Parish History

1847: St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church was established in Flemington, New Jersey

In 1847, copper deposits were discovered in the sandstone just outside of Flemington and copper mines were quickly opened. A number of the workers were Catholic and at the request of the two Catholic families living in the Borough of Flemington, the Cunningham’s and the Bonnell’s, Bishop Kenrick established our parish and dedicated the parish to St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi on April 17, 1847. Bishop Kenrick was the third bishop of the Diocese of Philadelphia.

Fr. John P. Mackin came from St. John the Baptist Church in Trenton to celebrate the first Holy Mass in Flemington at the home of James Hurley, who lived outside the Borough. Fr. Mackin came again on Christmas Eve, 1847 and in February, 1848. Later that year, the copper mines closed and the workers left the area in hope of finding work along the Delaware River in canal construction. Catholics living in the area resumed traveling to St. John the Evangelist Church in Lambertville to attend Mass.

St. Magdalen’s spiritual roots run deep, growing from the seed of faith planted in Lambertville all the way back in 1843.

Especially in its beautiful traditional architecture, St. John’s present church, dedicated in 1893, and still located on Bridge Street in downtown Lambertville, is a beacon of Catholic life past, present, and future.

1859: A Chapel was Built and Dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi

Between 1854 and 1861, Father L. M. Jego, a French priest and newly appointed pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Lambertville, travelled monthly to Flemington to celebrate Mass, usually at the homes of Flemington residents Myles Cunningham, Williams and Joseph Purcell, Nicholas Barry or Daniel White.

In 1858, at a meeting at the home of Myles Cunningham, the decision was made to purchase a lot on Park Avenue and build a little wooden chapel, twenty-four by thirty-four feet. At its completion in 1859, Bishop James Bayley, the first bishop of the Diocese of Newark, journeyed to Flemington to join Father Jego in dedicating the new house of God to St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi. On this occasion, the Sacrament of Confirmation was administered to seven candidates, including a young man who would later be ordained a priest and become the Very Reverend Dean Mulligan.

1879: A New Church was Built and Dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi

During the late 1800’s, the needs of a growing Catholic population, whose economy was boosted by new railroads expanding into the area, called for a larger church. In 1879, Reverend B. Henry Ter Woert, then pastor of St. John's following Father Jego’s return to France, directed the construction of a gracious white frame building, thirty-seven by sixty-six feet. The new church replaced the chapel and almost doubled the original structure's size. This stalwart little building served as our spiritual center until the 1941.

1881—1902: St. Magdalen’s became a Designated Parish and Received its First Pastor

In 1892, John Foran came west from Port Chester, New York and purchased what was then the Johnson Foundry and later became the Foran Foundry & Manufacturing Company. Swelling the ranks of workers he brought along with him were a number of Catholics who made the trip to Flemington with the high hopes and enthusiasm characteristic of the more than three million immigrants who would reach America's shores before the decade was over. In the old country, religion was a way of life, accepted as part of the routine of daily living. In the new country, it became both a source of comfort and a major force in holding the family together. These people, so bereft of most of life's luxuries, needed and wanted the soothing ministrations of their church and the constant presence of a man of God in their midst, and to this end they devoted much of their energies.

Until 1902, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi parish was a mission church under the care of St. John’s of Lambertville. In 1902, the designation of “parish” brought to St. Magdalen’s the first full-time pastor to lead its growing flock of parishioners. Reverend Thomas Rudden, former curate at St. Bernard Church in Raritan was appointed by Bishop James A. McFaul. Bishop McFaul designated Clinton and Stockton as St. Magdalen's mission churches.

Shortly after the new pastor’s arrival, the open-handed generosity of John Foran made it possible for Father Rudden to install electric lights and a new heating system. The pride of the parishioners must have been excusably great, for their church was one of the first buildings in this area to have electricity.

In 1901, the activity and interest of the parishioners in their church was reflected in the Altar and Rosary Society’s financing of the remodeling of the entrance to the church, and the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. Snowball funding the decorating of the interior sacred space.

St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church after the 1901 renovations.

The church in the late 1930s.

