A PARISH HISTORY
Early 20th Century - Catholic Worship
The story of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community starts not with the laying of bricks
or the breaking of ground but with the first immigrant Catholic families who arrived in
this predominantly Dutch/English/German community at the beginning of the twentieth
century. They came slowly at first, purchasing small tracts of land, farming, and
raising families. By the end of World War I the pace had quickened, so that by 1920 a
recognizable community of Catholic families had made their home in Readington Township.
At that time the opportunity for Catholic worship was limited to Mass at St. Magdeline's,
Flemington, as well as the churches in Raritan Borough. Among the Catholics in the
northern part of the Township, of primarily Polish background, worship at St. Joseph's
Slovak Catholic Church in Raritan was preferred, due in part, to the similarity of
traditions and languages.
By 1922, there were a sufficient number of Catholic families in the area around
Whitehouse to warrant that a committee be formed to petition Bishop Thomas Walsh, of
Trenton, to establish a new Parish. Between 70 and 80 people signed the petition and,
as a result, on December 7, 1922, Father Mieczyslaw A. Konopka, a Polish speaking
priest, the associate pastor in Sacred Heart Church, South Amboy, was sent to
investigate. He found about 150 Catholic families in the area, half were of Polish
background while the other half consisted of many different ethnic backgrounds including
Italian, Irish and German.
1923 - The Founding of the Parish
In June of 1923, Father Konopka was appointed the first pastor. His initial task was
to organize the new parish and to build a church. He accomplished this with incredible
speed. His first Mass was offered on June 10, in a barn owned by Wladyslaw and
Josephine Szablowski on Pulaski Road, this practice continued throughout that summer
and fall. The new parish with the title of "Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Whitehouse,
N.J." was incorporated on June 19, 1923 and its certificate of incorporation recorded
in the Hunterdon County Clerk's Office on June 20, 1923. George Salch and Wladyslaw
Szablowski were the first lay trustees. Father Konopka had no residence, but rented a
room at Hyman Danzig's mill house on Mill Road in Whitehouse. On July 13, 1923, Bishop
Thomas Walsh of Trenton wrote to Father Joseph Ketter of St. Joseph's Church in Raritan
concerning the property that would become Our Lady of Lourdes.
Church Property - Text of Bishop Walsh's letter:
Rev. dear Father Ketter:
Mr. D. J. Kierznicki, Real Estate Agent, who sold the Diocese of Trenton through you as
negotiator of the church property at Whitehouse states, in a letter to me under date of
July 12th, that he agreed with you to donate, and actually did donate two corner plots
192 x 200, and that he agreed to sell, and actually did sell the two adjoining plots
200 x 200 for $800. Mr. Kierznicki further states that it was clearly understood that
the conveyance be made in one deed to simplify the transaction and save recording expense.
Are these statements true?
Please answer on this letter below by return mail, I am,
Yours sincerely in Christ
Bishop of Trenton
On July 16, 1923, Father Ketter signed the bottom of the Bishop's letter indicating that
all was true and on July 19, Bishop Walsh sent the document to Father Konopka with hand
written directions that "You may read the above to your people at the services on Sunday,
July 22nd." With the purchase of the property, the new parish was ready to build.
August 19, 1923 - Ground Breaking
On August 19, 1923, ground was broken for the new structures. The corporate resolution
for building, as well as various diocesan documents, referred to the first structure to
be built as "the church and school building." However, ultimately the new structure
turned out to be only a church building. The rectory was built at the same time. The
construction was paid for out of the Conservation of the Faith Fund of the Diocese of
Trenton with the total cost being $45,506.47. Included was the cost of church and rectory,
the property and insurance. A March, 1924 parish corporation resolution listed a rounded
off debt to the diocesan Conservation of the Faith Fund as $45,000. Slightly less than six
months after Father Konopka's arrival, on November 29, 1923, Thanksgiving Day, the
cornerstone was laid and the church building blessed with the Right Reverend Monsignor
John H. Fox, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Trenton, officiating. More than a dozen
priests attended the ceremonies, many representing Polish parishes of the Diocese of
Most of the original site work was done by volunteers. Local historian Stephanie Stevens
in her book, For a Better Life, reports that "Anthony Wade and his son, Joe, dug the
driveway" while "Tunis Bush dug the cellar." The building, based on plans for similar
buildings in the Diocese was contracted out to Frank D. Priory Construction. The new
church was the epitome of a simple country church, with a painted, wooden communion rail
and simple pews with hard wooden kneelers. The church accommodated two hundred and fifty
worshipers and regularly held two Masses on Sunday. The early Mass was for the English
speaking community and a later Mass for the Polish speaking parishioners.
