Early 20th Century - Catholic Worship
The story of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community starts not with the laying of bricks or the breaking of ground but with the first immigrant Catholic families who arrived in this predominantly Dutch/English/German community at the beginning of the twentieth century. They came slowly at first, purchasing small tracts of land, farming, and raising families. By the end of World War I the pace had quickened, so that by 1920 a recognizable community of Catholic families had made their home in Readington Township. At that time the opportunity for Catholic worship was limited to Mass at St. Magdeline's, Flemington, as well as the churches in Raritan Borough. Among the Catholics in the northern part of the Township, of primarily Polish background, worship at St. Joseph's Slovak Catholic Church in Raritan was preferred, due in part, to the similarity of traditions and languages.
By 1922, there were a sufficient number of Catholic families in the area around Whitehouse to warrant that a committee be formed to petition Bishop Thomas Walsh, of Trenton, to establish a new Parish. Between 70 and 80 people signed the petition and, as a result, on December 7, 1922, Father Mieczyslaw A. Konopka, a Polish speaking priest, the associate pastor in Sacred Heart Church, South Amboy, was sent to investigate. He found about 150 Catholic families in the area, half were of Polish background while the other half consisted of many different ethnic backgrounds including Italian, Irish and German.
1923 - The Founding of the Parish
In June of 1923, Father Konopka was appointed the first pastor. His initial task was to organize the new parish and to build a church. He accomplished this with incredible speed. His first Mass was offered on June 10, in a barn owned by Wladyslaw and Josephine Szablowski on Pulaski Road, this practice continued throughout that summer and fall. The new parish with the title of "Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Whitehouse, N.J." was incorporated on June 19, 1923 and its certificate of incorporation recorded in the Hunterdon County Clerk's Office on June 20, 1923. George Salch and Wladyslaw Szablowski were the first lay trustees. Father Konopka had no residence, but rented a room at Hyman Danzig's mill house on Mill Road in Whitehouse. On July 13, 1923, Bishop Thomas Walsh of Trenton wrote to Father Joseph Ketter of St. Joseph's Church in Raritan concerning the property that would become Our Lady of Lourdes.
Church Property - Text of Bishop Walsh's letter:
Rev. dear Father Ketter:
Mr. D. J. Kierznicki, Real Estate Agent, who sold the Diocese of Trenton through you as negotiator of the church property at Whitehouse states, in a letter to me under date of July 12th, that he agreed with you to donate, and actually did donate two corner plots 192 x 200, and that he agreed to sell, and actually did sell the two adjoining plots 200 x 200 for $800. Mr. Kierznicki further states that it was clearly understood that the conveyance be made in one deed to simplify the transaction and save recording expense. Are these statements true?
Please answer on this letter below by return mail, I am,
Yours sincerely in Christ
Bishop of Trenton
On July 16, 1923, Father Ketter signed the bottom of the Bishop's letter indicating that all was true and on July 19, Bishop Walsh sent the document to Father Konopka with hand written directions that "You may read the above to your people at the services on Sunday, July 22nd." With the purchase of the property, the new parish was ready to build.
August 19, 1923 - Ground Breaking
On August 19, 1923, ground was broken for the new structures. The corporate resolution for building, as well as various diocesan documents, referred to the first structure to be built as "the church and school building." However, ultimately the new structure turned out to be only a church building. The rectory was built at the same time. The construction was paid for out of the Conservation of the Faith Fund of the Diocese of Trenton with the total cost being $45,506.47. Included was the cost of church and rectory, the property and insurance. A March, 1924 parish corporation resolution listed a rounded off debt to the diocesan Conservation of the Faith Fund as $45,000. Slightly less than six months after Father Konopka's arrival, on November 29, 1923, Thanksgiving Day, the cornerstone was laid and the church building blessed with the Right Reverend Monsignor John H. Fox, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Trenton, officiating. More than a dozen priests attended the ceremonies, many representing Polish parishes of the Diocese of Trenton.
