Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Bayonne, NJ celebrated its 150th anniversary Saturday evening, May 14, with Mass presided over by Archbishop Peter Gerety, the retired archbishop of Newark. About 30 priests, 4 like myself raised in the parish, concelebrated the Mass. Msgr. Frank Seymour, the diocesan archivist–also from the parish– preached the homily.
A number of former parishioners came back to celebrate at the Mass and at the dinner that followed in the school hall, along with the present parishioners. Most Reverend Joseph Younan, Bishop of Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Diocese came to the anniversary. Like so many immigrant groups before, the Syrian Catholics from places like Iraq in the Middle East have found a home in Bayonne. Now they have their cathedral at St. Joseph Church, which formerly belonged to the Slovak community.
The bishop and the wonderful choir from St. Dominic’s Academy that sang latin polyphony at the Mass says that Bayonne is still a city for immigrants.
Memories flooded into my mind. I arrived early to walk through the church where I grew up and where so many important moments of my life took place. The church I remember so well still bears the stamp of its Irish origins. I counted three statues and windows of St. Patrick and the familiar scenes in the windows of the life of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, bright and fresh as when they were put there.
Baptisms, weddings, funerals, anniversaries took place here. I celebrated my first Mass here; afterwards at the parish meal Msgr. William F. Lawlor, our pastor, fell over and died of a heart attack as he offered some remarks. That event made headlines in The Bayonne Times the next day.
I sat at the banquet after Mass with some of the “living stones” of St. Marys, which we used to call the parish years ago. One has been a member of the parish council for decades. The others lived there for most of their lives, although now they have moved away. Watching them easily connect with each other , trading stories, reliving memories, singing and dancing with delight, makes you appreciate the deep delight and faith that kept this place alive for 150 years.
I have a treasured picture from 1914 of my mother’s graduation from St. Mary’s School.
She’s clutching her diploma. Many of these kids were just off the boat or their fathers and mothers were. But they set their worlds on fire.
My mother said her class loved getting together in later years. One of them Msgr. Leo Martin became the popular pastor of St. Marys, his home parish. Another, whose name I forget, became head of the New York Stock Exchange. (He always footed the bill for the celebration, my mother said).
The “living stones” loved the celebration Saturday evening. I loved being with them.