The rectory was constructed in conjunction with the original church in late 1923. It
was built of red brick, as was the church. The bottom floor included a parish office,
dining room and kitchen and a small housekeeper's room. The second floor consisted of
the pastor's bedroom and study, a parlor, two rooms for visitors and common bathroom.
There was an open front porch.
During the first third of the century Catholics were often the victims of discrimination
and bigotry. The small parish in Whitehouse was no exception. Many stories have been
told of cross burnings initiated by local Klu Klux Klan in a field across from the little
church intended to terrorize the young Catholic community.
Father Konopka / First Sacraments
Father Konopka's pastorate at Our Lady of Lourdes lasted nearly twelve years and was
filled with accomplishments for the young parish. Among his primary concerns was
attending to the spiritual needs of his flock. The first baptism in the parish took
place on July 4, 1923. Two children were christened, Francis Joseph Rudolph Geiger and
Helena Antonina Dembeski (Dembeska) four and five week old infants. The first burials
were Walter Serth on October 27, 1923 and Anna Marie Serth on November 28. Father
Konopka witnessed his first parish marriage on September 16, 1923. The bride was
Sophia Majewski of Whitehouse and Anthony Liotkowski of Somerville. Because there was no
church building, the ceremony was performed at St. Mary's Church in Bound Brook. The
first marriage in the new church was the marriage of Antoni Emilut and Zuzanna
Niechniedowicz on May 14, 1925. First Communion was given to forty children on June 8,
1924. A week later George Valentine also made his First Communion. He must have been
ill on June 8. Father Konopka also organized the Children of Mary Sodality in May 1932
and the Polish Rosary Society in October 1934.
1929 - Auditorium
During 1929 a parish hall was built, initially referred to as the Auditorium, its cost
was $2,205.32. Most of the original site work was done by volunteers. Many parishioners
were employed in this building project. General supervisors were Onufrey Maksimowicz and
Stanley Kolodzinski. Workers listed mostly by last names were employed as masons,
carpenters, metal workers, electricians and painters: Gutowski, Borys, Jorowski, Sudol,
Kalkita, Inaram, Burek, Vladich, Wroblewski, Slirzewski, Emilut, Kikosinski, Bobrowski,
Winterstein, Reut, Salch, Krebaum, DeDeckre, Krug, Wade, Jankowski. Mrs. Lena Krug and
Mrs. Emil Krebaum of the Ladies Aid Society supplied the stage curtains. The grand
opening of the Auditorium took place on November 30, 1929. It was a grand day with 350
guests attending not only from the parish but from Newark, Elizabeth, Brooklyn, Queens,
South Amboy, Plainfield and Bound Brook. Speakers for the occasion were Father Konopka,
Thomas Mullen, Walter Szablowski, and Colonel John Stockton Strouse. The hall served
parishioners for over fifty years, housing all kinds of social functions: dances, movies,
wedding receptions as well as meetings and religious education classes.
Konopka's final years, 1932-1935, George Reut and Andrew Vladich acted as lay trustees.
Father Konopka was transferred from the parish to the pastorate of All Saints Church in
Burlington on May 15, 1935. He retired after serving many years as pastor of Holy Family
Parish, Carteret and died on May 5, 1971.
1935 - Father Albert A. Tomaszewski
Father Konopka was succeeded on May 15, 1935 by
Father Albert A. Tomaszewski another Polish speaking priest. Father "Tom", as he was
known, had been the assistant pastor at Sacred Heart in Manville. His initial appointment
was as administrator not pastor. It was the custom for the Bishop to name a priest, who
had never been a pastor, as an administrator first. It was not until July 15, 1943 that
Father Tom was canonically appointed pastor. His fourteen years pastorate was one of
growth and activity in the parish. On March 1, 1942, thirty men formed the Holy Name
Society. On July 26, of the same year, a dedication of an Honor Roll to 43 men of the
parish serving in the armed forces was held. Eventually, one hundred thirty seven sons
of the parish served in World War II. Five of them died. Father Tom's administration
spanned the later years of the Depression, through the war and post-war eras. It was a
difficult time for the parish financially. By the end of 1944 the parish's debt had
increased to $51,466.78. By courtesy of Bishop William Griffin of Trenton, over $36,000
was forgiven by the Diocese, leaving an indebtedness to the Diocese of only $15,000.
this burden lightened, the parish started an improvement fund and a bell fund. In April
1947, the sanctuary area was enlarged. A bell for the church tower was blessed on
November 9, 1947. Father William Lannery, the dean of the area and delegate of the
Bishop, presided at the blessing. It was rung for the first time on December 5. By the
end of the year, new pews, a brass communion rail, pulpit and sedelia (priest's seat)
were put in place. On March 17, 1948 a small pipe organ was installed by Jacob Gerger of
Philadelphia for $2,500.
Religious education was also one of the accomplishments during
Father Tom's pastorate. On July 21, 1944 a Confraternity Study Club was initiated.
September 23 of that year saw the institution of the children's Confraternity of
Christian Doctrine, which was canonically established on October 11. A confraternity
room was built in the church basement by March 1945. On April 16, 1946, the Sisters of
Loretto began to teach confraternity classes for the children. Bishop Griffin had set up
a regional convent in Flemington for the sisters to service the area parishes. Four
sisters taught and bus service was set up on Highway 28 for the children attending the
classes. George Reut and Andrew Vladich served as lay trustees throughout Father Tom's
pastorate. Father Tomaszewski was transferred from the parish to Our Lady of Mercy in
Englishtown on October 21, 1949. He died on May 3, 1960.
1949 - Father Joseph T. Wade
The transfer of Father
Tomaszewki and the official appointment of Father Joseph T. Wade took place on the same
day. Father Wade, as was the custom, was also initially named administrator. On
September 22, 1950 he was installed as pastor by Bishop George Ahr, the new Bishop of
Father Wade was the first non-Polish speaking priest to serve the parish. The
Diocese of Trenton had named him to Whitehouse Station since it judged that after
twenty-six years of Polish speaking pastors the second generation of ethnic Poles in the
parish would be English speaking. The non-Polish membership had also grown.
Initially, this caused difficulty in the parish. Some members of the Polish community
left to establish a mission church of the Polish National Catholic Church on Kline
Boulevard. The mission, called Sacred Heart Church, continued until about 1957-1958.
The group was not in union with the Roman Catholic Church. Father Wade proved himself to
be sensitive to this difficulty and consequently provided for ministry to those who
preferred the Polish language. Confessions were heard in Polish at Christmastime, during
Holy Week and on the occasion of the Forty Hours Devotion. Polish customs such as the
blessing of Easter food were also continued. Subsequent pastors continued this ministry
to the Polish speaking parishioners. As recently as Easter week in 1974, a triduum was
conducted in the Polish language.
Father Wade's pastorate was a very active one. During
his first years the Altar Society, Altar Boys Society, the St. Aloysius Society for boys
and the Angel Sodality for girls were established. The Sunday Mass schedule was expanded
from two to four Masses. The Franciscan Fathers of Holy Name Province began to help on
weekends. On June 21, 1952 additional land was purchased along Pulaski Road adjacent to
the parish property. The land extended 381 feet east along Pulaski Road with 15 feet of
it set aside as a right-of-way to the Hambel property. The depth of the property varied
from 396.9 to 392 feet. The parish paid $2,200 for this additional land. During this era
various improvements were made on the church including the installation of two stained
glass windows in 1953 as well as a new organ purchased, in November 1955, for $3,740.
The windows are included in the new community house. Four men served as parish trustees
during Father Wade's pastorate: Andrew Vladich and Thomas Mullen into 1952, William
Groogan and Thomas Gray replaced them.
1953-1954 / Grotto Built
One of the most significant events during Father
Wade's pastorate was the building of the grotto by the Holy Name men. Ground was broken
on February 11, 1953, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and on November 7, 1954, Bishop
Ahr dedicated the grotto. On December 4, 1957, Father Wade was named pastor of St.
Gregory the Great Church in Hamilton Square, outside Trenton. He died in retirement on
August 8, 1990.
1957 - Father Bernard A. Coen
Father Bernard A. Coen was appointed pastor on December 4, 1957. He had
been assistant pastor at St. Rose of Lima Church in Freehold. In his less than four
years as pastor, he worked to upkeep the parish buildings. Repairs to classrooms in the
church and rectory basements were made. A new tabernacle was purchased, as well as a
monstrance, sidewalks and lamps were placed at the side of the rectory and the property
was seeded. In addition, tiles were installed on the floor of the church and a new brick
garage was built to replace a frame garage. Father Coen promoted religious education for
all age groups. During his pastorate high school youth were brought together for such
instruction through the establishment of the Newman Club. Since 1954, the sisters who
taught from the Flemington Regional Convent were members of the Victoryknoll community.
On February 10, 1959 the final $15,000 of the original debt was paid to the Diocese of
Trenton. A "Burning of the Mortgage Dinner-Dance" was held in Liberty Hall of the Polish
American Citizens Club on Sunday, March 1. With the parish free of debt further
improvements were made. A new boiler was installed in the church in late 1959 and during
the summer of 1960, the parish hall was renovated to include inside bathroom facilities.
In September 1960, the hall was rented out for classrooms to the local Board of Education
for $300 a month. The parking lot was paved with the work being done free (by the
Township) except for $241.23 being paid to Tar Asphalt, Inc. Messrs. Groogan and Gray
continued as lay trustees. On September 28, 1961, Father Coen was transferred to
establish the new parish of St. Ambrose in what is now Old Bridge Township. He died as
pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Seaside Heights on March 29, 1984.