Location and Area
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen is located in central New Jersey (United States). It encompasses Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties and is responsible for the spiritual welfare of over a half-million Catholics, 42 percent of the population in those counties. The Diocese has over 100 parishes run by 160 Diocesan priests and over 100 priests belonging to religious communities. They are assisted by the 78 deacons and over 600 religious brothers and sisters. It currently owns and operates 52 elementary schools.
In order to understand the history of this relatively young diocese, it is necessary to take a look at the origins of Catholicism in New Jersey. The first Catholics that lived in what became New Jersey were French and Irish immigrants from the colonial settlement of New Amsterdam. They settled in what is now Middlesex County and celebrated the first Mass, in secret for fear of persecution, around 1672. However, due to the harsh laws against practicing Catholicism, the small community could neither grow nor prosper. In the end, this group, as well as another group from Belgium that settled in 1740, ended up losing their identity in Protestant New Jersey and disappeared.
The first permanent Catholic settlements in New Jersey arose from the influx of continental, Catholic Europeans in the 19 Century. With larger numbers and a gradual relaxation of anti-Catholic laws, Catholicism could now be freely practiced. However, until 1808, all of America was under the bishopric of Baltimore, a longtime bastion of Catholicism in the States. Finally, dioceses were established in both New York and Philadelphia to service the growing number of Catholics in the North. Each of these dioceses was responsible for about half of New Jersey.
The first Diocese in New Jersey was established by Pope Pius IX in 1853. It was based in Newark and responsible for the small population, numbering only a few thousand, of Catholics in the state.
However, with a growing Catholic population in New Jersey, Pope Leo XIII established the Diocese of Trenton. It was responsible for the 14 southern and central Jersey counties in 1881. The division of New Jersey continued in order to keep pace with the burgeoning Catholic population. Pope Pius XI established a diocese located in Camden for the Catholics of the six southernmost counties in 1937. That same year, he also created the Diocese of Paterson for the three northwest counties. Finally, on November 19, 1981, Pope John Paul II established the Diocese of Metuchen for Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties.
The Church of St. Francis of Assisi serves as the cathedral of the Diocese of Metuchen. The first church on the cathedral land was built in the mid-1800s as a mission church devoted to St. Joseph and seated only 225 people.
In 1878, the church was dedicated to St. Francis and was incorporated in 1903. Unfortunately, on the very day that it was incorporated, an oil lamp overturned in the wooden church and the entire building, minus the rectory, was destroyed. The second church was rebuilt and dedicated in 1904. The new church could seat up to 324 people.
However, by 1960, St. Francis served as a house of worship for over 2,000 families, a number that its small size could not accommodate. Therefore, pastor Msgr. John Foley ordered plans drawn up for a new stone rectory and parish. The rectory was quickly completed at the next year. For the two years of the church's construction, its construction began in the summer of 1961 and lasted until May 1963, parishioners celebrated Mass in the parish's school's basement and in the local High School.
The new parish could seat up to 1,000 people and was built on a Gothic design using only the finest materials. In fact, the altar was formed with marble imported from Italy. The main eye-catcher of the church is its Rose Window, featuring a stained glass painting of the Apostles standing in a circle with Jesus at the center. The magnificent church was the natural choice to become the cathedral to the new Diocese of Metuchen in 1986.
The Diocese of Metuchen has been the home of four bishops in its short lifetime. It is important to note that when Bishop Breen, the third bishop, retired in September of 2001 due to the onset of Alzheimers, Bishop John Smith was appointed the Apostolic Administrator of the diocese until January 2002. I include him in the list below because he administered the diocese for a time, though not as the official Bishop of Metuchen. The Bishops of the Diocese of Metuchen were:
- Bishop McCarrick (1986-February 1987)
- Bishop Edward Hughes (1987-1997)
- Bishop Vincent De Paul Breen (1997-September 2001)
- Bishop John M. Smith Apostolic Administrator (September 2001-January 2002)
- Bishop Paul Gregory Bootkoski (2002-present)
(Note: Since the posting of this node, Bishop Breen has died from complications relating to Alzheimers.)