The history of the Diocese of Metuchen is a long and rich one dating back to the late 17th century when the first Catholics to settle in New Jersey were French and Irish immigrants. Many of these settlers established themselves in the territory known as East Jersey, which included the area now known as Middlesex County. The first priest to celebrate Mass for Catholics in this area came from Fort James, New York, around 1692.

Father Farmer ministers during the 18th century

During the 18th century, the famous “Father Farmer,” Jesuit Father Ferdinand Steinmeyer, ministered to the scattered Catholics throughout the state with mission stops in “Basconridge” and Millstone, Somerset County and Changewater Furnace, Greenwich and Oxford Furnace, Warren County.

Catholic churches established throughout the area

With the establishment of the United States, the colonies, including New Jersey, began to prosper. By the 1820s, a number of Irish Catholics had settled in New Brunswick. The first recorded visit of a priest there was in 1820. In 1829, Father Joseph Schneller came to New Brunswick monthly. On December 18, 1831, the first Catholic church in New Brunswick, dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul, was blessed.

Father John Rogers, 1845-1887, established missions in Perth Amboy, South Amboy and Metuchen, which would become the see of a new diocese in 1981.

During the 100 years that the area was part of the Diocese of Trenton, tremendous growth occurred and parishes were established to meet the needs of immigrant groups. 

The Diocese of Metuchen created by Pope John Paul II

Following the completion of the centennial celebration of the Trenton Diocese, the Diocese of Metuchen was created by Pope John Paul II on November 19, 1981. It included the counties of Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren.

Metuchen’s founding bishop installed

Bishop Theodore E. McCarrick was named the founding bishop of the new diocese and was installed at St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral, Metuchen, on January 31, 1982. Under his leadership several new parishes in Perth Amboy, Califon, Skillman, Old Bridge and Three Bridges were created; he also oversaw the development of the Metuchen Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, and commissions for Hispanic and Black Ministry, Pro-Life Activities and the disabled. The year 1983 saw the development of the Diocesan Mission Statement and establishment of “Forward in Faith,” now the Bishop’s Annual Appeal.

Bishop Hughes’ episcopate: A time of growth

In 1986 Bishop McCarrick was transferred to the Archdiocese of Newark. Bishop Edward T. Hughes was installed in Metuchen on February 5, 1987. The years of Bishop Hughes’ episcopate saw much growth, with the erection of 11 new church buildings; the creation of the Office of Pastoral Care for persons with AIDS/ARC; the completion of the McCarrick Care Center and the Maria Regina Residence for retired priests, both in Somerset; and the founding of the Diocesan Eucharistic League and the Shrine Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in the former St. Bernard Church, Raritan.

The Office of Evangelization was created to welcome new members into the Catholic faith and to meet the needs of new immigrants to the United States. Ministries to Korean and Vietnamese Catholics were also established and the diocesan Youth Retreat Center in Plainsboro was opened. The diocese’s first official newspaper, The Catholic Spirit, began publishing on February 29, 1996.

Bishop Breen positions diocese for 21st century

Upon the retirement of Bishop Hughes in 1997, Pope John Paul II named Msgr. Vincent De Paul Breen of the Diocese of Brooklyn as the third bishop of Metuchen on July 8, 1997. Msgr. Breen was ordained to the episcopacy and installed as bishop on September 8, 1997 in St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral.

In February 1998, Bishop Breen increased the visibility and accessibility of the diocese by establishing a diocesan Web page.

In September 1999, he launched a diocesan capital campaign “In Service to the Kingdom,” with a goal of $60 million, to position the diocese and its many outreaches for the 21st century.

Among the projects funded by the capital campaign was the renovation of the former St. Pius X High School, Piscataway, into the St. John Neumann Pastoral Center. Opened in November 2001, the center includes the administrative offices of the diocese as well as a conference center.

During the Jubilee Year 2000, Bishop Breen led more than 200 members of the diocese on a Jubilee Pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi, Florence and Milan, from October 8-15.

Diocese’s founding Bishop raised to College of Cardinals

Pope John Paul II appointed Metuchen’s founding bishop, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. on November 21, 2000. Archbishop McCarrick was installed in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on January 3, 2001. Shortly thereafter, the pope raised Archbishop McCarrick to the College of Cardinals at a February 23, 2001 consistory of cardinals in Rome.

Ground broken for diocese’s first Catholic school in Hunterdon County

In September 2001, Bishop Breen broke ground for the first Catholic school building in Hunterdon County, an effort begun by Bishop Hughes six years before. Immaculate Conception School, Clinton, opened its doors to students in grades pre-K through four for the 2001 school year. Upon completion of the new building in the fall of 2002, Immaculate Conception School expanded enrollment through eighth grade.

