A Catholic Mission is Born in Milltown - Posted 1/3/20
Early Catholic communities were few and far between in the mid eighteen hundreds. In Milltown, the Methodist Parish was established in 1844. The German immigrants, members of the German Reformed Church established St. Paul's German Reformed Church (now St. Paul's United Church of Christ) in 1872. The few Catholics who lived in Milltown were transported by mule drawn wagons to New Brunswick. As the number of German Catholics increased, St John the Baptist Parish on Neilson St. New Brunswick was established. These Milltown families became part of the early Our Lady of Lourdes founders. In 1907, Milltown saw unprecedented growth with the arrival of the Michelin Tire Company. The Michelin brought many of their French Catholic workers with them. In 1912, the Catholic Mission in Milltown was created by the Bishop A. McFaul of Trenton, and Fr. Devine from Sacred Heart Parish New Brunswick (now part of Holy Family). Early family Masses were said in buildings owned by the Michelin Company. The first Mass was said in the French School House that was located on the property where the Milltown Pharmacy now stands.
The Spiritual Growth of the mission continues to grow and the first May Crowning is held - Posted 1/10/21
The Milltown mission of Sacred Heart continued to grow and in 1914 the first organization, The Children of Mary was established. In 1917 when the USA began its involvement in WW I and the Mission moved it's location to the French Club House, Mr. J. Hauvette-Michelin, Vice President of the company offered the use at no cost to the Mission. To make it a more religious atmosphere, sacred appointments were either made or donated. A tabernacle was built for the table used as an altar. Many statues were donated and the Stations of the Cross came from the chapel of the old St Peter's Hospital. An organ was donated and choir started as well.
The spiritual growth of the Mission continued and in May 1918 the first May crowning was held. Fr. Holloran, the associate from Sacred Heart who was serving the Mission, became the only clergyman from the New Brunswick area to enlist as a Chaplain in WW I. (There is no further note in the history except that the next may crowning of our Blessed Lady was not held until 1934.)
Fund Drive Begins and the Community Begins to Build - Posted 1/17/21
In October of 1918, Rev. Joseph A. Ryan became the pastor at Sacred Heart and that same year Bishop Thomas Walsh was installed in Trenton. In his ten years as Bishop, he established twenty-one new parishes, six in 1921,and our Mission, informally established, was one of the six.
As the number of faithful increased, the need for a large space caused the Mission to move two more times. A fund drive began to build a proper church. Fr. Ryan was authorized to acquire a site for a church, rectory, school and convent. Our church property was purchased from John Van Liew Booream on May 19,1919. A campaign began to raise $40,000.00 for construction. Fr. Ryan and the committee sought the assistance of Mr. J. Hauvette-Michelin. He did assist, he offered one dollar for every dollar raised up to $15,000.00.
The fund drive was well received by the community including the ministers of the Methodist Church and St. Paul's German Reform Church. By June 1921 the Mission raised $15,000.00 and church construction began. The men of the future parish were called upon to dig the basement and erect the foundation. Men volunteered their time in the evening after their day's work. The owner of the Marguerite Hotel (now the Golden Lion) sent sandwiches and beverages to the workers every night.
Our Parish Gets a Name - Posted 1/24/21
The construction of the church was well underway and Bishop Walsh approached Mr. J Hauvette-Michelin and offered him the privilege of suggesting a name for the new parish in thanksgiving for all of his help and generosity. The honor was declined and the Bishop chose the name “Our Lady of Lourdes” to honor him, his country and his people.
On October 21, 1921 the Milltown Mission was formally incorporated under the laws of the State of NJ. Bishop Walsh, assisted by Fr Ryan, blessed and laid the corner stone on October 30, 1921. Approximately 2,500 were in attendance. Many dignitaries attended and the Michelin Brass Band played at the ceremony.