Most of the original site work was done by volunteers. Local historian Stephanie Stevens in her book, For a Better Life, reports that "Anthony Wade and his son, Joe, dug the driveway" while "Tunis Bush dug the cellar." The building, based on plans for similar buildings in the Diocese was contracted out to Frank D. Priory Construction. The new church was the epitome of a simple country church, with a painted, wooden communion rail and simple pews with hard wooden kneelers. The church accommodated two hundred and fifty worshipers and regularly held two Masses on Sunday. The early Mass was for the English speaking community and a later Mass for the Polish speaking parishioners.
The rectory was constructed in conjunction with the original church in late 1923. It was built of red brick, as was the church. The bottom floor included a parish office, dining room and kitchen and a small housekeeper's room. The second floor consisted of the pastor's bedroom and study, a parlor, two rooms for visitors and common bathroom. There was an open front porch.
During the first third of the century Catholics were often the victims of discrimination and bigotry. The small parish in Whitehouse was no exception. Many stories have been told of cross burnings initiated by local Klu Klux Klan in a field across from the little church intended to terrorize the young Catholic community.
Father Konopka / First Sacraments
Father Konopka's pastorate at Our Lady of Lourdes lasted nearly twelve years and was filled with accomplishments for the young parish. Among his primary concerns was attending to the spiritual needs of his flock. The first baptism in the parish took place on July 4, 1923. Two children were christened, Francis Joseph Rudolph Geiger and Helena Antonina Dembeski (Dembeska) four and five week old infants. The first burials were Walter Serth on October 27, 1923 and Anna Marie Serth on November 28. Father Konopka witnessed his first parish marriage on September 16, 1923. The bride was Sophia Majewski of Whitehouse and Anthony Liotkowski of Somerville. Because there was no church building, the ceremony was performed at St. Mary's Church in Bound Brook. The first marriage in the new church was the marriage of Antoni Emilut and Zuzanna Niechniedowicz on May 14, 1925. First Communion was given to forty children on June 8, 1924. A week later George Valentine also made his First Communion. He must have been ill on June 8. Father Konopka also organized the Children of Mary Sodality in May 1932 and the Polish Rosary Society in October 1934.
1929 - Auditorium
During 1929 a parish hall was built, initially referred to as the Auditorium, its cost was $2,205.32. Most of the original site work was done by volunteers. Many parishioners were employed in this building project. General supervisors were Onufrey Maksimowicz and Stanley Kolodzinski. Workers listed mostly by last names were employed as masons, carpenters, metal workers, electricians and painters: Gutowski, Borys, Jorowski, Sudol, Kalkita, Inaram, Burek, Vladich, Wroblewski, Slirzewski, Emilut, Kikosinski, Bobrowski, Winterstein, Reut, Salch, Krebaum, DeDeckre, Krug, Wade, Jankowski. Mrs. Lena Krug and Mrs. Emil Krebaum of the Ladies Aid Society supplied the stage curtains. The grand opening of the Auditorium took place on November 30, 1929. It was a grand day with 350 guests attending not only from the parish but from Newark, Elizabeth, Brooklyn, Queens, South Amboy, Plainfield and Bound Brook. Speakers for the occasion were Father Konopka, Thomas Mullen, Walter Szablowski, and Colonel John Stockton Strouse. The hall served parishioners for over fifty years, housing all kinds of social functions: dances, movies, wedding receptions as well as meetings and religious education classes.
During Father Konopka's final years, 1932-1935, George Reut and Andrew Vladich acted as lay trustees. Father Konopka was transferred from the parish to the pastorate of All Saints Church in Burlington on May 15, 1935. He retired after serving many years as pastor of Holy Family Parish, Carteret and died on May 5, 1971.
