St. Michael’s, Union City

On June 1, 2012, the Passionists left Union City, NJ, after 151 years. The community came to Union City, then West Hoboken, following a mission preached by Passionist missionaries at old St. Mary’s church in 1860.

The next year they were invited to settle on the high palisades above the city of Hoboken on the Hudson River by James Roosevelt Bailey, bishop of the newly formed diocese of Newark, who hoped they would minister to the German and Irish immigrants pouring into the northern New Jersey river towns of Hoboken, Newark, Jersey City, Hackensack and Paterson as the era of mass immigration began in 1850 and New York City expanded.

Passionist priests and brothers played a large part in building the Catholic church in northern New Jersey. They helped create 16 Catholic parishes in the area {St. Joseph, West New York, St. Paul of the Cross, Jersey City, Holy Family, Union City, St. Joseph/St Michael, Union City, among them) and preached missions and retreats to the growing Catholic population taking root in the new world.

Their base was the great church and monastery of St. Michael  built on the high palisades above the Hudson River in 1875, a familiar landmark visible for miles around. The church and monastery appear on the horizon of a panoramic map of Hoboken from 1881.

Hoboken 1881


Monastery 1881 copy

Monastery 1881

A missionary order, the Passionists chose their base in Union City, not just with northern New Jersey in mind, but because of its access to other places in the United States and the wider world. The first Passionists came to America from Italy in 1851. Before the advent of air travel, the busy Hoboken docks close by offered them access by sea to their headquarters in Rome and missionary fields in China (1922) and later the Philippines and Jamaica, West Indies.

Nearby too the newly-built railroads reached into the western, northern and southern parts of the United States. From Hoboken, Passionist preachers from St. Michael’s traveled to Catholic parishes and religious communities throughout the country to preach the gospel.

Hoboken railroads, docks 1881

The foundation in Union City was an ideal location for a community like the Passionists with global ambitions.

In 1921, the Passionists began publication of the Sign Magazine, which grew to become one of the most important Catholic publications in North America. The magazine was discontinued in 1982, but efforts in publishing, television and the social media continued until now.

The Passionists made Union City a center of devotion to the Passion of Jesus. One important expression was the production of Veronica’s Veil, a play produced by St. Joseph’s Parish in Union City. Catholics came to St. Michael’s in Union City to take part in its Monday devotions to the Passionist saints, St. Paul of the Cross, St. Gabriel and St. Gemma. It was a center for retreats, confessions and counseling.

The Passionists ministered to the poor in the county institutions at Snake Hill for the many years they were located there. They trained their seminarians at St. Michael’s,  and their provincial government and archives were located there.

The monastery church was a place of beauty, where the works of renown artists like Hildreth Meière, one of the great muralists of the 20th century were displayed. 

Death of St. Gabriel

Death of St. Gabriel, Hildreth Meiere

St. Gemma

St.Gemma, Hildreth Meiere

Other pictures of art from  St. Michael’s can be found on the Hildreth website.

From the dome of St. Michael’s you can see far out to New York City and the harbor to the sea eastward and to the railroads and highways westward. To me, the great church of St. Michael  expresses the Passionists: they have a message for the world.

I came from St. Mary’s Parish in Bayonne, NJ, one of the parishes the Passionists helped establish. I was ordained in St. Michael’s and much of my ministry was based here.

Places teach you how to live as well as people. Now we move on.

“The living, the living give you thanks

as I do today.

Fathers declare to their sons, O God,

your faithfulness.” Isaiah 38,20

14 thoughts on “St. Michael’s, Union City

  1. Susan Davis

    As I read your post, it brought back many fond memories for me. My family was in St. Paul of the Cross parish and my great-aunt, Sister Rita Genevieve, was a Sister of Charity who taught 7th grade English at St. Paul of the Cross. I attended Holy Rosary Academy in Union City and worked as a secretary at St. Michael’s Monastery in the Social Concerns Office. In Junior Year, we had our Ring Ceremony at the Blue Chapel which does not exist. I made lifelong friends from that little school in Union City. As you said places teach us how to live as well as people. Where are the Passionists going? Are you moving to Chicago?
    Susan Davis
    Colts Neck, NJ


  2. vhoagland Post author

    3 of us are going over to Jamaica, Long island, to Immaculate Conception Monastery. Right next to the subway at 178th Street.


  3. vhoagland Post author

    Short trip to Jamaica, New York. 3 of us are going over there, to Immaculate Conception Monastery. Right next to the subway at 178th Street.


  4. andremathieucp

    Thank you, Victor. Good article. God has blessed us in our 151 year history at St. Michael’s. May He continue blessing us as we seek (with His help) to create our new history.



  5. Laura Carroll Gillroy

    What a tribute, thank you for sharing with us. The Passionists have certainly given so much to making the history of these areas so fruitful. I know Dev and I have been blessed from the first day we met you and know that we will continue to be blessed with your friendship. You will not be too far away.
    God bless you as you always bless us!


  6. Gail Smyder

    Fr. Victor, what wonderful responses. I am sure this is bittersweet and yet you have such a missionary spirit. I think home is where God’s people are who search for truth in their Faith life. Much joy, and tons of blessings as you go forth. You are a blessing to so many, so back at you friend.


  7. Ed Lear

    Fr. Victor, thanks for mentioning this piece of St. Michael’s history to me. I thoroughly enjoyed it. While my memories are that of a 13 – 15 year-old delivering milk there early in the am, and the sparsely attended first of the day Sunday Mass, yours are those of a lifetime of devotion.


  8. vhoagland Post author

    Ed, The place generates memories, for 13-15 year olds to thousands older. They not only take us back, they carry us forward.


  9. peggy nitka

    Fr. Victor,
    Your history of St. Michael’s reads like the story of my own family. My great grandparents lived and worshipped right there in Union City and my grandmother and father were part of the family of St. Paul of the Cross. It makes me think about the greater meaning of family and the blessings that flowed out of those communities and continue down to the present day. My profound gratitude for all that has been and with thanksgiving for all that is to be.
    Peggy Nitka


  10. vhoagland Post author

    As you may guess, St. Michael’s is the story of my family too. I share your gratitude. And I believe also it’s not over. Saw a quote from Bob Dylan: ” When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?” Good to hear from you Peggy,


  11. Patricia Russell

    I have such a tremendous love for St. Michael’s Monastery. My parents were married there, all of my siblings and I made our first communions and confirmations there, and I was married there as well. We lived on 21st St. and used to walk to church every Sunday. All four of us were educated at St. Michael’s grammar and high schools. What memories of a time long past.


  12. Michael Gigante, Pres.

    The Servant of God, Mary Grace Bellotti (Grazia Bellotti Cavalli), her Funeral Mass was Concelebrated there November 14th 1927 (Died Nov. 10th,1927) hundreds of devotees attended. Her cause for Beatification and Canonization Is now before the Archbishop and the Vatican. If anyone has any family remembrance, stories, and or photo’s please contact us. Please view ( ) Phone 954.761.1101, email – Thank You, Michael Gigante Pres.
    The St. Gerard Maiella Society in memoriam Mary Grace Bellotti


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