If you are interested, our corner stone contains copies of the Home News, Sunday Times, Catholic News, Standard-Times of Philadelphia, a silver dollar, and fifty cent, twenty-five, ten, five and one cent pieces, the names of President Warren G. Harding, Governor Edward I. Edwards of NJ, Mayor Christian Kuhlthau, the names of those who made donations, as well as all those who contributed in any way to the erection of the church and a transcript of the history of the parish up to that date. The Bishop spoke and reminded all Catholics in the vicinity of Milltown that they were to attend Mass at OLOL, saving them from travel to New Brunswick churches. Construction on the upper church began and in less than seven months the church was completed.
The First Mass is Celebrated - Posted 1/31/21
On May 14.1922, which was also Mother’s Day that year, Bishop Walsh dedicated Our Lady of Lourdes Church and blessed the outer church. After the ceremony, the Bishop, escorted by several priests and altar servers, moved indoors, followed by the crowds surrounding the building. A Pontifical Mass was said by Fr. Thomas Mather of Sacred Heart parish. Music was provided by Sacred Heart’s choir. Fr Ryan spoke of the ten years of the mission, the unceasing efforts of the parishioners and all the financial and personal sacrifices. He noted the savings of approximately $5,000.00 by the volunteering of the men who came after their work day to erect the foundation. Bishop Walsh noted that the present property of the church represented an outlay of $50,000.00 and that there was a debt of less than $10,000.00. The ceremony was ended with a Papal Blessing.
While still a Mission, OLOL started a Holy Name Society in 1920, A Sodality to the Blessed Virgin Mary was in place and in 1927, the Charter of Canonical Erection was received to establish a Rosary Confraternity for the women of the parish. During these years the Sisters of Charity from Scared Heart came to Milltown to teach Sunday School. A bus was arranged for 38 Mission children to attend Sacred Heart School in New Brunswick.
We have our First Pastor and plans to build a Rectory - Posted 2/7/21
Fr. Hayes introduced the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Novena in the 1940s, this continued until in 1952 when Fr. Francis Dwyer replaced it with our Monday night novena to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Fr Hayes had the stage built in our Lourdes Hall and many parish productions and events employed the use of it. In the last months of his pastorate, Fr. Hayes planted the seeds which quickly developed into a parish school.
During the Summer of 1942, a Catechetical Vacation School was held by Sisters of Mercy. On August 22,1942, Sisters Mary Amadeus, Mary Lawrence, and Mary Jeremiah were assigned to the parish to continue the Catechetical work and take a parish census. On September 11, 1942 Fr Hayes was transferred and Fr. William Margerum came to OLOL, Fr Hayes was assigned to the parish previously led by Fr. Margerum.
On November 1st, the residence on the corner of Riva Ave. and Main Street was leased from the Michelin Reality Company for a use as a convent and school. Fr. Margerum started a school fund drive in February, 1943, it was the beginning of the Second World War. World War II saw over 200 OLOL men and women serve in the Armed Forces. Every Monday morning a Mass was offered in the rectory to conserve fuel for the safety of those serving. The parish lost six members who made the ultimate sacrifice. During this time the Rosarians made “black out” curtains for the Parish Hall. The war continued and the parish continued to grow. A priest was sent to say Mass for those in the East and North Brunswick area of Patrick’s Corner and Maple Shade. A small bungalow was leased on Church Lane that was converted to a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Peace. Now we were the Parish with a Mission and an additional priest was assigned to help with Parish and Mission duties.
On May 23, the parish properties expanded with the purchase of the Booream homestead. (the land facing Willow St from Booream to Cleveland Ave) The house was renovated and this provided two classrooms. As the school expanded, adding one class each year, K and 1 attended at the recently purchased convent and upper grades were in “The Little Red School House.” Space being limited, after grade 5, students transferred to Sacred Heart School in New Brunswick. In May 1945, the Holy Name Society started a Boy Scout troop and in 1946, a Parish Credit Union. October of 1946 saw the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the laying of the corner stone. A weeklong celebration of parish activities and parties followed the Solemn Mass on October 27th. Around this time Our Lady of Peace was incorporated as a church but remained a Mission of OLOL.