1935 - Father Albert A. Tomaszewski
Father Konopka was succeeded on May 15, 1935 by Father Albert A. Tomaszewski another Polish speaking priest. Father "Tom", as he was known, had been the assistant pastor at Sacred Heart in Manville. His initial appointment was as administrator not pastor. It was the custom for the Bishop to name a priest, who had never been a pastor, as an administrator first. It was not until July 15, 1943 that Father Tom was canonically appointed pastor. His fourteen years pastorate was one of growth and activity in the parish. On March 1, 1942, thirty men formed the Holy Name Society. On July 26, of the same year, a dedication of an Honor Roll to 43 men of the parish serving in the armed forces was held. Eventually, one hundred thirty seven sons of the parish served in World War II. Five of them died. Father Tom's administration spanned the later years of the Depression, through the war and post-war eras. It was a difficult time for the parish financially. By the end of 1944 the parish's debt had increased to $51,466.78. By courtesy of Bishop William Griffin of Trenton, over $36,000 was forgiven by the Diocese, leaving an indebtedness to the Diocese of only $15,000.
With this burden lightened, the parish started an improvement fund and a bell fund. In April 1947, the sanctuary area was enlarged. A bell for the church tower was blessed on November 9, 1947. Father William Lannery, the dean of the area and delegate of the Bishop, presided at the blessing. It was rung for the first time on December 5. By the end of the year, new pews, a brass communion rail, pulpit and sedelia (priest's seat) were put in place. On March 17, 1948 a small pipe organ was installed by Jacob Gerger of Philadelphia for $2,500.
Religious education was also one of the accomplishments during Father Tom's pastorate. On July 21, 1944 a Confraternity Study Club was initiated. September 23 of that year saw the institution of the children's Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, which was canonically established on October 11. A confraternity room was built in the church basement by March 1945. On April 16, 1946, the Sisters of Loretto began to teach confraternity classes for the children. Bishop Griffin had set up a regional convent in Flemington for the sisters to service the area parishes. Four sisters taught and bus service was set up on Highway 28 for the children attending the classes. George Reut and Andrew Vladich served as lay trustees throughout Father Tom's pastorate. Father Tomaszewski was transferred from the parish to Our Lady of Mercy in Englishtown on October 21, 1949. He died on May 3, 1960.
1949 - Father Joseph T. Wade
The transfer of Father Tomaszewki and the official appointment of Father Joseph T. Wade took place on the same day. Father Wade, as was the custom, was also initially named administrator. On September 22, 1950 he was installed as pastor by Bishop George Ahr, the new Bishop of Trenton.
Father Wade was the first non-Polish speaking priest to serve the parish. The Diocese of Trenton had named him to Whitehouse Station since it judged that after twenty-six years of Polish speaking pastors the second generation of ethnic Poles in the parish would be English speaking. The non-Polish membership had also grown. Initially, this caused difficulty in the parish. Some members of the Polish community left to establish a mission church of the Polish National Catholic Church on Kline Boulevard. The mission, called Sacred Heart Church, continued until about 1957-1958. The group was not in union with the Roman Catholic Church. Father Wade proved himself to be sensitive to this difficulty and consequently provided for ministry to those who preferred the Polish language. Confessions were heard in Polish at Christmastime, during Holy Week and on the occasion of the Forty Hours Devotion. Polish customs such as the blessing of Easter food were also continued. Subsequent pastors continued this ministry to the Polish speaking parishioners. As recently as Easter week in 1974, a triduum was conducted in the Polish language.
Father Wade's pastorate was a very active one. During his first years the Altar Society, Altar Boys Society, the St. Aloysius Society for boys and the Angel Sodality for girls were established. The Sunday Mass schedule was expanded from two to four Masses. The Franciscan Fathers of Holy Name Province began to help on weekends. On June 21, 1952 additional land was purchased along Pulaski Road adjacent to the parish property. The land extended 381 feet east along Pulaski Road with 15 feet of it set aside as a right-of-way to the Hambel property. The depth of the property varied from 396.9 to 392 feet. The parish paid $2,200 for this additional land. During this era various improvements were made on the church including the installation of two stained glass windows in 1953 as well as a new organ purchased, in November 1955, for $3,740. The windows are included in the new community house. Four men served as parish trustees during Father Wade's pastorate: Andrew Vladich and Thomas Mullen into 1952, William Groogan and Thomas Gray replaced them.
