The Early History of Saint Aedan's Parish


In the very shadow of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Jersey City rests on a peninsula formed by the Hudson and the Hackensack Rivers. Its history is rooted in the transportation industry. Many Irish immigrants in the mid-1900s were attracted to Jersey City's canal and railroad industries. At the turn of the century they were joined by increasing numbers of Italians, Hungarians, and Poles, also lured by the industry in Hudson County, the gateway from New York City westward. This smallest of New Jersey's counties is still the transportation center of the state, with eight trunk line railroads ending in the county and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels carrying thousands of cars and trucks to and from New York City daily. 

St. Aedan's parish can trace its origins to the transportation industry. Prior to the founding of the parish, Masses were offered in a small room on the upper floor of Foye Hall at the corner of Foye and Montgomery Streets, across the street from the car barns. These Masses accommodated the odd working hours of the motormen and conductors of the trolleys who worked there. The number of people attending these Masses grew as the population of this section of Jersey City continued to increase. 

Eventually, it was recognized that there were enough people to create a new parish from that section of St. Joseph's parish. On June 23rd, 1912, St. Aedan's parish was formed by the Bishop of Newark, Rt. Rev. John J. O'Connor, in response to the needs of these people. The new parish was bordered on the north by Sip Avenue, on the south by Jewett Avenue, on the east by Gray Street, and on the west by Kennedy Boulevard. 

Reflecting its Irish-American origins, the parish was named for St. Aedan (550-632), Bishop of Ferns in County Wexford on Ireland's southeastern coast. St. Aedan was born in County Cavan at the beginning of the Middle Ages; his valuable service to the Kingdom of Leister was rewarded by Ferns being named an episcopal see with St. Aedan as its first bishop. His feastday is celebrated on January 31st

Reverend Roger A. McGinley, then pastor of St. Bridgid's Church, New Durham, NJ, became the first pastor of St. Aedan's. Father McGinley was born in New York in 1871 and was educated at St. Lauren's College in Montreal, Canada, and at Seton Hall in South Orange. He was ordained at Immaculate Conception Seminary and was given a curateship at St. Michael's Church in the downtown section of Jersey City. From there he was assigned to St. Joseph's Church and then to St. Bridgid's, where he served as pastor for 11 years. In retrospect, it seems that he was preparing for what was to be his life's work: laboring incessantly for the next 24 years to build and to provide for the needs of this growing parish. 


At the time of Father McGinley's appointment to the new parish, a chapel which seated 200 people, located at Foye Place and Montgomery Street, served as temporary church. Because of his deep commitment to the education of youth, Father McGinley decided that the greatest need of the new parish was not a new church, but a parochial school. Within a year and a half, property was purchased on Tuers Avenue, a three-story building was erected, and St. Aedan's School was opened in November, 1913. Ten Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell transferred from St. Joseph's to staff the new school. Before long, growth of the parish necessitated a larger church. The first story of the new school building was converted into a church and served that purpose until the present church was built in 1930. 

School enrollment also grew, and it became necessary to provide for a convent. Property at 800 Bergen Avenue was used for this purpose until the new convent facing Tuers Avenue was erected. 

 Foreseeing constant growth of the parish, Father McGinley continued to build. He purchased the Carteret Club property at Bergen Avenue and Mercer Street when it became available in 1917. This building was used as a rectory until its demolition was necessary to make way for the present church. 

 In order to obtain enough property for the erection of the new church, it was necessary to purchase the buildings facing on Mercer Street and Tuers Avenue adjoining the parochial school. This property also provided space for the convent. Ground for the new convent was broken on Tuers Avenue and Mercer Street on March 19th, 1926, and the cornerstone was laid on June 20th of that year. The building was ready for occupancy in September, 1927. At this time, provision was made for the future growth of the school; the three-story convent was well-equipped with chapel, kitchen, refectory, music room, community rooms, laundry, and 26 bedrooms. 


 In 1926, St. Joseph's Novena, which continues today at St. Aedan's, was initiated by Father McGinley and Brother Andre of St. Joseph's Shrine, Montreal, Canada. The services, held in the church which was then the first floor of the school, were attended by overflowing crowds. In 1927, Father McGinley accompanied a group of parishioners on a three-day pilgrimage by railroad to St. Joseph's Shrine, where he had been educated. The following year, another group numbering 1,500 went on a similar Easter pilgrimage, this time visiting St. Ann de Beaupre, Quebec and St. Joseph's Shrine. This large group traveled on five special trains of 12 cars each, stayed together at hotels in Canada, and returned five days later. 