In 1948 Fr. Margerum was transferred and Fr. Cornelius Kane came to Milltown. Although he only served here for two years, they were very busy years. OLOL PTA was started in 1950, Cub Scout Pack 31 was established, CYO was established for teens, and the first bulletin was introduced (printed on a mimeograph machine in the rectory). In 1949, interiors of the church, convent and classrooms were painted, rectory floor and church floors were resurfaced, and cushions added to the kneelers. There were changes in the Sanctuary, the three altars were redecorated and drapes were hung behind them and the wrought iron arch was added. WCTC radio in New Brunswick would broadcast Mass from various churches. The first broadcast was Christmas Eve Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes on December 25, 1949. In September, Fr. Kane was transferred and Fr. Francis Dwyer began his pastorate on September 22, 1950.
The parish continued to grow after World War II, families were exiting the cities and the “baby boom” had begun. This growing parish was divided twice during his pastorate. In 1952, as the school enrollment grew, portable classrooms were built in the Parish Hall, with moveable walls to accommodate other parish functions. Under his direction, an existing debt of $18,000.00 was fully paid, the church’s cinder parking lot was paved complete with two basketball nets to allow him to teach the parish and neighborhood boys to play basketball. The Korean War was raging and the parish thoughts and prayers were with those serving. Teens who grew up during WWII were now serving their country. Fr. Dwyer encouraged the praying of the Rosary every night in May and October at 7pm. Women came in “housedresses” and men in “work clothes” to pray. In the Summer of 1953, the Korean conflict ended and troops returned home. The “Little Red Schoolhouse” added a wing to accommodate grades K and 1, allowing the convent to be exclusively the residence for the Sisters. Even with the added space, the enrollment exceeded the availability and children were being turned away. Thoughts of building a new school were contemplated.
Later that month Fr. Dwyer allowed the OLOL Class of 1957 to graduate from the auditorium of the “new school” before construction was completed. On September 4, 1957, the big day had finally come. The building opened to welcome 400 students! Enrollment was up from the 250 the prior year. Uniforms were now worn by the boys and girls. Navy blue jumpers with white blouses for the girls and navy slacks, white shirt and OLOL monogrammed tie for the boys. Everyone wore a navy blazer with gold pocket emblem.
Sunday September 15th, Bishop George W. Ahr of Trenton officiated at the dedication and laying of the cornerstone. In the cornerstone were copies of The Monitor (diocesan paper), The Sentinel, The Home News, the school dedication booklet, Fr. Dwyer’s 25th anniversary photo, a plate block of 3 and 4 cent postage stamps, a quarter, dime, nickel and penny dated 1957. The names of the current Bishop Ahr, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Governor Robert B. Meyner, and Milltown Mayor Charles V.L. Booream are also there.
The mayor had been raised on this family farm property. The Bishop blessed the outside of the building and each classroom. A large crucifix was blessed and placed inside the building. This new building brought new expenses. Funds were running low. Parents pitched in, forming cleaning teams to do janitorial duties in the evenings. Desks were needed, a fund drive was organized. BINGO became a major fund raiser with all parents scheduled to work in teams for this weekly event. An annual dinner dance was organized and held for the next 20 years in the auditorium. Outside looked different when the “Red Schoolhouse" was razed in July 1958, it had served faithfully for 12 years.
In 1959, St Bartholomew’s in East Brunswick drew over 300 families from OLOL. In 1959, Pastor Francis Dwyer took a medical leave of absence and Fr. Francis V. McCusker from St Paul’s, Princeton served as administrator as did Fr. Edward Bumbera, and Fr. Donald Reilly. In 1960, school enrollment continued to grow and the nurse’s office and school library were converted to classrooms. Fr. Dwyer returned in 1960, his pastorate of 12 years would see many changes. The parish continued to grow and Vatican II brought changes in the universal Church.
