title purchased from them on July 11, 1667.  Territory extending from the summit of Watchung Mountain, now Orange Mountain, "about seven or eight miles from Pesayak Town," was purchased for "fifty double hands of powder, one hundred barrs of lead, twenty Axes, twenty Coates, ten Guns, twenty pistolls, ten kettles, ten Swords, four blankets, four barrells of beere, ten paire of breeches, fifty knives, twenty bowes, eight hundred and fifty fathem of wampem, two Ankors of Licquers, or something equivalent and three troopers Coates."  The City of Newark was born.

The settlers considered this a fair purchase, but the majority of the Native Americans did not have the same concept of private property as Europeans.  Rather, they considered the land to be held in common.  For them a “sale” of land implied only allowing the use of it to another, not alienation of it in perpetuity.  The way of life of the native inhabitants was to change forever. Over the years most would succumb to disease or warfare.  As their land was lost to Europeans, they would begin a long, sad migration to the west.

During the colonial period, the great majority of the population of New Jersey was Protestant.  Catholics were a tiny minority and there were very few in Newark.  Prejudice was even enshrined in the 1776 Constitution of the State of New Jersey, which stated “that no Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right…(and)…that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect…shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust…”  During the American Revolution, General George Washington always showed respect for Catholics.  The chief allies of our fledgling republic were Catholic Spain and France.  When the Spanish representative, Don Angelo Morales, lay dying at Morristown in 1780, General Washington was present at his side as he received the Sacrament of the Sick.  That same year Washington ordered a public observance of St. Patrick’s Day, the first official recognition of this holiday.  In spite of these events, the restriction of full religious liberty to Protestants alone remained in the New Jersey Constitution until 1844. 

The few Catholics who lived in Newark had to travel great distances for religious services.  On occasion, an itinerant priest would visit, celebrate Mass, baptize, officiate at weddings, and hear confessions.  Tradition recounts that Rev. Paul McQuaid celebrated the first Mass in Newark sometime in the 1820’s.  Apparently, this took place in an old stone house, which stood for many years on the corner of High and Orange Streets, or, perhaps, in the Turf House, at the corner of Durand and Mulberry Streets.  From 1824, Mass was offered weekly at the home of Charles Durning on Mulberry Street.  Durning’s son, Rev. Daniel G. Durning, was the first native of Newark to be ordained to the priesthood.

In 1827, Rev. Gregory Bryan Pardow was sent by Rt. Rev. John Dubois, Bishop of New York, to organize Newark’s first Catholic church, St. John’s.  Ground was purchased on Mulberry Street and the church was begun in 1827.  In 1842, St. Mary’s on High Street was dedicated by Rt. Rev. John Hughes, Bishop of New York, as a church for German-speaking Catholics.



1850 Print of St. Patrick's Church
Courtesy of Newark Public Library

In the 1840’s, a blight destroyed the potato crop in Ireland.  The resultant famine, the “Great Hunger,” killed over one million persons and drove more than one and a half million Irish to emigrate.  Many came to the United States, thousands to New Jersey and to Newark.  By the mid-1840’s, there were over 1,500 Catholics in Newark.  In 1850 the foreign-born population of New Jersey included over 31,000 Irish, most of them Catholic, and over 10,000 Germans, many Catholics among them.  This sudden increase in the Catholic population of Newark strained the facilities of St. John’s Church on Mulberry Street.  After proposals to enlarge the church were rejected, Rev. Patrick Moran, pastor of St. John’s, was authorized by Bishop Hughes to build a new church.

Father Moran lived in a Newark that still had large wooded areas watered by brooks and streams.  Where St. Patrick’s now stands there was a brook with good fishing.  Folks hunted in the hollow along the hill that rises to High Street.  Lighting in the homes was provided by candles and kerosene lamps.  The streets would not be illuminated until 1852 when gas lighting was installed.  Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent lamp was thirty years in the future.  The horse and wagon were the prevailing mode of transportation in competition with the far from perfected and very expensive steam locomotive.  Electric trolleys would not appear until 1888.

