St. Patrick's Church Complex in Jersey City, NJ

St. Patrick's Church Complex in Jersey City, NJ. Image 1

The stately Gothic Victorian-style structure at the corner of Bramhall and Grand Street is St. Patrick's R.C. Church. It is the largest church in Jersey City and the third largest in the Archdiocese of Newark in New Jersey. The church is not only known for its role in the community but also for the theater within its elementary school that was placed on the state and national registers of historic places in 1980.

It was designed by the architect Patrick C. Keely of Brooklyn who had emigrated to the US from Ireland in 1842 . Keely reportedly designed over six hundred churches in the United States and thirty churches in New Jersey that also include St. Bridget's and St. Michael's R. C. Churches in Jersey City.

St. Patrick's Church was constructed with blue flintstone taken from the railroad "cut" in the Greenville section of Jersey City by the Central Railroad of New Jersey. The "cut" is presently used by the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail System. The silver-colored hammered granite from the Hallowell quarries in Maine highlights the door jambs, windows, buttress caps and cornices. The interior of the Gothic church features ribbed vaulting, with sixteen granite columns support the clerestory walls, a nave of 86 feet, side aisles, channel, side chapels, woodwork of black walnut and white ash, and stained glass windows, but no transept. The extreme length of the church is 272 feet and the extreme width is 138 feet; the spire rises to a height of 225 feet with a base 33 feet square.

The impetus for the founding of the congregation was the arrival of Irish immigrants. During the 1860s, Jersey City's Irish-Americans began to settle in greater numbers in the southeast section of the City of Bergen (prior to the formation of the municipality of Jersey City in 1869). The new residents attended St. Joseph's R.C. Church almost two miles away in Hudson City. This imposed a hardship for most to attend services. Bishop James R. Bayley then had St. Joseph's start a mission at the intersection of Communipauw Avenue and Bergen Point Plank Road (now Garfield Avenue) in 1868. The site later became the Tivoli Theater.

St. Joseph's Mission soon outgrew the facility and a new church was planned. The property "at the crest of Bergen Hill," at Bramhall Avenue and Grand Street, was purchased from Hugh McKay. The church was named for St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. To honor the church's namesake, the five stained glass windows in the apse describe St. Patrick's life from his youth as a shepherd slave, his ministry in Ireland and holding of a shamrock, to a depiction of his death. The cornerstone for the church was laid on November 13, 1870, but due to limited finances it was not completed and dedicated (August 19) until 1877 at the cost of $300.000. The first pastor was the Reverend Patrick Hennessy who emigrated from Limerick, Ireland. He struggled with the difficult financial times to complete the church complex and, in appreciation by the congregation, was buried in a plot near the bell tower when he died in 1896.

The thirteen bells in the church tower were donated by the congregation and are inscribed with the names of the nineteen soldiers from the congregation who died during World War I. The original stained glass windows were shattered by the Black Tom explosion in 1916 and had to be replaced. The replacement windows were made in Munich, Germany, by Mayer & Co.; there are nine on one side of the church and ten on the other.

Father Hennessey also started an elementary school in 1871 for the congregation, but it was discontinued in 1877 due to a shortage of funds. The present school building of Second Renaissance Revival style with a theater was begun in 1901 but was not completed until 1910; it was staffed by the Sisters of Charity.

The now well-recognized theater used to introduce students to dramatic arts was much neglected after the 1940s. Resources for instructional purposes took precedent over the maintenance of the theater. However, after receipt of historic designation as a landmark, St. Patrick's theater received a matching grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust in 1993 to preserve the three-story, 700-seat jewel-box auditorium. The architect Thomas P. Mc Ginty and the New York firm of Beyer Blinder Belle were responsible for the restoration. It is one-third the size of the Shubert Theater on Broadway to which it is often compared. Similar to an opera house, it has an orchestra pit, mezzanine, and balcony seating. In 1999 it was dedicated to Jacques d'Amboise, a former principal with the New York City Ballet and founder of the National Dance Institute at St. Patrick's. The theater is used for the cultural education of children. Popular theater productions, the American Shakespearean Repertory Company, and Lenten religious dramas have been staged there.

True to its mission, St. Patrick's continues to to serve the local neighborhood and new immigrants of Haitian and Central American descent.

"Dedication of a Church." New York Times 20 August 1877.
Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy. "St. Patrick's Church." The 2003 Magical Jersey City Calendar.
Miskell, Robert. "History of St. Patrick's Church Parallels That of City of Jersey City." Jersey Observer 5 July 1947.
Toolen, Tom. "Church Begins Drive to Restore Historic Theater." New York Times 25 September 1994.
By: Carmela Karnoutsos

Contact info:
492 Bramhall Ave
Jersey City, NJ 07304
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