1953-1954 / Grotto Built
One of the most significant events during Father Wade's pastorate was the building of the grotto by the Holy Name men. Ground was broken on February 11, 1953, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and on November 7, 1954, Bishop Ahr dedicated the grotto. On December 4, 1957, Father Wade was named pastor of St. Gregory the Great Church in Hamilton Square, outside Trenton. He died in retirement on August 8, 1990.
1957 - Father Bernard A. Coen
Father Bernard A. Coen was appointed pastor on December 4, 1957. He had been assistant pastor at St. Rose of Lima Church in Freehold. In his less than four years as pastor, he worked to upkeep the parish buildings. Repairs to classrooms in the church and rectory basements were made. A new tabernacle was purchased, as well as a monstrance, sidewalks and lamps were placed at the side of the rectory and the property was seeded. In addition, tiles were installed on the floor of the church and a new brick garage was built to replace a frame garage. Father Coen promoted religious education for all age groups. During his pastorate high school youth were brought together for such instruction through the establishment of the Newman Club. Since 1954, the sisters who taught from the Flemington Regional Convent were members of the Victoryknoll community.
On February 10, 1959 the final $15,000 of the original debt was paid to the Diocese of Trenton. A "Burning of the Mortgage Dinner-Dance" was held in Liberty Hall of the Polish American Citizens Club on Sunday, March 1. With the parish free of debt further improvements were made. A new boiler was installed in the church in late 1959 and during the summer of 1960, the parish hall was renovated to include inside bathroom facilities. In September 1960, the hall was rented out for classrooms to the local Board of Education for $300 a month. The parking lot was paved with the work being done free (by the Township) except for $241.23 being paid to Tar Asphalt, Inc. Messrs. Groogan and Gray continued as lay trustees. On September 28, 1961, Father Coen was transferred to establish the new parish of St. Ambrose in what is now Old Bridge Township. He died as pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Seaside Heights on March 29, 1984.
Father Nicholas C. Murphy
Father Nicholas C. Murphy arrived in Whitehouse Station as its new pastor on September 1961. He had been the assistant pastor at Holy Cross Church in Rumson. During Father Murphy's stay of six years, various repairs were made to the rectory and driveway. An addition to the garage was also constructed. On September 11, 1962, a new building fund was opened with Emigrant Savings in New York with a deposit of $7,500. On December 31, a memorial fund account was initiated with a $10,000 deposit.
On November 29, 1963 the fortieth anniversary of the parish was celebrated with a Mass on Friday, November 28 for all the parishioners and another on Saturday, November 29, for the founders. Saturday evening featured a dance at Liberty Hall on Kline Boulevard. The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes continued to be taught by the Sisters from the Flemington regional convent. The number of students was gradually growing. By the mid 1960's, eighty children per year were receiving first communion. On November 8, 1964 The Holy Name Society met for the last time. Father Murphy was transferred on September 1, 1967. He died on December 15, 1980 while pastor of St. George Church, Washington Crossing.
Father James N. Cammisa
Father James N. Cammisa's nine and a half years as pastor began on September 1, 1967. During these years, the parish grew in size from approximately five hundred families, when he first came, to over eight hundred families ten years later. One of the first projects undertaken in Father Cammisa's pastorate was the formation of a board to oversee the religious education program. On March 26, 1968, a temporary board met to establish a plan of action. A week later the group was formally named the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Advisory Council of Our Lady of Lourdes Church. Alfred Spilatro assumed the presidency. One of the first actions of the Council was to petition Readington School Board for use of fourteen classrooms in Whitehouse School. At the August meeting, it was announced that classes would begin on September 21 at Whitehouse School. The Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) was formed in the parish in conjunction with the Council and under its supervision. Many of the youth formed a folk choir and a Mass with folk style music was introduced.