In the meantime, by 1926 the influx of new parishioners had made it necessary to build a portable chapel adjoining the school property for additional Sunday Masses. Even though this chapel accommodated 600 people, it was evident that the parish had outgrown this church and it was time for St. Aedan's most ambitious building project of all. 

Permission was granted by Bishop Walsh for the erection of a new permanent church and rectory at Bergen Avenue and Mercer Street. Ground was broken, once again on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19th, 1929, and the cornerstone was laid on June 15th, 1920. It is remembered that Father McGinley personally supervised the church's construction with great diligence in all kinds of weather. On at least one occasion he is said to have refused to take delivery on a load of sand he judged to be inferior. The building and completion of this beautiful edifice fulfilled 18 years of dreams and efforts by St. Aedan's parishioners and pastor. 

The building, which a newspaper of the day called “an imposing jewel of architecture…a marvel of light and ornament,” was completed for a cost of $1,000,000. The style of the church is Romanesque, which is characterized by semicircular arches, massive walls, enormous piers, and small windows. It is a “heavy” style in contrast to the upward-reaching “light” Gothic style which succeeded it in popularity during the Renaissance. The overall effect is one of stability, permanence, and security. 

The enormous dome at an exterior elevation of 108 feet and a diameter of 60 feet gives majesty and dignity to the building. The exterior of the church is built of face brick in autumn colors which harmonize well with the color and texture of the red sandstone. The stone work of the main entrance has a mass of carved ornament and carved capitals of the columns. 

 An important feature of the main facade is the unique design of the rose window. The vine forming the moulding of the rose window is symbolic of the Savior as the True Vine and the branches with flowers symbolize the true believers who abide in Him. Surrounding the rose window are the symbols of the four evangelists carved in stone. 

In the tympana of the three main doorways are the sculptured representations: The Widow's Son of Naim, Jesus preaching to the multitude on the shore, and the Primacy conferred on Peter. Below these scenes are Biblical quotations carved in stone. 

For the interior, Father McGinley and the architect Edward A. Lehmann, a longtime Jersey City resident, chose mosaic tiles for much of the decoration in the cathedral-like structure. The murals were designed by Ilario Panzironi, an Italian artist, and installed under the supervision of Bruno di Paòli. The exquisite mosaic tiles form religious designs on the canopy over the main altar and around the sanctuary and side chapels. The stations of the cross as well as scenes of a number of saints, including the parish's patron, St. Aedan, are depicted in mosaic throughout. 

The church building features marble columns and carved pilasters. The wainscoting of the vestibule, the main body of the church, and all the floors, are also of marble. An unusual architectural feature is the communion railing which extends 96 feet across the transept. There are no pillars to obstruct the view of the main altar. 


The church was dedicated on October 4th, 1931, by Most Rev. Bishop Thomas J. Walsh who presided at the Mass. More than 4000 people – inside and outside the church – attended. Those present included Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague, a parish member and patron who had donated the main altar in memory of his parents, and many other county and state officials. Every inch of the seating capacity was occupied, while about 2000 persons, unable to fit in, listened to the sermon through an open door and knelt on the sidewalk. 

The church was blessed inside and out with a traditional procession led by Bishop Walsh, accompanied by the uniformed Color Guard of the Fourth Degree, America Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, Father McGinley, the assistant pastors, 75 visiting clergymen from throughout New Jersey, and 50 altar boys. Music was provided by a 25-voice choir directed by Mrs. William McDonald. All the officers of the dedication Mass were former curates of St. Aedan's, including Reverend Michael J. Corr, pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Franklin, who preached the dedicatory sermon. 


Father McGinley was to remain pastor at St. Aedan's for six more years, until his death in April, 1936. A few days after suffering a slight heart attack, he was stricken again and died in his study with his curates, Father Curry, Father Sullivan, and Father Mahoney, at his bedside. 

Once again St. Aedan's Church overflowed with parishioners and others, this time in deep mourning for their beloved pastor, at a Requiem Mass offered by Bishop Walsh. 

Father McGinley is remembered as an energetic and athletic man who loved the outdoors, as well as a strong spiritual leader and man of tremendous talent. Thanks to him, St. Aedan's parish has been a great power of spiritual, social, and civic good in Jersey City and has rightfully won the respect of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In recognition of Monsignor McGinley, a plaque was erected in his honor in 1968 at the corner of Bergen Avenue and Montgomery Street which is now known as McGinley Square.