1904—1940: St. Mary Magdalen’s Parish Family Grows in Faith and Fidelity

St. Magdalen’s second pastor, Reverend John E. Murray purchased a house at the corner of Mine Street and Park Avenue from Theodore Bellis for use as the rectory. Our historical parish minutes tell us that as the needs of the faithful continued to grow, two resolutions were adopted which appropriated six hundred and fifty dollars and six hundred dollars to purchase two tracts of land along the ridge behind the Prospect Hill Cemetery. The new cemetery was named St. Magdalen’s Cemetery.

Through the first World War and Great Depression, the number of St. Magdalen’s parishioners grew to include three and four generations of the original settlers. These faithful families attended Mass and confession, had their children baptized, their weddings sanctified, and their dead laid to rest from this church. The growing need for a larger building in the not too distant future was apparent.

1941—1982: St. Mary Magdalen Parish Flourishes in the Modern Era

In 1941, a building fund drive was started with the hope of realizing sufficient funds for enlarging and improving the wooden church on Park Avenue. The response on the part of the parishioners was so gratifying that it was decided to raze the old church and build a new brick church in its place. While construction was taking place, the old Flemington High School auditorium on Bonnell Street was used for Masses. By Christmas of 1941, the congregation was able to hold its first Mass within the walls of the new church’s basement.

The laying of the cornerstone and dedication of the new Church of St. Magdalen de Pazzi, Flemington took place on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1942. Pius XII was the reigning Pope, the Most Reverend William Griffin was bishop and Cornelius J. Kane was pastor.

St. Magdalen de Pazzi Church, Park Avenue, Flemington. Today this building serves as one of the many Catholic Charities outreach facilities in the Diocese of Metuchen.

The interior of the brick Church; some of its sacred art can still be seen today in the sanctuary and the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in our church on Mine Street.

In 1945, four sisters, known as the “Loretto Nuns” arrived from the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Toronto, Ontario and were appointed as heads of the Religious Education department of St. Magdalen’s.

In 1948, Reverend William A. Margerum was installed as St. Magdalen’s ninth and longest-tenured pastor to date, leading the parish for twenty years.

By 1954, St. Magdalen’s continued to grow spiritually and in greater numbers, as the 50-acre Simon Farm (adjacent to the existing cemetery behind Prospect Hill Cemetery) was purchased, and the “Loretto Nuns” were replaced by the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Victory Noll, Huntington, Indiana.

In 1954, a marble statue of Our Lady was placed into a grotto which was constructed by local contractor Roman Zyck, Jr. After it was dedicated on May 9, 1954, the Young Women’s Guild held the May Crowning ceremonies at the Blessed Mother statue in the grotto.

1962 May Crowning of the Blessed Mother at the brick St. Magdalen’s Church.

In September 1958, Monsignor Margerum purchased a beautiful white-pillared Georgian style home and several barns and outbuildings on a seven acre tract of land on Mine Street. The sprawling property, purchased from Colonel Arthur F. Foran for fifty thousand dollars, would eventually become the bustling campus of present day St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Roman Catholic Parish.

The majestic home owned by Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Engeman between 1909 and 1918. Elm trees lined the driveway from Mine Street.

The well-preserved Foran home still stands today, serving as rectory for the priests of St. Magdalen de Pazzi.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1970, Bishop Ahr gave his approval for the construction of the Church’s Parish Center, the first new building to be erected on the Mine Street property. Led by St. Magdalen’s pastor, Reverend Edward J. O’Connell, the Parish Center would become the center of parish administrative offices and a generous gathering space.

Altar servers accompany Father Edward J. O’Connell and Trustees Walter Foran (left) and John Krauss (right) at the ground breaking ceremony for the new Parish Center on November 11, 1973.

George W. Ahr, Bishop of Trenton, blesses the new Parish Center on March 16, 1975.

The Parish Center today.

1981—Present: The Diocese of Metuchen is Born and the Faithful Build a New Church

In 1981, the Trenton Diocese celebrated its centennial anniversary and St. Mary Magdalen’s parish took part. On November 19, 1981, the Diocese of Metuchen was created by Pope John Paul II and included the counties of Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren.