Father Cammisa also had general repairs done to the church, rectory, and grounds at a cost of $15,100. He renovated the church sanctuary to fit the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. An altar facing the people was constructed and a shrine for the reservation of the Eucharist arranged on the side. Following the spirit of the Council, ecumenical services with neighboring Christian Churches were held on occasion. Legendary as a frugal manager, he invested parish funds well in preparation for the building of a new church. During his relatively long pastorate various laymen served as trustees. These included Messrs. Grogan and Gray, Edward Saks, Edward DelCarlo, Joseph Yankowski and William Collins. Father Cammisa developed ill health and from February to April 1975 was on a temporary leave of absence. Father John Bowden acted as temporary administrator. At the CCD Council's May 16, 1977 meeting, Father Cammisa announced that the Bishop had accepted his resignation, due to ill health, to take effect on May 27.
Father Andrew Cogan
Father Andrew Cogan administrated the parish for two months before he was named pastor on July 29, 1977. Before coming to Whitehouse Station, Father had been for a short time associate pastor at Our Lady of Mount Virgin Church in Middlesex following six years as a missionary in South America. On June 13, 1977, a few weeks after he arrived, Our Lady of Lourdes Council of the Knights of Columbus held its first official meeting. Fred Hegarty was named grand knight. A charismatic prayer group was formed in March, 1978.
Father Cogan continued to work closely with the CCD Council and frequently used them as a sounding board concerning other parish matters besides religious education. The growth in the population of the parish made it necessary for additional religious education classes. In September 1978, Round Valley School in Clinton Township was rented in addition to the two sessions at Whitehouse School. In July of 1981, Mrs. Patricia Gillich was hired as the parish's first full time director of religious education.
1980 - New Church
During the 1970's it was becoming more evident that the small church, which had served for so long, was inadequate for the new demands of the parish. When Father Cammisa left, there were two Saturday night Masses and four Sunday Masses. In April of 1978, Father Cogan changed the Sunday Mass schedule to accommodate five Masses plus the two Saturday vigil Masses. With Father Cogan's pastorate came a mandate to build a new church. Early in 1979, plans began for the building of a new house of worship designed to seat 700 people. The church was to cost $1,000,000; however, due to the careful money management of Father Cammisa, the building fund drive initiated on October 1, 1979, needed only $200,000 in pledges. The goal was quickly achieved and ground was broken on Sunday, February 10, 1980, the day before the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
One casualty of the new church was the parish auditorium, built so lovingly by the first generation of Our Lady of Lourdes parishioners, it was razed to make room for the new structure. At the end of February 1981, the new church was ready for use. The new church was solemnly dedicated on Sunday, April 5, 1981 by Bishop John C. Reiss, the Bishop of Trenton. More than a dozen priests attended including two former pastors, Father Cammisa and Father Coen. The cornerstone was laid on the same occasion. A reception followed in the new parish center, the former church building. Mr. DelCarlo continued as lay trustee throughout Father Cogan's pastorate. He was joined by Robert Nielson until 1980, who was succeeded by William Collins.
1981 - New Diocese of Metuchen
At the end of November, 1981, the parish found itself a part of a new Diocese. The Diocese of Trenton was split into two with the Diocese of Metuchen being established, Bishop Theodore E. McCarrick became the first bishop. In the spring of 1983, Father Cogan asked permission of Bishop McCarrick to be released to pursue a vocation in a religious order. On May 25, the parish said good-bye to Father Cogan at a farewell Mass and reception. Eventually, Father Cogan returned to the Diocese of Metuchen. He died February 20, 1991, as pastor of Saint Joseph Parish, North Plainfield.
1983 - Father Gregory Toft
Father Frances Gunner, a retired priest of the Trenton Diocese, who was in residence at the rectory, was named temporary administrator. At the end of June, Bishop McCarrick appointed Father Gregory Toft as the new pastor. He was installed on July 22, 1983. Father Toft had been the chaplain at Bishop Ahr High School in Edison and served as the diocesan Director of Vocations. Assigned with him as the parish's first duly appointed associate pastor was Father Michael Santillo. Father Santillo continued doing part-time work on the faculty of St. Pius High School in Piscataway. In the fall, Father Toft conducted a parish census which showed that the parish had grown to 1000 families. In September, he reduced the Masses on Sunday from five to four. Liturgical practices and ministries were strengthened during his stay. In early February 1984, Father Toft took a leave of absence from the active priesthood. Father Santillo was named temporary administrator.
