First established as a mission of Saint Michael’s Church on Hamilton Square, Saint Lucy’s Parish was established with the construction of its first church edifice on June 22, 1884 in Jersey City’s Horseshoe section. The Parish was formed to serve the burgeoning, but poor Irish immigrants who flocked to the area in around the turn of the 20th century.
After the purchase of sufficient land on the west side of Grove Street, the parish began the construction of the present school The school, a massively proportioned vernacular Italianate building with strong Romanesque revival elements; and the church, a mottled iron-spot brick and brownstone masonry Romanesque revival building with a 145-foot tower at its north corner, were built in rapid succession to replace the original small wood-frame church that the congregation had quickly outgrown. The delicate Romanesque Revival rectory was completed twenty years later in 1904. The architect of record, Jeremiah O’Rourke of Newark, was responsible for the construction of other churches throughout the state and served as the first architect of Sacred Heart Cathedral (now Cathedral Basilica) in Newark.
The Church’s role in the community changed when the construction of the Holland Tunnel in the 1920s claimed the homes of numerous parishioners, and more industry was attracted to the area. The Church realized a rebirth when a devotion to Saint Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes, was erected in 1932 and made it a local pilgrimage site in times of extreme need drawing devotees from surrounding towns and New York City. The Church was closed in 1985, but even today Saint Jude’s shrine at the corner of Grove and 16th Streets is decorated, especially around his feast day on October 28th.
Apart from deteriorated exterior finishes, the removal of the stained-glass windows, and the replacement of the slate roofing materials with a new asphalt roof, the church and rectory are little altered. The former parochial school was inappropriately painted and today serves as a homeless shelter. The church complex is eligible for listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and was once docketed for Municipal landmark status in the 1980s; however, no further historic preservation action has been taken. For the last 20 or more years, encroaching development has been a constant threat to the church, rectory, and school, and a recent trend towards up-zoning, especially downtown, makes the property all the more palatable for developers looking to build mixed commercial and residential developments. In addition, the City is in talks with the Archdiocese of Newark to replace the homeless shelter at St. Lucy’s with a new, modern facility across the street, which would leave the only currently occupied building in St. Lucy’s Complex without a use. This has citizens concerned about the fate of the complex, especially given the deteriorating state of the long vacant sanctuary.
St. Lucy’s highlights the plight of numerous 19th and early-20th century religious buildings in our cities and older suburbs where diminished parishes, a lack of funds for proper upkeep, and lack of vision for adaptive reuse take their toll on these prominent historic resources. For St. Lucy’s and others, where there is increased demand for housing in transit-rich and walkable downtowns like Jersey City, pressure is even greater to tear down or perform a facade-ectomy. PNJ recommends that the City of Jersey City investigate ways to protect St. Lucy’s Roman Catholic Complex and the other historically significant structures in the Horseshoe area by seeking designation on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, establishing a Historic District, and/or conveying Municipal landmark status. PNJ further recommends that the Archdiocese of Newark find an interested partner with experience in rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of historic religious structures to assist them with forming a vision for the next chapter of St. Lucy’s history.
Preservation New Jersey