In 1961, the remaining pioneer, Sister Mary Lawrence, celebrated her 25th Anniversary. At the end of school year, she was transferred and Sr. Mary Lillian succeeded as Principal. In the church the original organ from the 1920’s was replaced with a new Gulbransen transistor organ. The Sisters had continued to live in the residence on Main St and Riva Avenue. On May 15, 1963, preliminary plans were made to construct a convent on school property to house ten sisters. Construction began in 1964 and on May 21, 1965 the six sisters in residence moved to the new convent on Booream Avenue. Bishop George Ahr dedicated the convent on August 22, 1965. The convent was immediately paid for and the old convent sold to Henry Bronson. This house still belongs to Bronson-Guthlein Funeral Home. The post Vatican II era saw an increase in evangelization. In January 1967, the first Ecumenical prayer service was hosted by OLOL during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Fr. Martin O’Keeffe, associate at OLOL, Reverend Mervin Gerhart, St. Paul’s, and Reverend Scott Marshall, United Methodist and all three congregations prayed together in our church. Christmas 1967 brought a liturgical change. The first front facing altar was installed, allowing the priest to face the congregation when saying Mass. In May 1965, the growth within the Diocese required a census to be taken. At that time, OLOL's population reached 4,155 members. These results and the growth of North Brunswick Twp. caused the OLOL Mission of Our Lady of Peace to become an independent parish. About 100 families from both OLOL and Sacred Heart New Brunswick became the first parishioners.
On March 22,1970 the continuing changes of Vatican II brought 18 lay lectors to our parish. These parishioners began reading the Scripture lessons during the Mass. June brought “comforting” change, air conditioning was installed at a cost of $26,000 which had been pledged by parishioners. Parishioners were able to attend the first Saturday evening Mass on February 28, 1971.
May 1st brought the celebration of the mortgage being paid off and the Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes was now debt free. In September of 1971, new lighting fixtures were installed, a donation of the Rosary Society and the parishioners. October 1971 brought the Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the laying of the corner stone of the Church. There was an evening Mass of Thanksgiving and dinner dance sponsored by the Rosary Society. Parishioner Mrs. Arthur (Lillian) Schwendeman cast plaster replicas of the church and an anniversary plate was also available for purchase. Under the guidance of Fr. John Mc Donald, associate pastor, a number of innovative programs were introduced. CCD program had a Principal, Mrs. Kate Yetman. April 21st saw the baptism of five adults during the Easter Vigil Liturgy on Holy Saturday, this was first time this was done publicly in church. Additional ecumenical activities with Milltown Churches continued. The Feast of Pentecost 1972 saw the First Mass of Fr. James Clark of the parish. Fr. James was an OLOL and St Peter’s High School graduate. Fr. Clark had been ordained the day before at St Mary’s Cathedral by Bishop George W. Ahr. As 1972 continued, OLOL also saw the first Eucharistic ministers assist with the distribution of Holy Communion and visiting the sick to bring them the Sacrament.
Welcome The Little Servant Sisters - Posted 4/25/21
1973, would prove to be a year of major transitions. The annual Father’s Day presentation on the feast of St Joseph, with skits performed by the children ,was held as in the past. The end of the evening brought a “bombshell” announcement. Due to the decline in vocations, The Sisters of Mercy who had started and staffed the school since 1942 were being withdrawn from schools with projected declining enrollments. Two other schools in the diocese were also affected. The stunned parishioners and parents were faced with the possibility of the school's closing in a few months! Fr. Dwyer was looking for another order of nuns to staff our school or decide the school would need all lay faculty, causing tuition to be charged. The parish quickly mobilized and a Parish Board of Education headed by John Romagna, Class of 1959, was formed by Fr. Dwyer to assess the options. An appeal to the Sisters of Mercy was denied, and the Diocesan superintendent of schools was not optimistic that another religious community would be found. Letters to five communities around the country and even Europe were sent with our request.
Parishioner William Smith remembered a convent he passed on his way to work, St. Joseph’s in Woodbridge. Mother Mary Febronia of the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception received the OLOL letter along with many other Catholic schools in the same situation. She was impressed with the commitment of the Milltown parish to keep their school open. Our Lady of Lourdes, the Immaculate Conception, answered our prayers. The Little Servant Sisters took over the responsibility of staffing the school.