1984 - 2003 / Father Florian J. Gall
Father Florian J. Gall began his pastorate at Our Lady of Lourdes on June 8, 1984. He was diocesan Vicar for Parish Life and had served as pastor of Saint Joseph Parish, Bound Brook until his appointment. Father Santillo was transferred to be Associate Pastor at St. John Vianney, Colonia at the same time. In the spring of 1985, the Blask property immediately north of the new church and abutting the parish property became available. On July 3, 1985, the parish purchased it for the sum of $120,000. Included in its 1.36 acres was a framed ranch type home. Though the property was not initially purchased to use as a rectory, by September of 1985, it was determined that the original rectory was needed for staff working space and expanded parish offices. Simultaneous with the priests moving into new quarters, in September of 1985, the rectory was developed into the Parish House. It served as such until it was torn down during the construction of Lourdes Community House.
Messrs. DelCarlo and Collins continued to serve as trustees into Father Gall's pastorate. In 1985, Mr. Collins gave way to Charlotte Wurzberg. Upon Mrs. Wurzberg's relocation from the parish in 1987, Bertha Kappus was elected as a trustee and served into 1993. Edward Del Carlo served as trustee to the end of November in 1991. Mr. DelCarlo's terms as trustee extended for eighteen years which marked him as the longest serving trustee in the parish's history.
During Father Gall's pastorate, a full parish staff was developed over a period of four years. Sister Suzanne Faulkner, S.C., came in September of 1984 as the first parish pastoral assistant. She was succeeded in September of 1985 by Sister Barbara Carey, R.S.C.J. Other full time staff members included a bookkeeper, administrative assistant, director of liturgical music and a parish secretary. The religious education department was also strengthened with the hiring of a secretary. During Father Toft's pastorate, the CCD Council began to lose momentum and voted to disband shortly after Father Gall's arrival. In June 1985, Father Raymond Avery was assigned as the parish's associate pastor. He remained until October of 1986 when Father David O'Brien, an extern priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, took his place. Father O'Brien was named temporary administrator during February and March of 1987 when Father Gall was recovering from a heart attack. In June 1987, Father O'Brien exchanged assignments with Father Leonard Rusay, who had been associate pastor in St. Cecelia'a Church in Iselin. Father Len remained until June of 1991.
Father Michael Saharic ordained
On May 28, 1988, Father Michael Saharic, a son of the parish, was ordained a priest at St. Francis Cathedral, Metuchen. He celebrated his first Mass the following day at Our Lady of Lourdes Church.
During the initial years of Father Gall's pastorate various parish ministries were developed and improved. The youth ministry was renewed beginning late spring 1985 under the leadership of a number of parish lay people. The liturgical music ministry was strengthened with adult, youth and bell choirs. Ministry to the bereaved, to the homeless, to the poor and to the divorced and separated were initiated. A Pre-Cana team and program began in the fall of 1986. The Lourdes Players were initiated in 1988. Programs of spiritual renewal were encouraged including Ashes to Easter and RENEW. The liturgy became a main focal point of parish life. Some liturgical renovations to the church were put into effect beginning in 1987, including a place of reservation for the Eucharist and the relocation of the font to the entrance of the church. Shrine areas for devotion to the Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Joseph were also constructed. Ecumenical programs with neighboring Christian communities were also reintroduced into the parish. Lay participation in parish affairs was encouraged. The Parish Finance Council was established with Dominick DiMauro as first Chairman.