On April 12, 2001, Bishop Breen re-organized the diocesan structure by replacing the vicariates with departments, making it possible for lay persons to assume positions historically held by priests.

On September 10, 2001, due to Bishop Breen’s ailing health, Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop John M. Smith of the Diocese of Trenton as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Metuchen.

Most. Rev. Paul G. Bootkoski appointed fourth bishop of Metuchen

On January 4, 2002, Pope John Paul II appointed Newark Auxiliary Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski the fourth bishop of Metuchen. The New Jersey native was installed on March 19, 2002, in the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center, Edison.

Early in his first year, the Bishop made changes to the diocesan administration, appointing two priests and one layman to his top leadership team. The changes were prompted, in part, by a desire to include a member of the laity in diocesan leadership, and to take a collaborative, or team, approach to the management of the diocese.

A challenging year, in 2002, immediately after his installation, Bishop Bootkoski began addressing the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Church, and later in the year led the battle to save the Regional Perinatal Center at Saint Peter’s University Hospital.

Diocese mourns the loss of Bishop Emeritus Vincent De Paul Breen

2003 began on a sad note as the diocese mourned the loss of Bishop Emeritus Vincent De Paul Breen. Following a long illness, Bishop Breen died of pneumonia on March 30 at age 66. He will long be remembered for his dedication to Catholic education and his steadfast belief in the sanctity of all human life.

Bishop Bootkoski convokes the first diocesan synod

On June 14, 2003, a newly constituted Diocesan Pastoral Council held its first general assembly. During the gathering, history was made when Bishop Bootkoski signed a decree convoking the first diocesan synod, to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Diocese of Metuchen’s establishment.

Bishop Bootkoski establishes Office of Child and Youth Protection

Strengthening the diocese’s ongoing commitment to the safety of children, in September 2003, Bishop Bootkoski announced the formation of the Office of Child and Youth Protection. The office brought together many of Bishop Bootkoski’s initiatives under experienced leadership to address the issue of sex abuse within the Church. 

Sister diocese relationship inaugurated

In early 2004, Bishop Bootkoski led a nine-member delegation to Guatemala as part of the diocese’s first international humanitarian mission. The visit inaugurated a “sister diocese” relationship with the Diocese of Santa Rosa in Guatemala under the auspices of Catholic Relief Services Global Solidarity Partnership.

Also in 2004, the Office of Child and Youth Protection of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops awarded four commendations to the diocese and announced the diocese was in compliance with the U.S. Bishops’ charter for addressing the problem of sexual abuse in the Church. The diocese has remained in compliance every year since then.

In order to better communicate with state legislators about issues that concern the Catholic Community, in April 2004, Bishop Bootkoski hosted an Evening of Legislative Dialogue – the first of its kind for the diocese, with 12 elected officials participating and 500 people attending.

Diocese aids tsunami victims

On December 26, 2004, a catastrophic tsunami devoured parts of Asia. It set the stage for Bishop Bootkoski’s first actions in 2005 when on January 9th he announced the Diocese of Metuchen would focus its relief effort on the Thanjavur Diocese in India. Parishes and schools throughout the Metuchen Diocese raised more than $800,000 for their adopted diocese. 

Pope John Paul II mourned

In April 2005, the Diocese, together with the rest of the world, mourned the loss of Pope John Paul II, who had created the Church of Metuchen in 1981. A few weeks later, Bishop Bootkoski celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving in honor of the installation of Pope Benedict XVI.

The diocese’s first teen chastity program, “Because I’m Worth It,” was presented on April 26. Approximately 500 eighth grade students from across the diocese attended the program designed to empower young people and encourage them to accept chastity as a lifestyle.

May brought the announcement that the Rutgers Catholic Alumni Association had been formed by the Catholic Campus Ministry at Rutgers University. The association is open to all former members of the Newman Club and the Catholic Center and to all Catholic alumni from the campuses of Rutgers University.

"The Lighting of the Watch Fires,” a history of the founding of the Diocese of Metuchen and a chronicle of its early years, was released in June. The book was written by Monsignor John B. Szymanski, who has served as vicar general under all four bishops of Metuchen.

Diocesan Youth Day established

September 17 marked the first Diocesan Youth Day, which was attended by over 300 teens who gathered for a day of prayer, worship, fellowship and fun. The end of the month saw tragedy strike again, as a natural disaster devastated the Gulf Coast. Once again parishes and schools responded generously, this time contributing $1 million for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

After a lapse of many years, Bishop Bootkoski reinstituted the diocese’s Red Mass. Celebrated on November 6, the Mass honored lawyers, judges and others in the legal profession and judicial system. 

