Were Fr. James Daley, Pastor of St Mary’s, Gloucester, in 1868, to return for a visitation of the little mission he founded in Southern Gloucester County, I’m certain he would be pleased and proud with the progress we’ve made since those horse and buggy days of yesteryear. From those first twenty families and their leaders in faith, our beloved St Bridget has multiplied and divided several times over, a tribute to their noble commitment and deep appreciation of Gospel values.
While today we have a tremendous rapport with the various Churches here in Glassboro, Ecumenism got rolling when a generous Protestant owner of a local Glass Works by the name of Mr. Whitney donated land for the first Catholic Church in our area. If you take a short walk down to the northwest corner of University Boulevard and Harvard Road you will find the original site. Since Father Daley and his early congregation were all of Irish extraction, it was only natural that the new mission be named St. Bridget, Ireland’s second Patron Saint! Despite trying economic times following the Civil War, which almost caused its demise, the young mission grew steadily with its succession of Pastors.
In 1882, for greater accessibility, the Church building was moved to Church Street, but only after narrowly avoiding a train collision en route to its new site! With the merger of two glass companies in Glassboro in 1887 affording more job opportunities, Parish enrollment swelled to two hundred, the same year St. Bridget gained its autonomy and became an official Parish. Fr. Charles F. Kane, newly ordained, became the first permanent pastor and, in no time, ground was purchased for a new rectory for the princely sum of $125.00!
During the latter half of the nineteenth century, with the country in the full throes of the Industrial Revolution, its struggle for equality of wages and the effects of Unionization, St. Bridget, nonetheless, grew in leaps and bounds, attracting a variety of immigrants, among them German and Polish, but principally Irish and Italian. By World War I, with Fr. R. J. O’Farrell as pastor, St. Bridget had doubled its congregation to four hundred energetic, faith-filled and determined Catholics, all of whom worked principally as farmers. A variety of social affairs flourished, enriching the community at that time: sewing circles, carnivals, dances, etc., with many affairs held in private homes. Between 1915 and 1943, Fr. Alfred Scully, a great scholar and convert to Catholicism, pastored St. Bridget, and is remembered for his tremendous concern for the poor. Under his leadership, Our Lady Queen of Peace in Pitman, became first a mission, then a parish in its own right. Our familiar St. Anthony’s Society was formed in 1919 to provide jobs for the unemployed, money for the poor, and health and death benefits for the many Italian Immigrants flocking to Glassboro.
Towards the end of World War II, Fr. Jerome Pionkowski, Fr. Jerry as he was known, took the helm and within no time organized a Choir and founded a Ladies Sodality and Society. Due to Fr. Jerry’s inspiration another offshoot was planned in Clayton, known as St. Catherines. Fr. Jerry also ministered to Holy Name of Jesus in Mullica Hill, which eventually gained independence in 1961.
By 1966, Our Lady of Lourdes in Glassboro was established, with the completion of their new Church building in 1987. We have to thank Fr. Jerry for bringing the first Catholic Grade School to Gloucester County, as well as the dedicated Felician Sisters, who faithfully served both our school and parish. You might be interested in knowing that the first school building became the Parish Convent. In 1946, Fr. Jerry purchased the former Public High School on High Street (now razed) to better accommodate the eager youth that were attracted to its doors. Fr. Jerry’s dream was becoming a reality! The 50’s and 60’s brought the Knights of Columbus, counseling services at Glassboro State College, and Newman Club, as well as our crowning achievement, the brand new Church building on the site of the former town jail! Indeed, God must have a sense of humor! Has not the church always tried to transform its negative elements by “christening” them?
Fr. Charles Kuhl succeeded Fr. Jerry in 1969, and set himself to the task of building an entirely new school, replacing the 1912 structure. Bingo helped to pay off the building.
In the early 70’s, Fr. John Clarke was appointed Pastor and, with Irish wit and enthusiasm, began to implement the reforms of Vatican Council II. Reconciliation Rooms were installed and a daily Chapel was created. To his credit, genuine Iron Bells were added to the Church Tower. Strides were made to pay off the New School debt. Fr. Francis P. Araneo arrived in 1978 and proved himself quite a competent administrator. In keeping with the guidelines of Vatican II, Fr. Araneo established Lay Ministries for the Eucharist and Lectors. A Kindergarten was enthusiastically welcomed in 1980. Tragically, Fr. Araneo’s Pastorate was shortened by an accident that claimed his life in 1982 as he was returning from a Pro Life Rally.
Following the death of Fr. Araneo, Msgr. James R. Tracy was assigned to St. Bridget and remained with us for nine years. Amiable, energetic and creative, Monsignor introduced many new items for our spiritual nourishment: Renew, RCIA, a new Parish Center, beautification of the parking lot and installation of stained glass windows for the Church.
