9/2010: Local advocates have started a Yahoo! group aimed at increasing communication and encouraging action toward preservation of the Blue Chapel: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/savethebluechapel/links/. They continue to work with local municipal leaders.
11/2010: Union City has designated the Blue Chapel as a municipal landmark. While the Union City Historic Preservation Advisory Committee is not regulatory, this designation will empower the Committee to make recommendations on future plans for the property. Mayor Brian Stack quotes, “We want to preserve the property and keep the building the way it is.” Union City’s Commissioner of Public Affairs has indicated that Union City is investigating options for acquisition of the property.
3/2011: Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy founder John Gomez has released a revealing article detailing the history of the Blue Chapel, in an effort to raise awareness of the property and its significance: http://www.nj.com/hudson/index.ssf/2011/03/the_blue_chapel_in_union_city.html
5/2011: The Blue Chapel has been bestowed with Union City’s first ever city-issued marker recognizing a building’s historic significance. Local advocates, including the Union City Historic Advisory Committee, are working on nominating the building to the New Jersey and National Registers.
The Monastery of the Perpetual Rosary: Sisters of Saint Dominick, commonly referred to as the Blue Chapel, is one of Union City’s most celebrated landmarks. Father Saintourens of the Order of Preachers originally came from France and was joined by several French nuns in West Hoboken (now Union City) in 1891 where they established the Dominican Order in a small house on 14th Street. The extant Gothic Revival complex was constructed on the same site between 1912 and 1914. It was the first monastery dedicated to the recitation of the Perpetual Rosary in the United States, from which 21 others throughout the nation would eventually stem.
Among the most notable indications of the convent’s European founders are extant stained glass windows imported from Germany during the monastery’s construction and a statue of the Virgin Mary brought by the founding nuns from France. The chapel exhibits the artwork of one of America’s most renowned Catholic artists, former resident Sister Mary of the Compassion. The convent also contains a rare relic of St. Dominic – a supposed fragment of the original saint’s bone.
The Blue Chapel consists of a U-shaped Bluestone building that houses dormitories, kitchen and office facilities, and a chapel. The building sits on 1.3 acres of landscaped grounds delineated by a high stone wall. The convent is an oasis of greenery in a densely developed neighborhood of two- and three-story walk-ups.
While the monastery was well maintained for many decades, both the numbers of resident nuns and the facility’s finances eventually dwindled. As a result, the Blue Chapel has deteriorated. A leaking roof has resulted in water damage, particularly to the highly decorative interior of the building’s chapel. In the face of mounting maintenance costs and the building’s lack of heat, the nuns vacated the building during the summer of 2009.
In November 2009, representatives of the Blue Chapel’s order announced plans to renovate and expand the monastery to accommodate approximately 100 housing units and underground parking. The proposal included plans to expand the building’s footprint and add three stories. Following negative public reaction, the monastery’s caretakers have since indicated that the plans are on hold and will likely be abandoned. They have also indicated interest in selling the building. At this time, the future of the vacant Blue Chapel is uncertain.
The Blue Chapel deserves to be preserved and to be listed on the New Jersey and National Registers for both historic and architectural reasons. PNJ recognizes that the building will no longer be used as the monastery it has been for close to 100 years. Therefore, adaptive use that would both preserve and protect the integrity of the building and should be explored and supported. PNJ believes the Blue Chapel may be eligible for the National and New Jersey Registers of Historic Places for its significance as a Union City landmark. If listed on the National Register, the property could become eligible for federal historic preservation tax credits, an incentive that would better position this large-scale landmark for creative rehabilitation.