1991 - Community House Built
The need for education, social and office space for a growing parish of almost fifteen hundred families led to the decision in 1986 to build the new Lourdes Community House. To construct the new parish building a capital campaign was conducted called "Building Community" in the spring of 1987. Some $875,000 was pledged and collected. The building was planned with the assistance of various ad hoc parish committees: the project planning committee, the architectural selection committee and the building committee. A ceremonial ground breaking was conducted on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1988 and the building was blessed by Bishop Edward T. Hughes of Metuchen on Sunday, April 21, 1991. Kellenyi Associates Architects of Red Bank designed the structure and general contractors were Marigliano & Sons of Dunnellen. The cost of the building was approximately $1,800,000. The original rectory, at that time in poor repair, was demolished as part of the project.
The parish continued to grow during the 1990s. Parish membership by 1998 reached approximately 1,700 households. In March of that year a small portion of the parish in the southeast corner of its territory was transferred to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in the Three Bridges section of Readington Township. Fifty families were incorporated into that neighboring parish. The growth of the parish contributed to the decision to explore various means by which a community and welcoming spirit would be preserved. Small Church Communities were initiated in 1992 and a welcoming committee with a new welcoming process consisting of a Welcome Evening and Welcome Sunday for new parishioners was put into effect in September of 1994. Parish ministries continued to be developed and strengthened such as the training of a group of couples as the pre-baptism preparation team, a program for parents and pre-school children, a family oriented religious education program called family ministry, and adult religious education.
Associate pastors assigned to the parish during these years include Father Patrick Maccarone from June 1991 to 1993, Father John Fell from June 1993 to September 1998. New trustees during the 1990s include Robert Wachendorf, 1992-1996; Florence Fitzgerald, 1994-1997; Aloysius Sullivan 1997-1998; and Helen Omilian 1998. Pastoral staff members who served the parish include Mr. Thomas DeLessio, director of liturgical music since 1987, Mrs. Paula Choa, who succeeded Mrs. Patricia Gillich as director of religious education in 1991 to 1997, and Sister Patricia Centner, O.S.F., pastoral assistant since 1996. Sister Barbara Carey retired from the staff in 1998. Two men of the parish were ordained to the permanent diaconate on May 5, 1996. Deacon Samuel Damiano and Deacon John Hanna were also assigned to minister to the parish. In September 1997 the parish was linked with Holy Trinity Church in Perth Amboy as a sister church beginning a process of financial, cultural, and practical aid and exchange.
1997 / Church Restoration & Renovation
Primary in the parish's planning to celebrate its diamond jubilee was the restoration and renovation of the interior of the church building. The catalyst for this was the need to restore the interior church walls. Over the years it was discovered that faulty contruction necessitated this. The restoration/renovation work replaced the plaster board walls with new vapor barriers and plaster board as well as with a brick wall behind the sanctuary. The floors were covered with quarry tile. New lighting and audio systems were installed. The narthex was enlarged, eliminating the day chapel, and a glass atrium was added to the building. A new reconciliation chapel, a pastoral room and video room were constructed. The marble font, which originally was situated in Old St. Mary's Cathedral, Trenton, was enlarged to allow for baptism by immersion and a new altar and other liturgical furnishings for the sanctuary were commissioned and installed. Some flexible seating was arranged around the font and around the sanctuary and a Chapel of the Eucharist constructed. The side devotional shrines were enlarged and assigned to images of Our Lady of Lourdes and the Sacred Heart.
A nineteen rank pipe organ was constructed by Randall Dyer & Associates of Jefferson City, Tennessee. Robert Rambusch and Larry Hoy were liturgical consultants and fabricated the new altar and other liturgical furnishings through Renovata Studios, Brooklyn. To finance this project a seventy-fifth anniversary fund, Restoring Our Church -- Celebrating Our Diamond Jubilee, was established. During April and May of 1996 a mail campaign was conducted with over a half million dollars pledged. A building committee and liturgical environment and art committee was established to plan and supervise the renovations. The major portion of the restoration/renovation was done during October to December 1997.
