Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi

32 Elm Avenue • Metuchen, NJ 08840
(732) 548-0100 • Fax: (732) 549-1033 •

A Short History of St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral Parish

St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral was not always a cathedral, nor was it always known as St. Francis Parish. In the mid-1800’s, it was a mission church dedicated to St. Joseph. Since then, two other churches have been erected. St. Francis Cathedral, as we know it today, is the third church. All three played vital roles in the enduring history of the faithful Catholic Christians who were and are St. Francis Parish and Cathedral.

First and Second Frame Churches

Dedicated in 1871, the first frame church seated 225 people. On January 26, 1878, the church was officially incorporated as St. Francis Parish and served until December 21, 1903. On that date an oil lamp overturned and flames completely destroyed the church, but did not affect the rectory. The second wooden church was dedicated in December, 1904 and seated 324 people. In 1920, Columbia Hall, a center for parish activities was built.

More Room Needed

By 1960, St. Francis Parish had grown to more than 2000 families, and the plans of pastor Msgr. John J. Foley’s to build a larger stone church and rectory had solidified. Around the same time, Columbia Hall burned down, and immediately a new gymnasium and social center were added to the plans. During construction of the new buildings, parishioners attended Masses in basement classrooms of St. Francis School, at Metuchen High School and in neighboring parishes. In June 1961, the new rectory was completed, and the ground-breaking ceremony for the church took place on July 24, 1961. When the CYO Hall was completed in December 1961, parishioners once again worshipped together while awaiting the church’s completion.

Present Church Dedicated

On May 19, 1963, the parish gratefully celebrated the Church Dedication and the Blessing of the Cornerstone. The new building’s seating capacity had grown to 1000. Only the finest materials were used in the new Gothic structure, which eventually became the Cathedral. The interior walls were constructed of limestone with marble wainscotting. The woodwork was solid oak, the floors terrazzo, and the altars formed with marble imported from Italy. Over the main altar a near-life size bronze crucifix was topped by an exquisite Gothic baldacchino. At the rear of the church was built the magnificent Rose Window. The late Msgr. Dominic Turtora once said, “The great Rose Window of the Cathedral of Metuchen reminds us that Jesus stands in the center of all creation.”

Cathedral Parish Established

On November 19, 1981, Pope John Paul II established the Diocese of Metuchen. The Pastor, Msgr. Dominic Turtora, became the first Rector of the Cathedral of the Metuchen diocese, a diocese that embraces four New Jersey counties: Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren, – a diocese that now includes more than 500,000 Catholics. In June 1986, the diocese's first bishop was transferred, and on February 5, 1987 Bishop Edward Hughes, of Philadelphia was installed as the second Bishop of the Metuchen Diocese. When Bishop Hughes retired in 1997, Bishop Vincent De Paul Breen of Brooklyn, New York was appointed the third Bishop of Metuchen. Due to failing health Bishop Breen retired in September 2001 and Bishop John M. Smith was appointed Apostolic Administrator of our diocese. In January of 2002 Bishop Paul Gregory Bootkoski was appointed the fourth Bishop of Metuchen, his installation was on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, 2002.

Into the New Millennium

Bishop Bootkoski and the Cathedral's second Rector, Msgr. Richard A. Behl, stand at a unique vantage point where they may reflect on the long and enduring history of the parish of nearly 4000 families. With God’s grace, they will guide the Cathedral Parish through the challenges of the 21st century. 

Dr. Carmen Collins