Diocesan synod opened

The highlight of 2005 came for the diocese on November 19, when Bishop Bootkoski officially opened the diocese’s first synod at a Mass and inaugurated the year-long celebration of the diocese’s 25th anniversary. During the liturgy, 249 clergy and laity were commissioned for their role as synod delegates.

In December, the diocese took a major step towards promoting the Gospel when the Bishop reestablished an Office of Evangelization. As the year came to a close, the diocese’s 25th Anniversary Book, “Of This We Are All Witnesses,” was published. 

Diocese celebrates Silver Jubilee

2006 was a year focused on the 25th Anniversary of the diocese and the diocesan synod. In March Bishop Bootkoski presented the Regina Nostra Medal to more than 100 people from across the diocese. A diocesan honor, the medal was awarded for outstanding service to a parish or to the diocese. A month later, the Bishop bestowed papal honors, including the Order of St. Gregory the Great, Order of Pope St. Sylvester, the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice and the Benemerenti Medal, on 25 individuals.

A diocesan pilgrimage to Italy and France, led by Bishop Bootkoski, took place May 25-June 7. On the last Sunday in June, four priests were elevated to Chaplains of Honor to His Holiness with the title of Reverend Monsignor. They included: Rev. Msgr. Joseph M. Curry, Rev. Msgr. David I. Fulton, Rev. Msgr. Gregory E.S. Malovetz, and Rev. Msgr. Andrew L. Szaroleta.

More than 3,500 faithful – bishops, priests, deacons and laity – made a pilgrimage Sept. 16 to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC.

The culmination of the diocese’s Silver Jubilee came on November 19, when a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated at St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral. The next day, the diocese’s founding bishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, joined over a thousand people at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Edison for a Silver Jubilee Gala.

The diocesan synod moved into high gear in 2006 with the start of its general consultation phase in January. During Phase I of the synod approximately 6,000 Catholics participated in 207 “Speak Up . . . We’re Listening” sessions held at 110 locations. In May and June, the synod’s Phase II “Speak Up . . . Generating Ideas” sessions were held throughout the diocese. From the feedback generated at the Speak Up sessions, Topical Commissions developed 59 proposals upon which synod delegates voted in October and December at the St. John Neumann Pastoral Center, Piscataway. (see Norms which follows History)

Commission for Synod Implementation established

Bishop Bootkoski accepted the final recommendations passed by the synod delegates and on January 31, 2007 promulgated 59 norms at a Prayer Service at Queenship of Mary Parish, Plainsboro. The service also marked the formal conclusion of the first diocesan synod. The bishop then appointed members of the clergy, religious and laity from a variety of backgrounds to the Commission for Synod Implementation (CSI). The commission met for the first time in March 2007 and spent the rest of the year obtaining input from throughout the diocese as to how implementation should proceed. 

Diocesan firsts

On January 17, ground was broken for a crematory, the first to be built by a diocese in the United States in a Catholic cemetery. To be constructed at Holy Cross Burial Park, East Brunswick, the crematory will enable the diocese to provide a full-service cemetery for families.

The diocese’s first hermit, officially called an “anchoress”, was consecrated by Bishop Bootkoski in St. Brigid Church, Peapack, on September 22.

In May, 24 students from the diocese’s Catholic high schools were recognized for their scholarship, integrity and leadership at the inaugural diocesan Exemplary Scholars’ Convocation.

Following five years of preparation for their new ministry in the church, 24 men were ordained to the diaconate on June 9. It was the diocese’s largest calss to be ordained and brought the number of active deacons to 132.

At the first Youth Ministry Recognition Awards Mass held October 7, 127 teens received the St. Timothy Award. The award recognized the vital role teens play in spreading the Gospel through discipleship, faith and service.

Catholic Schools strategic plan developed

In October 2006 a Task Force, composed of lay leaders from across the diocese as well as principals and pastors with and without schools, began working together with Meitler Consultants, Inc. to develop a strategic plan to insure the future health and vitality of the diocese’s Catholic schools.

Throughout 2007 the diocesan Task Force together with the Meitler Consultants drafted recommendations for a strategic plan for the diocese’s Catholic schools. The plan was presented to pastors and principals in March, and revisions made based on the feedback received. Final recommendations for a strategic plan were presented to Bishop Bootkoski in December 2007.

Year of Prayer for Vocations

The first Sunday in Advent marked the beginning of a Year of Prayer for Vocations in the diocese. Two monstrances, blessed by Pope Benedict XVI, are being used for Eucharistic adoration at parishes across the diocese.

Since its founding 25 years ago, the Diocese of Metuchen has experienced remarkable growth and has made significant achievements in its mission — to serve well the People of God in the counties of Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren.