Immaculate Heart of Mary Church


What I like the best about the Ironbound is the fascinating cycles of ethnic succession and reuse. A church that today is Brazilian Evangelical, may have a history as Italian Catholic. A Latino Catholic congregation may worship in a building built by Anglo Protestants.

One of the churches in the Ironbound with the most interesting saga is the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church at 114 Prospect Street. The Immaculate Heart of Mary, once St. Joseph's Church, once the Fifth Baptist Church, once the South Baptist Church, perfectly represents the waves of immigration that have swept over this unique part of urban New Jersey.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary's Church was built by a German immigrants in 1858 as the South Baptist Church, later renamed the Fifth Baptist Church in 1869. It is often forgotten that in the mid-Nineteenth Century the Ironbound was predominantly German, hence the name "Dutch Neck," a corruption of the word "Deutsch" that the Germans used for themselves. Wilson Avenue was Hamburg Place, Marne Street was Bremen Street, Somme Street was Frederick Street, Rome Street was Berlin Street.

Propelled by their own upward mobility, and possibly repelled by the filth that was the heavily industrialized Ironbound in those days, the Germans gradually left the Ironbound for more healthful parts of Newark. In common with what happened elsewhere in urban America, the Germans were partially replaced by Poles, Russians, and Italians, but, unique to Newark, the Germans were replaced by Iberian immigrants.

With Spanish speaking nations all over the Western hemisphere, very few peninsular Spaniards came to this nation, but the Ironbound was an exception. In 1928 the old Fifth Baptist Church became St. Joseph's Church, primarily a Galician Spanish congregation, with a few elements from Portugal and other parts of Spain.

Note: There is a Galicia in the Ukraine too. Both regions were named by the Celts who once inhabited them. "Gal" being the Celtic word for "land."

The Church of St. Joseph, as the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church was originally called, was led by Rev. Matthew Amoros during the 1920s and 1930s. Once, on a trip to Canada, Amoros visited a church that had catacombs, similar to the catacombs of the early Roman Christians. Amoros was thus inspired to do the same thing with his church.
The early Christians in Rome used caves for burial and as secret places to hold masses. Though no real person is actually buried at St. Joseph's, St. Joseph's does have its own area for masses.

The statue of the Virgin Mary on the left side of this photograph is unique for the pose of her hands.

The incredibly lifelike wax effigies were manufactured in Spain in the 1930s. This is St. Tarascio. Tarascio a boy responsible for carrying the eucharist. One day, before the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, some hoodlums attempted to steal the eucharist from Tarascio. Tarascio resisted the thieves and was killed.
This is St. Gerard Majella, the same St. Gerard revered by the Italians of the North Ward. St. Gerard is the patron saint of expectant mothers.

St. Gerard was only thirty when he died in 1755. He is unique among the saints of the catacombs in that he was not martyred.

This is St. Ines (known as "Agnes" to Anglophones). This effigy has a prominent gash in her neck, representing the slash from a sword that ended the saint's life.

St. Ines was only thirteen when she was martyred in 304. She was killed because she refused to marry the son of the prefect Sempronius. Roman law did not allow the execution of virgins, so Sempronius had Ines dragged naked to a brothel where she was repeatedly raped.

After the night of rape, Ines was taken to be burned at the stake, but the fire would not start. Thus, a Roman officer beheaded her with a sword.

Rev. Gregorio Mateu, TOR, Immaculate Heart of Mary's priest, in front of the effigy of St. Cecilia.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary Church is managed by the Franciscans.

The Virgin Mary dressed as a bride. This statue is in the main sanctuary.
The main santuary was built immediately east of the former Baptist church in 1966. The new sanctuary offered much more room for parishioners than the old 19th century quarters. By the 1950s/1960s, the original building was no longer large enough to accomodate the growing Spanish, and now Portuguese, Ironbound community.

Around the time of the construction of the new sanctuary, the name of the church was changed from St. Joseph's to Immaculate Heart of Mary. The reason for the name change was to avoid confusion with another St. Joseph's on West Market Street.

Finally, in the 1950s, the Portuguese half of the congregation to found its own church, Our Lady of Fatima. St. Joseph's is now completely Spanish speaking.


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August 2007, by Jeffrey Bennett.


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