This article could be a tale of just history. For that, you'd need a book to tell it.
It can also be solely about the practice of God’s graciousness in the hearts of a specific group of men and women here on earth.
And this story can (and will) be told here, but can also be gathered as well in ages of tombstones in the neighboring Saint Peter’s Cemetery.
Welcome to Belleville's Saint Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, celebrating the 175th anniversary of its founding in 2012 while also preparing to laud the 100th anniversary of its current church building in 2014.
The parish is home to 800 families, a majority of which come from Belleville and Newark.
“I see myself as not only Pastor, but also as a shepherd of souls in this territory.” Those words are spoken by Father Ivan Sciberras, who is originally from Malta and has been Pastor of Saint Peter’s for 2 ½ years. He encourages his “flock” through current tough economic times.
“I often say, ‘Don’t lose heart and hope. Crisis can be an opportunity,” says Fr. Sciberras.
The Catholic community of Saint Peter’s first worshipped prior to the founding of Belleville and the formation of the Archdiocese of Newark, trekking to New York City for Mass or, if fortunate, having a priest (if available) in the area celebrate Mass in private homes. Once Saint John’s Church in Newark opened in 1828, the community gathered closer to home. In 1837, a Board of Trustees was formed to incorporate a church and parish, and a parish building was built in 1838.
Two months later, the town of Belleville was established, and the parishioners named their new parish St. Peter’s after Saint Peter’s on Barclay Street in New York City. Father Francis Ferrall was the first resident Saint Peter’s priest, and Father John Hogan was named first resident Pastor in 1853, the same year that the Archdiocese of Newark was founded. Through the years, the parish has been served 26 pastors and administrators.
Saint Peter’s School is a huge part of the parish history. The school itself was started in 1867, and was run by the Sisters of Charity nuns through 2002. “This is part of our mission,” says Fr. Sciberras. “Catholic education is a priority.”
The parish is also currently reaching out to alumni to assist in the school and its programs. If you are an alum of Saint Peter’s School, contact Fr. Sciberras.
Father James P. Smith, who is buried on the western side of the church building in the parish cemetery – the second oldest church cemetery in the archdiocese -- in 1901 had plans drawn up for a new convent (now a retreat house) to house the Sisters of Charity nuns who had come to teach at Saint Peter’s School. In 1913, the tower of the old church was removed, the church lowered and moved it twelve feet west to provide space for a new church building, which was dedicated on September 13, 1914. A full history of the parish can be found on the parish website, www.spbnj.org.
The parish also has a food pantry, which operates two Fridays a month. The need is great: Prior to the recession, 35-40 families used to benefit; now the number is between 80 and 100.
“You can't,” says Fr. Sciberras, “outdo God’s providence.”
The Eucharist is celebrated Monday – Friday at 9 a.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 8 a.m., and Sunday Mass is offered 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, and on Sunday at 7, 8:30, 10 and 11:30 a.m., and 1 p.m. The 1 p.m. Mass is said in Spanish.
Saint Peter’s Roman Catholic Church is located at 155 William St., Belleville. Call them at (973) 751-2002 or log on to www.spbnj.org.