Our Lady of Mercy Church History
Catholics living in the Englishtown and Manalapan area were first served by St. Rose of Lima Church in Freehold. In 1872 Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, first Bishop of Newark, organized a mission group of Freehold, Jamesburg, Perrineville, Hightstown, and Colt's Neck and appointed Rev. Fr. Kivelitz (later Monsignor) Pastor of this district with residence in Freehold. Fr. Kivelitz had such pastoral zeal he later opened two additional missions in Farmingdale and Englishtown.
In 1881 the southern Territory of the Diocese of Newark was separated and the New Diocese of Trenton took form. Bishop Michael Joseph O'Farrell was appointed First Bishop of Trenton, he was an Irish immigrant from the City of Limerick and was serving as pastor of St. Peter's Church on Barclay Street in Manhattan when he was named bishop of the new Diocese of Trenton. It was not until 1947 that the mission of Englishtown had grown sufficiently to become a parish. It was canonically erected on December 14, 1947 by Bishop William Griffin.
The first pastor was Father Thomas Nolan. The first Mass was held at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Noce at 49 Main Street on November 15, 1947. There were approximately 115 parishioners present for the Mass. As the parish grew the Masses were moved from the Noce home to the historic firehouse in the center of town (now demolished). Fr. Nolan resided at St. Rose until he acquired a residence in Englishtown at 42 Tennent Ave. Land for a Church was given by James Rooney and the $40,000 cost for the building of a Church was obtained by an assessment on the parishes of St. Rose of Lima, Freehold; St. Thomas the Apostle, Old Bridge; and St. James Church in Jamesburg. Daly Construction Company of Trenton constructed the building which was completed in 1948, at this time custody of the Church of St. Joseph in Perrineville was transferred from St. Rose to Our Lady of Mercy. The Church of St. Joseph was separated from Our Lady of Mercy in 2004 and once again received a resident pastor.
The Church of Our Lady of Mercy was formally opened on July 15, 1948 with Masses held at 8:00am, 9:30am and 11:00am. The formal dedication was held on October 3, 1948 with the Most Reverend William A. Griffin, DD Bishop of Trenton Presiding and the homilist was Rev Joseph Connely, Pastor of Corpus Christi parish in South River. The parish was also served at this time by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Newark. On June 22, 1950 Father Albert A. Tomaszewski became pastor, he acquired a new rectory on March 6, 1952 next to the Church from Mrs. Narosniak. The former rectory at 44 Tennent Ave was sold on Nov. 11, 1952. Fr. Tomaszewski died in June of 1960 and Father John C. Petri was appointed Pastor that same Month.
From 1960-1971 the parish saw rapid development increasing membership to 1,300 families. It was decided a new parish would be formed from Land acquired at 186 Gordons Corner Road, In 1970 the Corporation of St. Thomas More Church was formed and the parish was Canonically erected in 1971 and Father Petri became the founding pastor of the new parish. In June of 1971 Bishop Reiss appointed Father Charles R. Valentine the 4th pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church. Under his leadership the wall between the parish hall and the church was removed and the former hall converted into additional worship space by adding pews and stained glass windows. A new parish center building was constructed at 8 Pine Street, half of the building serves as a Catechetical Center and the other half as a parish hall, it was dedicated by Bishop John C. Reiss on May 15, 1998 and the new parish hall was given the name "Rev. Charles R. Valentine Hall" in recognition of Father Valentine's long beloved service to the parish.
On October 1, 2006 Father John P. Bambrick was appointed by Bishop John M. Smith as the 5th pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church while also serving as Pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Manalapan. On July 1, 2007 the Corporations of St. Thomas More and Our Lady of Mercy Churches were merged into a single entity known as St. Thomas More Parish encompassing the Churches of St. Thomas More Manalapan, NJ and Our Lady of Mercy Englishtown, NJ.
Saint Thomas More Church History
In 1960 Fr. John C. Petri was appointed Pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Englishtown. Our Lady of Mercy was the Catholic Parish for the ½ mile square Borough of Englishtown and the 30.08 square mile Township of Manalapan.
In 1962, Manalapan began to experience its first major expansion when the Holiday North development was built along Route 9. As young people with expanding families began to move into the area, the small church of Our Lady of Mercy became overcrowded. When Hovnanian Enterprises announced the construction of the Yorktowne development, it became clear that a new larger church had to be built. In 1964, Hovnanian donated ten acres of land on Gordons Corner road for the site of a new church.
In 1967, Father Petri began the process of requesting permission from the diocese for the building of a new church. When the new parish of St. Thomas More was established Father Petri was named as pastor, making him responsible for three parishes; St. Thomas More, Our Lady of Mercy and St. Joseph's in Perrineville. This responsibility remained until June, 1971 when Bishop Ahr appointed Fr. Charles R. Valentine the new pastor of Our Lady of Mercy and St. Joseph's, and appointed Father Petri as pastor of St. Thomas More.
