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.