In 1991, Fr. Robert Smith was appointed Pastor. He remained at St. Bridget until 2000.
Fr. Wayne “Pat” Lavin was appointed to the parish in 2001 and served as Pastor for three years. The Felician Sisters left St. Bridget during Fr. Pat’s tenure.The Felician Sisters were part of St. Bridget for more than 60 years, assisting the pastors and involved with St. Bridget School.
Fr. Cadmus D. Mazzarella was Pastor of St. Bridget Parish from 2005 thru June 2009. Fr. Mazz was assisted by our St. Bridget parishioner, Deacon Joseph W. Loungo. Deacon Joe’s ordination was March 15th 1997. Fr. Mazz had assisted Fr. Tracy for three years as a newly ordained priest. He returned to St. Bridget as temporary administrator in 2004 and was installed as pastor in January 2005.
In 2006, Sr. M. Bernarda Ribeiro, Sr. M. Gemma Procopio, Sr. M. Rita DeFlavia, Sr. Janice Marie Novak and Sr. Stacie Marie Gagnon, Franciscan Sisters, came to St. Bridget and occupied the old convent until 2009. While assisting Fr. Mazz and supervising the St. Bridget School program, they were also an integral part of the Parish. Their Franciscan Order purchased a house next to the Parish Convent for their future expansion and growth. This new home is now completely renovated and provides a beautiful addition next to our Parish complex. Their official move in date was October 2009. Currently the Sisters participate in the St. Michael the Archangel School activities as well as St. Bridget Parish as needed.
Through the initiatives of Sonia and Edwin Morales, the Spanish Ministry was started at the Parish in response to the growing Hispanic population in central Gloucester County. This initiative culminated with the appointment of Father Ariel Fernandez in June 2007 as the facilitator of Spanish Ministry. Fr. Ariel remained with St. Bridget through August 2008.
St. Bridget Regional School, a Parish landmark for many, many years in Glassboro, closed at the end of the school year June 2008. A new regional school was formed from this closure with the then St. Catherine School in Clayton NJ. This school merger formed the new St. Michael the Archangel Regional School of Clayton NJ Fr. Fabio Fernandez joined St. Bridget in September 2008 as Parochial Vicar and facilitator of Spanish Ministry and also to assist Fr. Mazz during the period of parish merger review and study. Fr. Mazz oversaw St. Bridget Parish until September 2009, when he was replaced by Fr. Matthew Weber, Administrator.Fr. Mazz was also appointed to Our Lady of Peace Parish in Williamstown, formerly St. Mary’s.
There was a transition period during 2009 and 2010 in which Bishop Joseph Galante appointed a task force to study St. Bridget Parish status to give recommendation to the Camden Diocese regarding the possible combining of the Catholic Campus Ministry at Rowan University with St. Bridget Parish.
After a favorable review and study by the task force and the Bishop, Bishop Galante issued a decree June 1st, 2010 that St. Bridget Parish was to be designated as a University Parish and is entrusted with the Catholic Campus Ministry at Rowan University.
Fr. Matthew oversaw St. Bridget Parish as Administrator from September 2009 thru October 2010 when he was officially installed as Pastor.
Presently St. Bridget Parish is a unique Parish in the Diocese having a three fold mission; it serves Glassboro area parishioners, it is the Catholic center for the Hispanic community of central Gloucester County and it also serves the students, faculty and staff of Rowan University.
Deacon Sam Soto was assigned to St. Bridget in November 2010 mainly to assist with the Spanish Ministry as well as other parish duties as needed. In view of St. Bridget Parish’s mission, additional clergy have been appointed to the staff. Fr. Phillip Johnson was appointed as Chaplain of Catholic Campus Ministry and on May 2011 Deacon Kevin Heil, a parish parishioner, was assigned to assist Fr. Phillip, as well as to assist with other parish duties. St. Bridget Parish is so fortunate to have three Deacons, being Joe Loungo, Kevin Heil and Sam Soto, along with Frs. Matthew, Phillip and Fabio.
August 2011 saw the addition of Family Promise Interfaith Hospitality Network coming to St. Bridget Parish’s old convent, previously occupied by the Franciscan Sisters. This home had not had any permanent occupants for almost two years.
The story of St. Bridget Parish continues to be part of the story of Glassboro. Preserving, maintaining and building upon the firm foundation laid by others is a constant but thrilling challenge. Parishioners have commented that the Parish today is, “friendly, warm and glowing”. Many consider it the “spiritual anchor of their life of faith”.
In 2012, ST. Bridget Parish will be celebrating 125 years (1887-2012) as a believing, living and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ parish.
As of January 2015 the church hall is more accessible with the completion of our elevator project. Now everyone can participant in events in our parish. St. Bridget Church is striving to be more inclusive.