Our History: Past to Present
The Polish community in Jersey City dates back to 1870. Like other New Jersey Catholics who preceded them, many Poles ferried into New York City to attend Mass. There, they found pastoral service in their own language at St. Stanislaus Church on Stanton Street. Between 1882 and 1884, the Polish community in North New Jersey organized to establish a Polish parish on their own side of the Hudson River.
In 1884, the Most Rev. Winand Wigger, Bishop of Newark, appointed Father Ignatius Barszcz, OFM, as pastor of the newly-formed Saint Anthony of Padua Parish in downtown Jersey City. Five hundred eager souls joined together to erect a small wood-framed church (only 40 by 90 feet in size) on the corner of Sixth and Monmouth Streets. In May of 1884, Bishop Wigger blessed the cornerstone, and on Labor Day of the same year, the structure was dedicated. The Polish community in New Jersey could finally celebrate Mass and receive the sacraments in their own Polish church, as well as pray those prayers and sing those hymns that were revered in their homeland's tradition for almost a millennium before.
During the next eight years, the number of parishioners at St. Anthony's blossomed from the charter 500 to almost 10,000. Father Alexander Michnowski, OFM (Order of Friars Minor), the parish's second pastor, was succeeded by Father Ladislaus Kukowski, OFM. It was Father Kukowski who oversaw the contruction of the much larger and more magnificent church, which had its cornerstone laid in 1892.
In 1895, this ever-growing parish community welcomed its fourth pastor, Father Boleslaus Kwiatkowski, OFM. The same year, the church's interior was destroyed by a raging fire. Since it now fell to Father Kwiatkowski to see to the church's reconstruction, he used the opportunity to enlarge and enhance the chuch, including additional seating for 1,000 people.
The only remnant that remained untouched by the flames was the large wooden crucifix, which had hung over the main altar. Since that great fire, generations of St. Anthony's parishioners have always revered this "miraculous crucifix," which is now enshrined in its own side altar of the church.
Also, during Father Kwiatkowski's pastorate was the 1898 opening of St. Anthony's Grammar School and a convent on the corner of Sixth and Brunswick Streets. The school came under the supervision of the Felician Sisters of St. Francis, and there were 26 sisters serving the school at its peak enrollment in 1926. Father Kwiatkowski's long and faithful tenure as pastor ended with his death in the spring of 1934.
In May of that year, the parish welcomed its fifth pastor, Msgr. Ignatius Szudrowicz. For the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the laying of the cornerstone, he made several improvements that continue to this day to be the hallmark of the structure's beauty and charm. The wooden altars were replaced with marble ones, and marble work was placed in the sanctuary along with six-foot high wainscoting throughout the interior.
A new baptistery was added, along with several tile mosaics.
These signs of growth and prosperity were to be overshadowed by the great suffering inflicted upon the Polish people as World War II stripped their homeland and its people of honor and dignity. Yet, Msgr. Szudrowicz continued to minister diligently to them, and in the midst of the uncertainties of war, then-Auxiliary Bishop Thomas A. Boland of Newark, consecrated the church on June 13th, 1942. On this 50th Anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone, the parish boasted 11,000 members.
Father Leo Godlewski was appointed the sixth pastor in July of 1946, but his sudden death one month later led to the appointment of Father Stanley Rosinski as parish administrator. The seventh pastor, Father Leo Hak, was not appointed until 1948. During Father Hak's pastorate, St. Anthony's High School was opened in 1952.
Father Hak obtained the old Public School No. 4 on Eighth Street, a half mile from the church. Initially serving as an annex to the parochial school, it eventually became the site of the high school. Under his direction, the entire church was renovated in 1955. Father was also very active in Polish immigration and naturalization.
After Father Hak's tragic death in an automobile accident, St. Anthony's saw it first native son become pastor-Father Edward Majewski. Numerous upgrades to the grammar school and the high school were the hallmarks of Father Majewski's pastorate, as was the installation of a magnificent pipe organ.
Modernizations to the schools and the other parish buildings continued under Father Marion Walishowski, who became the parish's ninth pastor in October 1971 and served until his retirement in 1985. His successor, Father Eugene Koch, converted the marble baptistery into a chapel honoring Saint Maximillian Kolbe, who had just been canonized in 1982 by Pope John Paul II. Today, it also contains devotional items associated with Saint Faustina, who popularized the Divine Mercy Devotion. This remains a regular and popular devotion among the Saint Anthony community.
Father Gerald Bajek was then welcomed as our eleventh pastor, and he was followed by Father Rudolf Zubik, who was then succeeded by Father Michael Gubernat as interim administrator. The combined tenures of these three fine priests spanned from the late 1980's and throughout the 1990's. This era coincided with notable demographic changes within the parish and in the greater downtown area, and thus brought the sale of the grammar school building, which was converted into senior citizen housing. Also during this time, the soaring bell tower (a downtown Jersey City landmark) and the bells themselves, were completely refurbished.
With great joy and renewed vigor, the parish welcomed Father Joseph Urban as its current pastor. Father Urban was installed by then-Auxiliary Bishop Paul Bootkoski on February 10th, 2002. Known simply and affectionately to his parishioners and to the downtown residents and civic leaders as "Father Joseph," his efforts as pastor have brought many young singles and young families to St. Anthony's as returning or newly registered parishioners.
Father Joseph's other passion is his ongoing and tireless effort to continue the restoration of the church to its original grandeur as truly one of the most magnificent churches in New Jersey. During Father Joseph's pastorate, the sanctuary has been graced with several visiting prelates, including: Henryk Cardinal Gulbinowicz, the Archbishop Emeritus of Wroclaw, Poland; Bishop Michael Saltarelli, a Jersey City native and now the Bishop of the Diocese of Wilmington; and Archbishop Wojceich Ziemba, who came from Bialystok, Poland, to install Father Joseph as Honorary Canon of the Collegiate Chapter in Krypno on Feb. 1st, 2004.
On June 12th, 2004, the parish welcomed parishioners, clergy and friends from around the archdiocese and beyond, as it celebrated 120 years as a Roman Catholic Community and as the Mother Church of Polonia in the State of New Jersey.