Plans for the new church were drawn up by architect Donald L. Moss. Originally, the plan was to build a church, a parish center, two classrooms, and a rectory. On July 18, 1969, bids for construction of the complex were opened, and the low bid of $1,200,000 was far beyond the community's projected ability to pay. At a general parish meeting held to discuss alternatives, Father Petri suggested an all-purpose building that would contain a chapel and a large hall that could accommodate mass, recreation, social events, and religious instruction.
The idea was supported by the parish, and a scaled down building was begun at a cost of $700,000. Construction of the St. Thomas More Parish Center began in February, 1970. The first mass was celebrated on March 7, 1971. The building was officially dedicated by Bishop George W. Ahr at ceremony on October 3, 1971.
The Parish Center became the focal point of the Parish. It served liturgical needs such as Sunday Masses, weddings, baptisms, funerals, confirmation; social needs such as dances, plays, bingo, bazaars, wedding receptions, anniversary celebrations, scouting; community needs such as meetings, blood banks, socials, fund raising; educational needs such as religious instruction, adult education; recreational needs such as CYO basketball and volleyball. Folding partitions provided six areas used as classrooms. A fully equipped kitchen was installed. The Chapel was used primarily as a place to offer daily Mass and reserve the Blessed Sacrament. It was also designed to accommodate small weddings and funerals. The sanctuary furniture used for Masses held in the Parish Center had to be physically moved into the hall from the chapel each Sunday. A Rectory was built on the edge of the parking lot in May of 1972.
Prior to the opening of the parish center, the religious instruction of over 1,200 children of the parish was held in rented classrooms at Clark Mills School each Saturday morning for the primary grades, and at Pine Brook for high school students. With the opening of the parish center with its multi-use rooms, classes were soon transferred to the center utilizing the six available rooms. However, it soon became apparent that this facility had too been outgrown. An addition to the Center was completed in February, 1974, and offered to the parish seven permanent classrooms.
The people of the parish began to realize the need for a Church building for worship rather than using a multi-purpose parish center. On the practical side, one of the major problems that existed was the scheduling of activities for the Parish Center. It was in constant use. Holy Day Mass schedules often accommodated bingo, which meant the Holy Day Mass schedule, was never the same. Sometimes Bingo had to be cancelled. When a dance was held on Saturday evening, the hall, set up for Mass Saturday evening, would be broken down after the vigil Mass. After the dance, the setup crew would have to come back in the wee hours of the morning to set up again for Sunday Masses.
After the hall was broken down from a party to become a Church again, instead of the smell of beeswax and incense at Mass there was the smell of cigarettes and stale beer hanging in the air. In April of 1974 a parish survey was taken and a majority of parishioners indicated they wanted a church and would support its construction. It was decided to build a church. Mr. Patrick Roy, a member of the parish was selected as the architect for the new church. Construction began in October, 1976 and was completed in July, 1977 at a cost of $526,000. The celebration of the blessing and dedication of the church took place on Sunday, December 4, 1977 at the 12:00 noon Mass. Bishop George W. Ahr laid the cornerstone and blessed the church immediately preceding the Mass.
After 29 years of priestly service to Manalapan and Englishtown as Pastor of Our Lady of Mercy 1960-1971 and then as founding Pastor of St. Thomas More 1970-1989 Fr. John C. Petri retired. In 1989 Bishop John C. Reiss appointed Fr. Paul Scaglione the 2nd Pastor of St. Thomas More Church.
Fr. Paul expanded on the many ministries established by Fr. Petri. He added a hand carved Crucifix to the Church as well as hand carved statutes of the Blessed Mother and the Patron St. Thomas More. Fr. Paul was known for his Lenten Lunch Lectures. During his presidency of the Board of Trustees of Samaritan Center he also was instrumental in bringing to fruition the affordable housing development known as "New Beginnings". He introduced and promoted the idea of stewardship to the parish and asked people to support their Church from their own Time, Talent and Treasure rather than fundraisers and bake sales.
Fr. Paul resigned the Pastorate in June of 1999 and excardinated from the Diocese of Trenton to incardinate in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky. In August of 1999 Bishop John M. Smith appointed Fr. John P. Bambrick the 3rd pastor of St. Thomas More Church.
As the parish grew it began to outgrow the existing facilities and after constant use much of the building required major renovations. By the end of the 1990's all 12 roof systems needed to be replaced, a complete gut renovation of the bathrooms doubling their capacity was undertaken, a total renovation of the parish chapel, expansion of the Church and the addition of 4 classrooms and 2 offices to the Educational wing took place.
The Church and Chapel renovations took place during the Holy Year of the Great Jubilee 1999-2000. The Church bell system had fallen silent for nearly 4 years. One of the highlights of the renovations came in response to the Holy Father Pope John Paul II's call for Churches worldwide to ring their church bells at midnight 2000. St. Thomas More Church had the Bells fully restored in time to herald the dawning of the third millennium of Christianity.
On October 1, 2006 Fr. John P. Bambrick was named Pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Englishtown while remaining Pastor of St. Thomas More and on July 1, 2007 the Church Corporations of St. Thomas More and Our Lady of Mercy were merged into a single entity. What began as one Parish with two Churches had become one Parish with two Churches again.