1997-1998 / Diamond Jubilee
The parish began the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee on Sunday, June 1, 1997 and continued it for seventeen months to Thanksgiving of 1998. The highlight of the celebration was the liturgical observance on Sunday, June 14, 1998. Bishop Vincent de Paul Breen of Metuchen was the presiding celebrant at a Diamond Jubilee Mass. Bishop Fernando Gamalero of Escuintla, Guatamala, as well as some two dozen priests joined in the day's festivities which included a buffet lunch for over three hundred parishioners following the Noon Mass. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was conducted during the afternoon hours and Evening Prayer and Benedicition concluded the day's celebration.
Various events to celebrate the anniversary were held during the seventeen months observance. Events during 1997 included the August 17 rededication of the grotto with a parish picnic, and the September Anniversary Golf Outing. In 1998 a Parish Anniversary Retreat was held from February 8 to 11. The music ministry's presentation of the Song of Mark on February 8 set the mood for the retreat. The Lourdes Players annual presentation during May was also marked as a jubilee event. The church was rededicated by Bishop Breen on August 22 followed by an Ethnic Festival. A memorial plaque to past pastors was also dedicated. Final events included the Blessing of the Organ on November 1 and a dinner-dance at the the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse on November 13. The celebration of Thanksgiving marked not only the conclusion of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations but also the seventy-fifth anniversary of the blessing of the first church. Thanksgiving was celebrated at the church on Wednesday evening, November 16 with the Community Thanksgiving Ecumenical Service and with Mass on Thanksgiving morning at 10 o'clock.
The final months of the parish's Diamond Jubilee year were marked with a number of changes within the pastoral staff. Father John Primich was assigned in June 1998 as associate pastor to replace Father John Fell who left in September for doctoral studies in Rome. Sister Rosanne McCabe, S.S.J., took the place of Sister Barbara Carey and Miss Patricia Beucher became a pastoral assistant for youth ministry, education and music. Planning for future, the parish purchased in September a piece of land adjacent to the parish property of more than three and a half acres. A house on the property was turned into a rectory for the priests while the former rectory was given over to the sisters for a convent. Plans to use some of the property for overflow parking were also made. As the parish looked forward to its centennial during the Third Christian Millenium the process was initiated to introduce to the parish the spiritual experience of RENEW 2000. The hope of the future of the parish is that it might grow more and more into being the Body of Christ and the People of God as the community of Catholic Christians called the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Whitehouse, N.J.
Epilogue / Assisting Priests
No history of the parish would be complete without some mention of the auxiliary priests who served the community so faithfully over the years, beginning with the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province in 1957, many religious priests have serviced the parish. Among the Franciscans who served were Fathers Gerald Dolan and Guy Morgan, Theodore Lehr, Edward Sullivan, Malcolm MacDonald, Robert Davis. The Franciscans ended their ministry in the mid 1970s. The Benedictine monks of St. Paul's Abbey in Newton succeeded the Franciscans. Father Andrew O'Sullivan, the best known of the Benedictines, served the parish for thirteen years, until January 1991, as the weekend assistant. In 1978, Father Joseph McGroarty of the Dominican Friars began weekend ministry in the parish. He continued until the fall of 1983. Father Frances Thaivalappil, a Carmelite priest from India, was in residence at the parish while he pursued studies in this country during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Father Francis Gunner, a retired Trenton priest, was in residence and assisted from early 1982 until January 1985 when he suffered a stroke. He died on November 4, 1986.
Parish Seminarians Ordained
Over the years, seminarians of the Diocese of Trenton and Metuchen have been assigned to the parish during the summer. Some of those who were eventually ordained are Fathers John Sullivan, Joseph Mizerak, Harold Hirsch, Albert Smith, Herbert Stab, Brian McCormick, Armand Pedata, and Ralph Stansley who served from the late 1940s into the 1960s. During Father Gall's pastorate, several young men served the parish as seminarians or transitional deacons. These include Fathers Edward Abano, George Pisanello, Sean Winters, Edward Flanagan, and Robert Medley, Charles Sabella, George Farrell and Wayne Haddad.