St. Michael’s Monastery: The Early Days

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Edited by Morgan P. Hanlon, C.P.

With the recent announcement that the Passionists will be retiring from the pastoral care of Sts. Joseph’s & Michael’s Parish in Union City as well 

With the recent announcement that the Passionists will be retiring from the pastoral care of Sts. Joseph’s & Michael’s Parish in Union City as well as St. Joseph’s in Baltimore, a glorious era comes to an end. We have been in Union City (known as West Hoboken until 1926) since 1863 and in Baltimore from a few years later. St. Michael’s Monastery was, during most of this time, our Motherhouse, the principal American Passionist foundation. From her precincts a series of dedicated, self-sacrificing men went forth to carry the Good News to the four corners of the world. For 118 years, from 1863 to 1981, American Passionists were sent out from St. Michael’s to labor in the USA and Canada. Beginning in 1880, they went also to Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, China, the Philippines, Haiti, Honduras, Botswana. No wonder that St. Michael’s Monastery became known as “The Mother of Missionaries.”

With this in mind, we think it appropriate to tell once again, the story of the beginnings of St. Michael’s Monastery and of how we Passionists came to West Hoboken. In the beginning it is the story of a zealous French priest, Rev. Anthony Cauvin, the “Apostle of North-East Jersey.” The story is also a tribute to all the men of St. Michael’s who went forth to work for the triumph of the Cross at home and abroad and in a special way, it is the story of Fr. Gaudentius Rossi, C.P. who secured the foundation for us. May their names be great before God.

(The following has been excerpted and abridged from Historical Sketch of St. Michael’s Monastery Parish 1862-1912, privately printed in 1914.

In 1847 there landed in the City of New York a priest (Continued on page 4) who was to be occupied in a remarkable manner in the first developments of what is now St. Michael’s Parish. This was Father Anthony Cauvin—a name never to be forgotten when speaking of the development of Catholicism in North Hudson County.

Father Anthony Cauvin was born August 23rd, 1810, at Sclos, a fertile hamlet in the suburbs of Nice, then a part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. He was the son of Giacomo Cauvin and Margarita Castelli, and was next to the youngest of ten children. Both father and mother were persons of exemplary life and character who spared no effort or sacrifice to bring up their children in a pious and God-fearing way, and, as if for their reward, they lived to see three of their sons—the subject of this sketch and his two older brothers, Dom Sixte and Dom Eugene, as they were called—ordained priests.

After such preliminary education as was afforded by the schools in his native town the future priest, then in his sixteenth year, entered as a student at the Grand Seminary of Avignon, where he spent four years in the study of philosophy and theology.

The revolution of 1830 which raised Louis Phillippe to the throne, closed the seminary, and the young student returned to Nice, where he devoted another year to his studies in theology, at the same time serving as private secretary to the Vicar General of Bishop Colonna.

The following year he went to Turin, where he attended lectures in moral philosophy delivered by Gaula, a noted theologian. At this time he resided with the family of Count Prola for whose son he acted as tutor.

The next year found him at Monaco assisting his brother Dom Sixte, a scholarly man, who had there established a college which numbered among its pupils the sons of many of the well-to-do families of the neighborhood. After two years service at the college the young student went to Rome, where, on October 12, 1834, he was ordained priest by Cardinal Brignole-Sale.

For about nine years following his ordination, Father Cauvin taught in a college near Genoa. In 1844, tired and in poor health, he left the college and returned to Nice for rest. Thinking to recuperate his health by travel, he went to Turin in 1845, where for a short time he was private chaplain to Count Cavour, the father of the famous minister. Finally he decided to come to America and in 1847 he landed in the city of New York, and entered at once on his priestly work as an assistant to Father Lafont, the first permanent pastor of the Church of St. Vincent de Paul. This church, then better known as the French Church, was located at No. 26 Canal Street a short distance east of Broadway on the site of the former Protestant Episcopal Church of the Annunciation, which had been destroyed by fire.

He continued with Father Lafont for about three years, viz., until 1859, when Archbishop Hughes assigned him to the mission at Cold Spring and West Point, on the Hudson, where he remained for about one year. The Diocese of Newark, which was to be the scene of the future labors of the zealous priest, had not yet been erected, and its territory was then part of the Archdiocese of New York. The Catholic population at that time was increasing rapidly and the Catholics resident in what is now the City of Hoboken and adjacent parts were sufficiently numerous to justify their having a resident priest as soon as one could be spared to them. Accordingly in July 1851, Father Cauvin was sent to minister to the Catholics of that neighborhood and to establish a parish comprising the territory between the Hudson and Hackensack rivers and extending from the Jersey City line almost to the northern boundary of Hudson County. The Catholics of the new parish were largely Irish, or of Irish extraction, with a sprinkling of American and French families. Among them the new pastor found a generous welcome, and a continued loyal support in all his undertakings.

Prior to Father Cauvin’s arrival there, Mass had been said on stated Sundays in Hoboken by the clergy of St. Peter’s Church, Jersey City, in a room fitted up as a chapel, in the building at the southeast corner of Washington and Newark Streets. The new pastor took up his residence in the same building where Mass was said, and for some time he continued the celebration of divine service at that place. Later on, larger accommodations being needed, leave was obtained for the use of the township school building, located in the public square near Garden and Fourth Streets, and for a year or more Mass was said in this building and the children were assembled every Sunday at a later hour for catechism.

