By Rev. Alexander Santora/For the Jersey Journal The Jersey Journal
When Charles Dullea attends Mass at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, Bayonne,Â he not only sees his fellow parishioners. He recalls his grandparents who immigrated separately from the same town in Ireland not knowing each other until his grandfather spotted his grandmother working in a local butcher shop.
He sees his parents, who also married in St. Mary’s. He recalls the celebration of all his sacraments growing up. And the Baptisms of his two children.
“Every time I go, it brings back good memories,” said Dullea, one of the two trustees of the parish.
Four generations of one family is not uncommon in one of the oldest parishes in the Archdiocese of Newark and lots of memories were shared earlier this month as the church marked its 150th anniversary.
Archbishop Emeritus Peter Gerety, whose own remarkable life has spanned two thirds of the church’s existence, presided at a Mass where his personal secretary and native son of the parish, Monsignor Francis Seymour, preached. His message was, “Be all you can be,” according to the long time pastor, Msgr. Lawrence Miller, who has certainly followed that adage in his 21-tenure.
In fact, parishioners credit Miller’s enthusiasm with reviving the parish. “He reminds me of the priests and nuns from St. John the Baptist in Jersey City where I grew up,” said Debra Arroyo, 40, who described Miller as “stern but gets the job done.”
For Miller, who became a priest later in life and has only served in three parishes, his job has been to renovate the church building, reach out to youth and welcome the more diverse people worshipping at the venerable church.
Ten years into his tenure, the parish raised almost $1 million, and it took three years to do over the whole church. He credits the parishioners for their generosity as well as in the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, where it has been first in the Bayonne churches and the fifth in the whole archdiocese based on the number of people and goal.
From his days at Our Lady of Mercy, Jersey City, where he spent 18 years, Miller has been a great booster of sports and CYO teams. The Pee Wee Basketball program he founded attracts students from all over the city and trains teens to become coaches. Dullea was the director for 20 years, and he still coaches the girls at Holy Family Academy in Bayonne.
The parish has about 1,100 families registered and about 900 attend weekend Masses. In the early 19th century, the Irish in Bayonne were ministered to by three churches named St. Peter: downtown Jersey City, Staten Island and downtown Manhattan.
This missionary effort ended in 1860 when Fr. Callan was assigned briefly before the Passionist Fathers, who staffed many churches in the territory that would become Hudson County. Through the years, successive pastors built up a traditional parish with a grand rectory, convent and school.
Today that school, All Saints, is co-sponsored by all the Bayonne churches.
Diane Orosz, the parish secretary for 21 years and a parishioner, “loves the people, it’s such a warm place.” Yet, she hopes more young people will join the church. Miller noted that the parish is a mix of many newcomers including Filipinos and a variety of ethnic groups.
All came together for the 150th anniversary celebration with 22 concelebrating priests, Bishop Barnaba Yousif Habash, head of the Syriac Catholic Diocese headquartered in Bayonne, and hundreds of people to give thanks. Miller rejoiced, “It was a tapestry of faith.”
Santora is the pastor of The Church of Our Lady of Grace & St. Joseph, 400 Willow Ave., Hoboken, 07030, (201) 659-0369, fax (201) 659-5833, e-mail: email@example.com