A church was first built on the corner of Elm Avenue and Main Street in Metuchen, New Jersey, around 1864 by an English convert to the Catholic Church, as a mission. The 1876 Everts & Stewart map shows a church at this location and the house behind it on Elm Ave with the notation “Est. W. Robins” for the estate of Wright Robins. Priests from New Brunswick conducted masses there in its early days, and around 1888 a resident pastor was installed. After the death of Rev. Father Riley in 1899, Father Graham became the church’s pastor in 1901.
The current church stands on part of the Wood Wild subdivision that was laid out in May 1868. A detail from a map of that subdivision follows. On May 29, 1895 when the estate of Thomas W. Strong was settled in New York City, various parcels from the earlier plat map were identified as sold. This includes the current church site and two houses behind it on Elm Avenue.
On December 22, 1903, the church was totally destroyed in a fire that started when young women rehearing Christmas carols and a lamp exploded in the choir loft. The choir attempted to stop the fire, but ran from the loft where the explosion had occurred, just in time to save themselves. An adjoining rectory was saved but all the furniture in it was ruined. Father John R. Graham, who was very ill at the time, was roused by the fire. He rushed into the burning building to save the Blessed Sacrament, the chalice, and sacred vessels just as the fire reached the altar. All were brought out of the church to safety (Priest Rescues Sacred Vessels at Burning Altar, December 22, 1903). Father Graham was later given a place to rest of parishioner Col. Charles C. Weber (Church at Metuchen Destroyed, December 22, 1903) after being displaced from the rectory.
A second building was started on the site of the ruined church in 1904. George B. Rule oversaw construction which was expected to be completed in four months and cost $10,000 (Work Started on the New Catholic Church at Metuchen, May 26, 1904). The cornerstone was laid June 12, 1904 before a large audience including Rt. Rev. Mgr. O’Grady of St. Peter’s Church, New Brunswick, presiding, and assisted by Rev. Father Graham of Metuchen and Rev. Father Dietrich of Bound Brook. In his remarks Mgr. O’Grady spoke about how the church’s foundation is laid to endure forever, and is for the benefit of man. The new building was also constructed of wood frame and almost entirely on the site of the old structure.
On December 18, 1904 the new structure was dedicated by the Rt. Rev. Bishop James A. McFaul of Trenton. He was accompanied by 10 altar boys carrying candles, followed by Bishop McFaul, Rt. Rev. Monsignor O’Grady of Metuchen, Father Graham, and several other priests.
The homily delivered by Monsignor O’Grady is recorded at some length:
“The Rt. Rev. Bishop of the diocese has come here this morning as well as you to assist in the dedication of this church wherein the services of God are to be held. A short time ago you saw the old church in flames, and with it many sacred memories have gone, but a new church has been erected in its place. I think the members of the congregation are to be congratulated, together with their friends who co-operated with them in building this temple. Sunday after Sunday you will come here uniting in prayer and joining in the sacrifice of the mass which is offered up from this altar. The church is a well-spring of grace and blessings, as she represents the grace of God. It will be your privelege to assemble here every Sunday and maintain this church which was established by Christ at the beginning of the world and will last until the end of time, for as Christ says ‘Though are Simon Peter, and upon this rock thou shalt build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ Go to any Catholic church in the world and you will see that she is teaching the same sacrifice as is being taught here. The church is infallible according to the Scriptures and she must teach the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and she will continue to fight her battles in the future as she has done in the past” (Bishop Blesses New Edifice at Metuchen, December 19, 1904).
Father Graham continued to serve as pastor for the Metuchen Catholic Church until 1915 when he gave up his charge to “live an open air-life in one of the bungalows on Silver Lake Avenue, in the hope of regaining his health” (Rev. Father Graham, Metuchen Pastor, Dies at Piscatawaytown, January 22, 1919). His memorial service at St. Francis Catholic Church was celebrated with the Rev. Father Kelly, of Mt. Holly Church, Father J.F. Quinn of St. Peter’s Church and Rev. Father Ryan of Long Branch. Bishop Walsh and Rt. Rev. Monsignor Fox of Trenton were present (Father Graham Buried in Mount Holly, January 25, 1919).
A new parochial school building was on site by the time of the 1929 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map. Burns, Lane & Richardson Co were responsible for the design (Advertisement, April 14, 1929). The school was dedicated September 29, 1929 (School Dedication, September 28, 1929).
St. Francis received a new pastor, the Rev. John J. Foley who arrived on October 9, 1930. During his tenure he supervised the expansion of numerous parish activities, organizations and facilities. By 1935 the St. Francis Parochial School had a registration of 190 pupils in eight grades (Parochial School Opens, September 10, 1935). Two wings were added to the parish school, a residence was acquired for the Brothers of the Sacred Heart who taught in the school (Msgr. John J. Foley, 83, Metuchen Pastor 40 Years, May 23, 1970).
