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Major expansion of ‘Little Church on Hill’ begins
July 28, 2017
PITTSTOWN — With the plunging of six golden spades into rich Hunterdon County soil, a new chapter began June 25 in the history
of St. Catherine of Siena Parish.
Having outgrown its original mission church building, the parish will now undergo a 14-month metamorphosis into an edifice nearly
three times its current size.
In 1991, local residents John W. and Catherine G. Raymonds funded the construction of the church on property adjoining their
house on White Bridge Road, land that had been acquired by the diocese the previous year. The decree for the parish, which is
named for Catherine’s patron saint, was signed Sept. 25, 1992, and the building was consecrated by Bishop Edward T. Hughes Oct.
13. The Raymonds donated their house and property to the parish in 2012, and today their former home serves as the St. Catherine
Dan Dawson, parish steering committee chairman, recalled the rapid growth of the self-proclaimed “Little Church on the Hill”
and the need for the upcoming expansion.
“The original building fits 96 people in the pews and served as a mission church to Immaculate Conception [Parish,
Annandale],” Dawson explained. In 1999, the rapid growth of Catholic families in the area led to St. Catherine’s re-designation as
a stand-alone parish with a resident priest.
“It grew incredibly quickly,” Dawson continued. “We ran out of seats, and Masses had to be broadcast to people sitting in the
To meet the needs created by its growth, in 2008 the parish purchased the former Our Savior Lutheran Church and property in
Union Township, about four miles away. It was renovated into a parish center and supplemental worship space that was completed
in 2010 with a blessing by Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski Oct. 31, 2010.
“We can fit 240-250 people in there, and configured it for Masses and special events,” Dawson explained. “This has tided us
over with three of the four weekend Masses,” with only the Sunday 8 a.m. Mass still celebrated in the original church. “But this
separated the community,” he continued, “and as our ministries grew, we ran out of meeting space again.”
In 2013, the diocese approved St. Catherine’s “United in Faith, Building for the Future” expansion project. Great care is being
taken to match the stone, roof, slate and design of the original building. The new enlarged church will seat about 338, including the
transepts, narthex and rear chapel/crying room, and include a larger sacristy, choir loft, elevator and increased parking. The
undercroft will extend under the new addition and will contain a large, dividable meeting room and office space. The estimated
cost for the project, including professional services, excavation, construction, furnishings and a contingency fund, is $3.7 million.
Before the groundbreaking ceremony, Bishop Emeritus Paul G. Bootkoski served as presider and homilist of a Mass of
Thanksgiving. About 120 worshippers sat shoulder to shoulder in the church’s 16 wooden pews and along the walls on folding chairs.
Concelebrants included Father Chester Zalubski, pastor, St. Catherine of Siena Parish; Msgr. Randall J. Vashon, pastor, St. Bernard of
Clairvaux Parish, Bridgewater; and Father Krzysztof Kaczynski, pastor, St. Edward the Confessor Parish, Milford, and Our Lady of
Victories Parish, Baptistown.
In his homily, Bishop Bootkoski addressed the congregation where he has assisted with weekend Masses since his retirement
last year. He compared their faith journey to that of the ancient Jews wandering in the desert, looking for permanency, and noted
that the purchase of the Lutheran church for their parish center had created two separate groups which rarely worshipped together.
“You have decided, by a majority, that you want a new edifice that will make a statement, but you did not want to destroy the
beauty or integrity of this church, so you went out to find an architect to build upon the same design,” Bishop Bootkoski said.
“When you walk into the church when expanded, you will get almost the same effect… We need stability. We need prayer. We
need one another. We need faith in Jesus Christ. That’s why we are doing this.”
Noting that the Raymond family had created a legacy with their donations of the buildings and property upon which the parish
were built, Bishop Bootkoski concluded, “Now, [we] have to leave the legacy for the young, we have to pass the baton from one
generation to the other. Today is the beginning of another chapter in the history of this place. This is our mission, this is our call,
this is our faith.”
At the conclusion of Mass, Father Zalubski laughed as he recalled a conversation with Bishop Bootkoski when he assumed his
pastorate in the spring of 2011. “When I came to this parish, the first week, Bishop Paul asked me, ‘You will build this parish,
Turning to Msgr. Vashon, who had been pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, Annandale, while St. Catherine was its
mission church, Father Zalubski continued, “Your children have grown up and they need to go off on their own.”
During the groundbreaking ceremony, Deacon Stephen Kassebaum read from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians (1 3:9-11):
“For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building… like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is
building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is
there, namely, Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Bootkoski sprinkled the ground with holy water and laughed, “Even God blessed it with his rain,” as a stray cloud
began to shed water upon the earth. Then he, Father Zalubski, Dawson, building committee chair Chuck Specht, architect Paul
Juliano and builder Paul Mariano turned over clods of soil to symbolically begin the project.
At a reception, Judith La Tournous, the parish’s director of religious education, noted, “Our classes had been held in the Union
Township Middle School. Now with the new building, it should open up more space for us in the parish or parish center.”
Lori Young and her husband, Jim, members of the steering committee, have been parishioners for 22 years. “We raised and
married off our three children at the parish,” Lori said. “This [expansion] will definitely pull the parish family back together. We’ll
have more fellowship, and this will knit us back together as one entity.”
To view a slideshow of the Capital Campaign and architectural plans see
By Christina Leslie, Correspondent at The Catholic Spirit