The OLOL School Flourishes - Posted 5/2/21
Our own little miracle had happened. On June 3, 1973 a special Open House was held to bid our Sisters of Mercy farewell after thirty-one years of devoted service to our parish and our school. Plans for the next school year abounded. Four nuns, Sister Emily, Principal and Sisters Eustace, Aurelia, and Bernadette and five new lay teachers would start the new chapter in the history of our parish school. Parents had fought incredible odds and won, keeping OLOL School open! September was a joyful return to school for all. The same year would bring another big change. Fr. Francis Dwyer retired on November 30, 1973. He had served OLOL for more than half of his priesthood. He saw his parish divide twice. He saw the school move from makeshift quarters into a modern building. He fought long and hard to keep our school open. On March 31, 1974 the parish honored him with a Mass of Thanksgiving and testimonial dinner. Mayor David B. Crabiel proclaimed the day, “Father Francis Dwyer Day” and joined with borough officials at the celebration. Most of Father’s retirement days were spent in New Brunswick. Fr. Dwyer died on March 18,1986; his Mass of Christian burial was held at Our Lady of Lourdes. The Most Reverend John C. Reiss, Bishop of Trenton was the principal celebrant at the Mass. Bishop Reiss was a former altar boy of Fr. Dwyer from St James in Red Bank.
Welcome Father Thul - Posted 5/9/21
Upon Fr. Dwyer’s retirement, Fr. John MacDonald, assistant pastor, served as administrator until Fr. Joseph Thul was named pastor by Bishop George W. Ahr. Fr. Thul was installed by Monsignor Morgan Kelly, pastor of St. Bartholomew’s in East Brunswick and Episcopal Vicar for Middlesex County West on March 15, 1974. Fr. Thul instituted many improvements to the church property. The parking lot was widened and grounds were landscaped. The front doors of the church were replaced in Spring of 1975. The old fire escape that led to the priest’s sacristy was removed and the brick stair case and glass door depicting the apparition of Our Lady to Bernadette in Lourdes was installed. The altar servers now robed in that area and the priest sacristy was moved to the opposite side. Spring of 1975 brought an expansion of the school a short two years after struggling to stay open and welcoming a new order of nuns. A half day Kindergarten would open in the classroom designed for that class when the school was constructed in 1957.
In 1975, a parish family hosted a South Vietnamese family in their home for a year and Fr. Joseph VanThien from Vietnam was welcomed to OLOL, living at the rectory for several months before being assigned to St. Margaret’s Parish in Morristown. In 1976 the failing electronic organ was replaced with a pipe organ that had been originally installed in a church in Newark in 1963. Organist/choirmaster Joseph W. Rademacher and organ builder James Konzelmann moved, rebuilt and installed the organ. Joseph, an OLOL school graduate, demonstrated his talent on the new organ. While still in grammar school, Joseph was encouraged by Fr. Dwyer to play at school day Masses.
New Organizations are Formed - Posted 5/16/21
Pope Paul VI restored the ministry of the diaconate in 1967. William Rooney, a long time OLOL parishioner, was ordained at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Trenton on May 13, 1978. Deacon Bill contributed a weekly poem based on the Gospels to the bulletin. (In 1991, 44 of these poems with the Scripture passes which inspired them were published in the book Chapter and Verse, The Life of Christ in Poetry.
Fr. Thul's pastorate saw continued strengthening of the school. A school newsletter, The Grapevine was instituted 1974 by Jim Lukach who served as the first male PTA president in 1977- 1979. In 1978, the Falcon Athletic Association was formed to oversee girls' and boys' sports for the parish and school. That Spring saw the formal formation of the parish Board of Education which began assisting the Pastor with budget planning, school maintenance decisions, and school enhancement programs. Fair share donations were requested in the second collection at Mass, this led to monthly tuition fees. This was the year OLOL initiated the Christmas Bazaar sponsored by the PTA with assistance of the other parish organizations. We are proud to say this tradition continues, chaired by a small devoted committee. Early in the life of the parish the men’s Holy Name Society was an active organization. As membership dwindled , the organization disbanded in the 1960s. The need for a men’s organization was recognized and on February 13,1979, the OLOL Knights of Columbus Council #7250 received their Charter with Fr. Thul and 41 men of the parish listed as charter members. The K of C continues its mission and welcomes all men, young and old to join their council. Fr. Thul celebrated his 25th anniversary of his ordination with a Mass of Thanksgiving and dinner on June 8, 1980.
