I am so happy to have the opportunity to celebrate the 160th anniversary of our parish with you this weekend. Our celebration makes me think of all the people who made this parish their spiritual home over the years. It boggles the mind to think of all the people who were Baptized, married, received First Communion and Confirmation or just stopped in to say a prayer over the years.
When I arrived in St. Philip and St. James in 2009, the parish was in the midst of celebrating her 150th anniversary. At the time, I was surprised to learn that the actual date of the parish’s establishment is not exactly certain! Archbishop James Roosevelt Bayley – a nephew of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton who was the Catholic Bishop for all of New Jersey – appointed Fr. James Mc Kee the first pastor in 1858. That year marks the earliest known celebration of Holy Mass in P’Burg – in a house on Sitgreaves Street. But it was not until the following year, 1859 that the land on which the Church now stands was purchased by the parish.
As best as we can tell, Archbishop Bayley established the parish ‘canonically’ (according to Church Law) in 1860. But changes in the laws of the State of New Jersey required that the parish be established as a legal corporation in 1864. By that time, Mass was being celebrated regularly in a small Church that stood where our current one does, by Fr. Cornelius O’Reilly.
Fr. O’Reilly – who was technically the third pastor of St. Philip and St. James Church, was the first one to stay more than a year or two. Arriving in 1860, he would serve our parish until his death in 1884! During his tenure the rectory and old school (the front part of the Mercy Hall Building), and the current Church were built. He also established the parish school and the old cemetery on Fillmore Street, where he is buried!
I often imagine what he must have been like. He must have been a very dynamic and devoted priest – since he accomplished an awful lot in a short time. Fr. O’Reilly died when he was only 48 years old. He served 26 years as a priest – 24 of them in Phillipsburg, Our parish owes him a great debt of gratitude.
Our anniversary also reminds us of the old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Like most of his parishioners, Fr. O’Reilly was an immigrant from Ireland. They were not too wealthy, but they had a lot of faith and accomplished a lot for our Lord by working together.
In some ways, this is similar to our current parish which includes a fair number of immigrants – even among our clergy! This has been the case for much of our parish history. So, too, is the fact that – for the most part – we are not a wealthy parish, but accomplish a great deal by working together with faith in our good God!
With all the good news about the anniversary, I have to take a moment to address something more serious. I hear that some of you occasionally receive texts or emails claiming to be from me and asking you for a favor that involves buying gift cards. DO NOT RESPOND TO THESE – as we heard our Lord say in a recent Gospel! Remember that any official communication from me - especially involving fundraising – will come through the regular mail on regular parish stationary. Moreover, it will always be mentioned in the bulletin – usually in this space!
That being said, I want you to know that a follow up mailing about our ongoing Parish Capital Campaign will be coming shortly. It is being sent primarily to parishioners who came after the start of the campaign, to those who either made one–time gifts, or those who could not help at the campaign’s beginning. If you have any questions or are unsure whether something is truly from our parish, give us a call and we’ll help you out!
In the meantime, please keep saying that Hail Mary for me each day – and be assured of my daily prayers for you!
Fr. JohnBACK TO LIST