A drive to enlarge and renovate the school exceeded its goal of $75,000 (St. Francis’ Drive Reported Over Goal, November 3, 1951). Plans for a new church on the site of the then church and rectory coalesced in the 1950s. Once a new rectory was completed, the old rectory was demolished. During the eighteen month construction period masses were held at Metuchen High School (Work Starts on Rectory, June 16, 1960).
In the 1960s four new parish buildings were completed – the rectory in 1960, the CYO Hall in 1962, the church in 1963 and the convent in 1967. Monsignor Foley was elevated to the rank of domestic prelate in October 1960 by Pope John XXIII. In 1963 he celebrated his golden jubilee as a priest. (Msgr. John J. Foley, 83, Metuchen Pastor 40 Years, May 23, 1970).
The property at 32 Elm Ave that formerly served as the residence for architect John Noble Pierson, and later his son Aylin Pierson, was sold to St. Francis Church. The church appealed the tax assessment of $6,650 in 1958 (Celotex Asks Tax Assessment On Closed Plant Be Reduced, May 29, 1958). Excavation and foundation work for a new rectory on Elm Ave was started in 1960 (Work Starts on Rectory, June 16, 1960).
The new church had Gothic influence and is made of reinforced concrete with granite veneer and limestone trim. The church has capacity for 1,100 and has a total area of 26,260 square feet. Aluminum framed stained glass windows were installed. A large stained glass and limestone rose window is on the west face. Marble was used on the interior walls of the narthex, and marble and limestone veneer wainscoting were used in the walls of the sanctuary and baptistry. A terrazzo floor covered the narthex, sacristy, ambulatory and baptistry. A modern basement provided a recreation room able to accommodate 600 persons. Stainless steel ceramic tiled kitchen was equipped to serve dinners for large groups. Other modern features include air conditioning throughout the building, a sound system, and an electric organ and carillon. Enclosed passages connected the church with the rectory and school building. The cost for the work exceeded $1 million dollars. Work started July 1962 and completion was tentatively set for December (New Church is Rising in Metuchen, June 10, 1962).
The church was dedicated May 1963, at which time the 50th anniversary of the ordination of the pastor Rt. Rev. John J. Foley was also celebrated (What Our Religions Are, August 11, 1964). Timing of construction of this church during the Second Vatican Council when liturgical practices were being reexamined, it is interesting to note how the church is of a traditional style. Rev. Foley died May 22, 1970.
Rev. Foley died May 22, 1970 at John F. Kennedy Hospital in Edison (Msgr. John J. Foley, 83, Metuchen Pastor 40 Years, May 23, 1970). Rev. Foley was succeeded by Rev. Msgr. Joseph J. Connelley. Previously Connolly was founder of Corpus Christi Church in South River for 26 years. At the time the parish counted more than 2,800 families. Joining in his pastorate were the Rev. August Newman who was parish administrator and the Rev. Harold L. Hirsch as associate pastor (St. Francis to Welcome New Pastor, August 1, 1970). Msgr. Connelly died in 1974 and was succeeded by Rev. Msgr. Dominic A. Turtora. On November 24, 1981, Metuchen was elevated to the status of cathedral. The Diocese of Trenton was divided and the Diocese of Metuchen was established by Pope John Paul II on November 24, 1981 (St. Francis Church: a former mission becomes new see’s cathedral, November 29, 1981).
A centennial celebration was held November 10, 1974. The church school by this time had 650 students. Around that same time the Rev. Dominic A. Turtora assumed duties as pastor of St. Francis (Metuchen church sets dual celebration, November 9, 1974).
The 40th anniversary of the Diocese of Metuchen was observed Fall 2022.
Pastors of St. Francis Church
- Rev. S. Bettoni
- Rev. Thomas J. McCormack
- Rev. William P. Cantwell
- Rev. J. Joseph Smith
- Rev. Michael A. O’Reilly
- Rev. Nicholas M. Freeman
- Rev. John A. Lawrence
- Rev. John A Graham
- Rev. John P. Grady
- Rev. John O’Connor
- Rev. A.D. Hassett
- Rev. John J. Foley
Rectors of St. Francis Cathedral
- Monsignor Dominic Tutora (1981-1995)
- Monsignor Richard Behl (1995-2007)
- Monsignor Michael J. Alliegro (2007-2009)
- Monsignor Robert Zamorski (2009-2021)
- Fr. Timothy Christy (2021-present)