Bayonne is changing, but is it leaving its history behind?
The demolition of St. Joseph’s Syriac Catholic Cathedral on 25th and Avenue E took place on Dec. 27, 2019.
The St. Joseph’s parish was formed around 1888, but the church that once stood on Avenue E wasn’t built until later. Constructed in 1909, St. Joseph’s was one of the longest standing Slovak churches in the United States. The land the church formerly stood on is slated to become a residential development.
In 2011, St. Joseph’s transitioned from a Roman Catholic parish to a Syriac Catholic parish due to the changing congregation. The next change in congregation would mark the end of the church in Bayonne.
The Bayonne community was shaken in 2015 after the Archdiocese of Newark announced that St. Joseph’s, along with two other Catholic churches, would close the following year.
Citing the decline in congregation numbers, St. Michael’s at 21 East 23rd Street, Our Lady of Assumption on West 23rd Street, and St. Joseph’s shut down and merged with Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish.
After the merge, the combined churches operated out of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. However, that name is no more. Instead, the new parish was named after St. John Paul II.
Two other churches in Bayonne also merged under the re-consolidation plan. St. Andrew and St. Mary Star of the Sea are now Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich.
Yet these parishes were lucky. Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich operates out of both former churches, preventing their possible demolition at the hands of redevelopment.
Out with the divine, in with development
In early May, 2018, the Bayonne Planning Board unanimously approved an application to redevelop the site of former St. Joseph’s Syriac Catholic Cathedral. Some commissioners on the board applauded the development, citing its appearance and ideal location.
Commissioner John Sebik said that the proposed buildings are beautiful, and this is a perfect area for them. Commissioner Terrence Malloy said that this project is “terrific” before making a motion to approve.
This signifies a shift in public opinion from the Catholic churches that used to define Bayonne, toward the redevelopments that will define Bayonne in the future.
The old cathedral was destroyed to make way for more housing.
The developers, PRC Group owners Robert M. Kaye and Angelo Del Russo, are building two six-story residential buildings on the grounds of the church and the accompanying parking lot on the other side of Avenue E. The plan is to construct one building where the parking lot is first, then construct the second building across the street where the church stood.
The two structures will boast 162 total rental housing units. The project has been given the name “City Line” by PRC Group.
Currently, the way the City of Bayonne deals with historic properties is through the Bayonne Historic Preservation Commission. Joe Ryan, spokesperson for the City of Bayonne, is the staff person for the BHPC.
According to the BHPC, there is no safeguard to prevent this from happening to one of the other closed churches unless the owner of the building wants the building to be marked as historic.
According to Ryan, the BHPC designates historic buildings through a historic preservation ordinance. Historic preservation ordinances offer stronger legal protection for historic properties than state or federal registries of historic buildings.
The designation applies only to the facade of the building, meaning that owners are free to decorate the interior as they like as long as the exterior remains the same. The ordinance is usually drawn up in coordination with or upon request of the owner of the property.
The Archdiocese of Newark endorsed St. Vincent de Paul to become designated as a historic property using a historic preservation ordinance. However, when it came to St. Joseph’s, Ryan says there was no coordination with the Archdiocese of Newark.
As of 2020, Our Lady of Assumption Church still stands and is now operated by the neighboring Russian Orthodox Church. Much like St. Joseph’s, Our Lady of Assumption is a historic church. It was 113 years old when it shut its door on New Year’s Day 2016.
While the buildings that housed these congregations of the Catholic faith are gone, the communities remain. St. Michael’s parish is now home to St. Joseph’s Syriac Catholic Cathedral.
The remaining Catholic churches in the city, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Henry, will continue to operate as usual and serve the local community.
St. John Paul II holds its services at the site of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, 39 East 22nd St.
Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich parish celebrates services at former St. Mary Star of the Sea, as well as St. Andrew’s.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.