OLOL celebrates 60 years and changes with the times - Posted 5/23/21
In 1981 Principal Sr. Emily was transferred and Sr. Leonarda became the second principal after the Little Servant Sisters came to serve our school. She made many improvements, such as the opening of our Pre-K program in a new building on site in 1993. Sr. Leonarda served our students and families until 1996. Sr. Jadwiga began as Principal in September 1996.
On November 14, 1981 the Parish celebrated its 60th Anniversary with a dinner dance held at the school. The 1980’s saw many major renovations to the church building. The vestibule and walls of the church were paneled covering the original tile. The original three altars were removed and the statues moved. The rear wall of the sanctuary was paneled with the statue of Our Lady being placed in the center behind the altar. The Blessed Sacrament was relocated to the right side of the Sanctuary. The statue of St Joseph was moved to Lourdes Hall and the baptismal font added to the Sanctuary. In 1982, new programs at school included full day kindergarten and a part time computer teacher was hired. Computer technology had arrived and grew through generous support of parents and programs available allowing additional computers and necessary services to be added. In 1985, the classroom windows were replaced yielding a more energy efficient building. The main doors of the building were serviced, a security camera installed and the main office was divided offering more privacy for the Principal. This is the same year Fr. Thul was transferred to be Pastor at St. Mathias in Somerset.
Welcome Father Tom - Posted 5/30/21
After leaving OLOL and St Matthias, Fr. Thul went on to serve as Principal of St. Pius X High School, until its closing in 1990. His priestly service continued as he served as a consultant for the Diocesan School Office, Director of Pastoral Care Office at McCarrick Care Center in Somerset and Associate Pastor at Our Lady of Most Holy Rosary Church in Perth Amboy. After a well-earned retirement, Fr. Joseph Thul returned to his heavenly Father on September 7, 2006 and was buried from our parish. Father Thomas Perunilam was assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes on June 28, 1985. Father Tom was born in India, April 22, 1938. In high school he learned English as a second language. He attended the Papal Seminary and St. Joseph’s Apostolic Seminary receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and divinity and Master’s degree from the University of Kerala. Fr. Tom was ordained to the priesthood on March 11,1964 at St. Mary’s Church, Bhrananganam, India. He served in parishes and taught English language and literature at Alphonsas College in India. In 1972 he came to the United States to pursue advanced studies. While studying at Rutgers University he served at Corpus Christi Parish in South River where he taught religion and served as principal of the school. He also served at Immaculate Conception Church in Somerville. A young Ed Czarcinski was working at the rectory there and greeted him at the back door. Fr. Tom was installed as pastor of OLOL on July 21, 1985. A beautiful welcoming reception was attended by parishioners and Father Tom’s friends from Corpus Christi and Immaculate Conception parishes. So started his years at OLOL, Father’s time at OLOL was not uneventful.
Our Parish Turns 45 - Posted 6/5/21
January of 1986 greeted Father Tom and the school, with a heating problem. The work being done during the week lead to a flood over the weekend! The flooding filled the cafeteria leaving water waist deep. Milltown Fire Department came to the rescue, pumping out the lower level while parents and friends mopped and cleaned up. Large heated blowers were brought in, blowing for days as sad students missed several days of school. As Spring arrived things were looking up. A Parish census was taken, and a new telephone system installed in both the rectory and the school. The following Spring saw new sidewalks around the Church.
Our Principal Sister Leonarda, celebrated her Silver Jubilee with Mass of Thanksgiving. The need for after school care was upon OLOL. The school year 1987-88 offered care to working parents from dismissal until 6 pm at a nominal fee. In November of 1987, the school celebrated its 45th Anniversary. An open house was held for families and visitors to tour our school. Sister Mary Jeremiah, RSM, Principal from 1950-1956 was in attendance. She was happy to visit the school she saw in its infancy now housed in our beautiful building. She also met alumni from her years at our school who now had their own children in attendance.