Within a few months after his appointment Father Cauvin was enabled to build a little frame church at West Hoboken. This is how “Our Lady of Mercy,” or “St. Mary’s Church,” as it was popularly called, came to be the second church erected in Hudson County. This was in 1851. It was not until 1854 that the building of a church was begun in Hoboken.The land on which “St. Mary’s” was built in West Hoboken was granted to Archbishop Hughes by James Kerrigan for the purpose of a college or university. But the Archbishop had about completed his arrangements for the building of St. John’s College, Fordham, and it was decided to build a church on the site. Eventually this grant was turned over to the Passionist Fathers, as we shall see in time.

At the time Father Cauvin was living in Hoboken he was enabled to build the little church at West Hoboken largely through the generosity of James Kerrigan, a successful merchant of New York, who, with some other Catholic families kept their summer residence on the Hill, as West Hoboken was then called. The construction of the church was given to Mr. Quigley, of West Hoboken, the father of Mrs. Richard Galbraith, the wife of the real estate man. The estate of James Kerrigan then comprised all the land from Clinton Avenue up to the “big house,” the Kerrigan home, at present “St. Francis’ Home” or Kerrigan Orphan Asylum, and thence sloping down back of the house to the “back road,” now the Boulevard. It extended from what is now Charles (15th) Street south to Hill (12th) Street. The lots given to the church were on the northeast corner of the entrance to the driveway up to the Kerrigan residence. This driveway was lined on each side with rows of trees and a foot path on the upper side was entered from near St. Mary’s by passing through a turnstile. Many a beautiful Corpus Christi procession wended its way up this driveway to the Kerrigan residence where a temporary altar was erected under the trees and where Benediction was given, after which the sacred procession returned to the church. We have heard it said by some of the oldest residents that prior to the erection of St. Mary’s, Mass had been said in Kerrigan’s carriage barn.

In addition to this church in West Hoboken, and the temporary chapel at Hoboken, Father Cauvin established stations at Fort Lee, English Neighborhood, Bull’s Ferry, Pleasant Valley, and Hackensack, saying Mass in two of these places every Sunday, preaching and establishing catechism classes and otherwise apportioning his time and efforts to the best advantage among his widely scattered people.

Father Cauvin was the first priest to go among the people of West Hoboken and his genial and jovial disposition did much to conciliate the people who were not even of the household of the faith. He did not hesitate to dine with non-Catholics, when invited, as we know from Mr. Richard Galbraith, that more than once he took dinner at his father’s home on Palisade Avenue.

Father Cauvin attended St. Mary’s Church, in West Hoboken, until 1861. The Passionist Fathers from Italy had arrived in America on November, 14th, 1852. They were invited to the Diocese of Pittsburgh by Bishop O’Connor and built their first Monastery at South Pittsburgh. They next built a Monastery in Dunkirk, N.Y. Father Cauvin invited the Passionist Fathers to preach a mission in St. Mary’s Church, West Hoboken.

On Sunday, September 23rd, 1860, Fathers Anthony Calandri, C.P. and Gaudentius Rossi, C.P. opened the mission in the Church of “Our Lady of Mercy.” It was on the vigil of the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy and many found grace and mercy during that mission. There were about six hundred communions.

(The following is an abridged excerpt from the ACTS of the First Provincial Chapter, held in the Retreat of St. Paul of the Cross, Pittsburgh, PA from July 29th to 31st, 1863).

“Before proceeding to the election of The new Rector of our religious house at West Hoboken, State of New Jersey, in the diocese of Newark, the Secretary (Fr. Gaudentius Rossi CP -Ed.) requested the Very Rev. Fr. Provincial and capitular fathers to assign St. Michael the Archangel the first Patron of our Religious Congregation as Titular Saint to the new Retreat in course of erection in that locality.

In support of his petition the Very Rev. Father related that our two present Very Rev. F. Consultors (Frs. Anthony Calandri & Gaudentius Rossi) giving a mission in West Hoboken during the latter part of the month of September 1859, both were deeply impressed in favor of that locality as highly adapted and advantageous for a foundation of one of our principal Retreats, where with the recollection of religious solitude our Community could enjoy all the advantages of easy access to three or four very populous and most prosperous American cities, with the city and port of New York, the best ocean harbor in the United States. In order to obtain this desirable foundation one of the two missionaries on the feast of St. Michael the Archangel which happened during the mission, offered in the morning the holy Sacrifice of the Mass and made to God a private promise to use his best personal efforts with our legitimate Superiors to obtain the title of St. Michael the Archangel for the Retreat, if a foundation was effected in that locality. The Very Rev. F. Secretary, …now considered himself in duty bound to request the Very Rev. President and all the capitular fathers to grant his earnest petition, and it was unanimously and cheerfully accorded.”

NB. There is an apparent discrepancy between the ACTS of the First Provincial Chapter and Historical Sketch of St. Michael’s Monastery Parish concerning the date of the first mission in West Hoboken. The ACTS seems to be in error.

The Chapter Secretary, Gaudentius Rossi, failed to note that Fr. Anthony Cauvin had first generously offered to the Passionists, through Anthony Calandri and Gaudentius Rossi, the parish of St. Mary’s and all its sacred furnishings. It was this offer that prompted Gaudentius’ prayer and promise.

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