St. Mary's History Timeline
Catholics began settling in the South Amboy area as early as the 1830's.
Through the 1830's and 40's, having no Church of their own, they were serviced by priests from New York, Newark, and New Brunswick.
In 1851, St. Mary's was established as part of a mission field extending along the Jersey shore. Father Rogers of New Brunswick built a small chapel on the site of the present parish cemetery. The small congregation of twenty-five families grew rapidly.
In 1853, property was purchased on Stevens Avenue and Augusta Street. The chapel was moved there and enlarged, and a school established. The first class was held in the sacristy of the Church.
In 1854, Father John A. Kelly was appointed permanent pastor. He established missions as far south as Ocean County.
Visiting weekly the different sections of the counties, he attended to the spiritual needs of all under his care and assisted them in purchasing property and erecting church buildings.
By the end of the century, over twenty churches were established within the original parish, extending from South Amboy to Toms River.
In 1873, ground was broken for the present Church. By 1876, at a cost of about $80,000, the new Church was completed. Many of the parishioners were primarily laborers and helped prepare the initial masonry work in their spare time.
On September 17, 1876, the Church was dedicated by Bishop Michael Augustine Corrigan, of Newark, and Father Kelly was celebrant.
Fr. Kelly purchased additional grounds and in 1885 invited the Sisters of Mercy to the parish to teach in the parochial school.
He was appointed Dean of the northern part of the Diocese of Trenton as well as being appointed by Bishop Michael J. O'Farrell as the Vicar General of the Diocese.
Fr. Kelly died on February 27, 1891 and his remains are interred in the parish cemetery.
On May 30, 1891, the Rev John F. Brady was appointed pastor.
For the next twenty years, Fr. Brady oversaw the construction of a new school. Started in 1892, and completed in 1903, the school provided for nearly one thousand children.
On October 4,1918, an explosion occurred in Morgan at a munitions plant. The parish sustained major damage.
Within a week, an influenza epidemic broke. Many Sisters of Mercy volunteered their services in the established emergency hospitals as well as in the homes.
A renovation was in process. In the midst of it, on February 2, 1919, Msgr. Brady died.
Fr. Edward C. Griffin was appointed pastor in 1919. As school enrollments increased, Fr. Griffin oversaw additions to the school in 1921 and 1926.
The people of the parish erected a new convent for the Sisters of Mercy to accommodate the increasing school staff.
The Great Depression of 1929 gave way to World War II. Msgr. Griffin, after twenty-two years of serving the people of St. Mary's, died. His remains are interred in the parish cemetery.
Msgr. Francis J. Sullivan was ordained in 1916 by John Cardinal Farley in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York. He established St. Lawrence Parish in Laurence Harbor.
Magr. Sullivan was appointed pastor in 1941. He led his parishioners through the difficulties of the War.
Another munitions explosion occurred on May 19, 1950 at the Pennsylvania Railroad Yards. It left South Amboy in shambles, 31 persons killed and some 350 injured. Since the damaged Church could not be used for services, Masses were celebrated outdoors on the Church steps until safety was secured indoors.
A fire in 1953 destroyed the upper floor of St. Mary's School.
In April, 1955, Msgr. Sullivan inaugurated a campaign for the erection of a new school and separate auditorium-gymnasium.
A second major school fire occurred on May 4, 1966. Plans were made for the erection of a new St. Mary's High School under the direction of Msgr. George M. Brembos who assisted Msgr. Sullivan in the administration of the parish. On November 3, 1968, the High School was blessed and dedicated by Bishop George W. Ahr.
Msgr. Sullivan retired in 1970. He died on July 11, 1973 and is interred at St. Paul's Cemetery, Princeton.
Coming as administrator in 1969, Fr. James J. McConnell was appointed pastor in 1970. Father McConnell directed the Church through the liturgical changes following the Second Vatican Council.
The three marble altars were modified to follow the new liturgical norms, the confessionals were converted into reconciliation rooms, and the baptistry into a Eucharistic chapel.
Modernization of the Church included: installation of air conditioning, an audio system, improved lighting, addition of Church vestibule, granite steps, and a ramp for easy access into the Church.
Father James McConnell died on Friday, September 21, 2012.
Msgr. John L. Gerety was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Trenton May 25, 1957 in St. Anthony Parish, Trenton.
In March, 1977, Msgr. Gerety was appointed pastor of St. Mary until his retirement on July 1, 1991. He was a member of the Diocese of Trenton Tribunal and the Diocesan Commission for Expansion and Boundaries.
The Holy Father named him a prelate of honor with the title of Monsignor April 10, 1979.
Msgr. Gerety, as pastor, worked hard to rebuild the cemetery records lost in the past fire and flood. He cast a wide net out to let everyone know what he was trying to do and invited all who had family in the cemetery to come forward with any information they had.
Through this movement, Msgr. was able to put many puzzle pieces back together again.
Msgr. John L. Gerety died on January 25th, 2000.
Fr. Willaim F. Leonard was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on May 16, 1970 by Bishop Gerald V. McDevitt.
Fr. Leonard served the Church through the years as formation director, educator, pastor, and retreat director.
As pastor of St. Mary, Fr. Leonard worked to keep the school up and also renovated the rectory. He did so without using existing parish funds. Instead, he would work with his parishioners to raise funds for the needed upgrading. He was very involved in the parish and many volunteers would come forward to assist.
Fr. Leonard was available to his parishioners whenever called upon, no matter the time of day or night.
Fr. Leonard died on September 26, 2010.
Fr. Dennis was ordained to the priesthood May 3, 1986 in the Archdiocese of New York. He had been associate pastor and administrator of many parishes as well as Director of Ministry to the separated/divorced within the Diocese of Ogdensburg. He served in the military chaplaincy for the U.S. Air Force in multiple locations as well as being an in hospital chaplain, both in San Antonio.
Fr. Dennis was incardinated into the Metuchen Diocese January 10, 1994 and has served as associate pastor of several parishes. After serving briefly as administrator, Fr. Dennis was installed as pastor in St. Mary Parish October 26, 1997.
Fr. Dennis often tells his parishioners St. Mary's is "your church". He has always encouraged his parishioners to express their faith in different ways. Always willing to listen to new ideas, Fr. Dennis opens the way. As such, the parish has had special novenas, rosary rallies, pot luck suppers to help build community, and with anything that expresses faith, Fr. Dennis creates an atmosphere that is open and welcoming.