Father Moran immediately set to work.  He was not discouraged by the poverty of so many of his flock, recently arrived from Ireland.  He trusted in their generosity and would not be disappointed.  Father Moran chose the corner of Washington and Nesbitt Streets, now Central Avenue, as the site for the new church.  The land was part of the estate of Gen. Thomas Ward and was to be sold at public auction on Oct. 26, 1846.  Because of prejudice against Catholics, Father Moran feared that, if it were known that the property was wanted as a site for a Catholic church, he would not be able to purchase it.  He asked five parishioners to bid separately for the various parcels.  They bought most of the land but were outbid on some of the lots by Mr. Norris, a wealthy Protestant, who lived on Washington Place.  This situation took an unexpected and happy turn.  Father Moran called on Mr. Norris and explained the situation.  Norris said that had he known the lots were needed for a new church, he would not have bid on them.  He sold the property to Father Moran at cost and also made a generous donation towards the building fund.

According to some accounts, Father Moran himself drew up the plans for the church.  However, scholars have noted that the finished St. Patrick’s resembles the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, designed by architect Patrick C. Keely and completed in 1848.  This has led them to attribute the design to Keely.  One scholar has written that “it was through the kind interest of Father Patrick Moran that Mr. Keeley (sic) obtained the Newark work which secured for him the drawing up of a design for St. Patrick’s.”  Although Moran had designed extensive alterations to St. John’s, it is difficult to imagine that a plan as complex as St. Patrick’s could have come from anyone other than a professional architect.  It seems likely that Keely drew up the plans, incorporating suggestions from Moran.

Moran quickly signed a contract with a builder.  Disaster struck the week before the bishop was to come to lay the cornerstone.  Late one evening word came to the pastor that the contractor had absconded.  Moran was left with bills for lumber, brick, and wages to the workmen.  His parishioners raised the money and work on the new church began again.  Bishop Hughes laid the cornerstone on Sept. 17, 1848.  While Father Moran oversaw the construction, he left all details and fundraising in the hands of his assistant, Rev. Louis Dominic Senez.  Father Senez worked tirelessly and the people contributed generously.  Finally, the church was completed and Father Senez was named the first pastor.


On March 10, 1850 St. Patrick’s Church was dedicated with elaborate ceremonies by Bishop Hughes.  Contemporary newspaper accounts described it as “perhaps, the most ornamental church edifice…and the most striking specimen of the Gothic style in the State.”  Its 200-foot high spire, topped with a cross, rose over the entrance to a church 130 feet long, 70 feet wide, with a ceiling 60 feet high.  Light filtered through stained glass windows, the most impressive one, that over the altar, depicted “the savior in the attitude of addressing the people.”  In an 1852 report, Senez noted that the total cost of the church was “about $25,000,” an enormous sum in those days for a poor parish.  Father Senez’s salary as pastor was $50 per month.  St. Patrick’s Parish included all of Newark from Belleville to the south end of the city, west to Orange, with the exception of St. Mary’s German parish.  It embraced the town of Harrison as well.

A school building was begun early in July 1851, was finished by the contractor late in the fall, and occupied before the winter season of 1851-1852.  In it, the parish conducted a Day and Sunday School.  An Orphan Asylum for about a dozen children was established in the school dormitory in the winter of 1851-2.  Beds were put in the dormitory where the pastor had four rooms fitted up for his own residence.  There was ample space for the little family, which increased to 23 in 1852.  The orphans were supervised by a few charitable young women who also schooled them.  When four of the children were stricken with smallpox in the epidemic of 1852, Father Senez refused to allow any of the teachers to sit up nights.  He did the night nursing himself. All the children recovered.

Mary Whelan at St. Mary’s Church, Elizabethown

From Joseph Flynn, 
The Catholic Church in New Jersey

The Irish immigrants whom St. Patrick’s served were not welcomed by many of their fellow citizens.  The generous Mr. Norris, who helped Father Moran secure the property, did not represent the majority.  The “Know-Nothing” Party, which advocated violence against Catholics and all immigrants, was strong in New Jersey. It was hailed by one Newark newspaper as “a friend of order.”  In nearby Elizabethtown, Know-Nothings marched on St. Mary's Catholic Church with the intention of destroying it.  The pastor, the Rev. Isaac P. Howell, to avoid bloodshed, sent the men of the parish away and asked the women to come to the church with their children.  Mrs. Mary Whelan stood in the doorway, her baby in her arms, and told the leader of the mob that he would have to kill her and her child before he could pass.  Humiliated, he turned on his followers and swore he would "brain the first man" who laid a finger on Mrs. Whelan.  The mob dispersed.


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