Between 1987 and 1989, the new and current St. Magdalen’s Church was built on the Mine Street campus. On December 9, 1989, a dedication Mass was celebrated by Bishop Edward Hughes and St. Magdalen’s pastor, Reverend Henry L. Hemmerling.

In 1989, the new and current St. Magdalen’s Church was built. On December 9, a dedication Mass was celebrated by Bishop Edward Hughes and St. Magdalen’s pastor, Reverend Henry L. Hemerling.

Construction of the new St. Magdalen’s Church on Mine Street began in 1987.

Joined by the Knights of Columbus, Bishop Edward Hughes and Reverend John J. Barbella, pastor, dedicate a new statue of the Blessed Mother, on May 17, 1998.

In 2000, under Fr. John Barbella’s direction, a mausoleum was built on the lower corner of St. Magdalen’s cemetery. A new access road and entrance was built off of North Main Street.

In September 2000, the Sisters of Jesus Our Hope came to St. Magdalen’s and in 2003, a new convent on Bonnell Street was constructed for their use. The neighboring property was purchased and named Our Lady of Hope House for Social Ministries, the home for community outreach programs at St. Magdalen’s.

In 2002, Reverend Timothy A. Christy was installed by Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski as pastor of St. Magdalen’s. The Planting the Seeds Campaign was initiated to raise money for a new pipe organ and a Spiritual Formation Center to meet the needs of our growing religious education program. Construction began to transform the lower level of St. Magdalen’s Church into the new Spiritual Formation Center, which officially opened for the first day of CCD on September 30, 2004.

On November 20, 2004, Bishop Paul Bootkoski dedicated the new Spiritual Formation Center.

In the summer of 2006, the new pipe organ, custom built by the Peragallo Pipe Organ Company was installed and was played at its first wedding Mass on July 1.

Between September 2000 and June of 2017 Sister Pat Vayda served as Director of Social Ministry supporting the Hope House and working with the Homebound ministry. Hope House is a social outreach ministry which distributes food, furniture, clothing, and other miscellaneous items to those in need. Sister Pat described Hope House in an article once as a ministry, which not only provides for the physical, but first and foremost the spiritual needs of souls. She would often remind everyone that those who came through the door were Jesus in disguise.

In June 2016, the Sisters of Jesus Our Hope left St. Magdalen’s and in September, the Sisters of Christian Charity begin their mission work here at the parish.

On September 23, 2017, Father Kenneth Brighenti was installed as the Pastor of Saint Magdalen’s by Bishop James Checchio. Through the next six years, Fr. Brighenti completely renovated the Church and Parish Center.

Church sanctuary 2017

Church sanctuary 2022

Pastors of St. Magdalen de Pazzi

Reverend Thomas Rudden (1902-1904)
Monsignor John E. Murray (1904-1907)
Monsignor William I. McKean (1907-1911)
Monsignor Edward A. Cahill (1911-1912)
Reverend Thomas F. Kearns (1912-1914)
Reverend Edward C. Mannion (1914-1927)
Reverend Neil A. Mooney (1927-1938)

Reverend Cornelius J. Kane (1938-1948)

Reverend William A. Margerum (1948-1969)

Reverend Edward J. O’Connell (1969-1982)

Reverend Henry L. Hemerling (1982-1996)

Reverend John J. Barbella (1996-2002)

Reverend Timothy A. Christy (2002-2017)

Reverend Kenneth Brighenti (2017-Present)

St. Magdalen’s by the Numbers

Families in the Parish:
1854: 2
1975: 200
2004: 3,600
2011: 3,357
2017: 3,319

Baptisms in the Parish:
1975: 85
2003: 162
2011: 68
2017: 79

Confirmation Candidates in the Parish:
1858: 6
1917: 24
1925: 74
1936: 98
1947: 90
2003: 187
2011: 153
2017: 130

First Communion Candidates in the Parish:
1915: 16
1925: 19
1935: 23
1947: 100
2003: 205
2011: 160
2017: 99