By KAREN RAPOLLA
The Holmdel Historical Society (HHS), which researches, preserves and interprets the history and architectural history of Holmdel, has voted to move forward on its first order of business for 2017 — a major restoration of the old St. Catharine’s Church.
In a unanimous vote, led by HHS President Peter Manieri and Vice President Sylvia Allen, the HHS enthusiastically took its first step as a rejuvenated organization, kicking off the major restoration of St. Catharine’s Church, which is located on Stillwell Road.
Founded in 1879, the church was initially built by Irish immigrant Father Michael L. Glennon on the one-quarter acre plot of land off Stillwell Road, and just nine months later, Bishop Corrigan dedicated the church. In 1879, it was the only church of any kind in the Morrisville section of Holmdel donated by Thomas Meehan.
It was the first Catholic Church in Holmdel, and it was the first Catholic Church in New Jersey dedicated to Saint Catharine of Genoa.
The church is covered by a slate roof, and the exterior walls are of batten board construction. Inside, its pews once seated about 100 parishoners. The choir loft accommodated an organ and a dozen choir members. Two wood-burning stoves once heated the building.
The original windows were of clear glass. The stained glass windows were added around 1914. The entrance foyer has two small clear glass windows. The front wall has three stained glass windows. The round one at the top is not visible from the inside. The stained glass in the two narrow matching windows, one on each side of the front door, have hinges on the inside that allow them to swing open.
There are 10 more stained glass windows, five on each side of the long walls. These 10 windows have a unique way of opening, by sliding up about two feet into the wall pocket directly above. There are a total of 13 stained glass windows.
The interior walls are beadboard horizontal slats covered with sheets of masonite or sheetrock. The ceiling is also beadboard, with three large ornamental stars, and in the center of each star is a large metal hook, which probably held three large gas chandeliers.
In 1975, the church’s property at 84 Stillwell Road was donated to the HHS by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Trenton.
Currently, there is significant structural damage to the church, causing the church to tilt. There is also extensive water and insect damage, loose slate roofing and windows that need to be replaced.
Additionally, the church has no heating, electric or running water or sewage system and is not handicap-accessible. The church previously had a wild animal infestation, which has since been taken care of. The HHS will embark on this extensive project to restore this nearly 140-year-old church property starting next month.
“The HHS is enjoying a rejuvenation under the able guidance of Peter Manieri and Rhonda Beck Edwards,” said Allen. “Holmdel has such a wonderful historic past [so] we want to preserve and protect it as well as the properties associated with that history. Our first project is the restoration and renovation of St. Catharine’s Church on Stillwell in Holmdel. This church will be one of several properties that will be featured on the Historic Holmdel House Tour to be held Dec. 2 this year.”
On Feb. 15, from 12:30-2 p.m., the HHS will hold its first church clean-up, focusing on a particular section of the church, weather conditions permitting. They HHS will serve pizza and tackle the task of beginning to address cosmetic and sanitary aspects of cleaning up the church.
The HHS will also soon begin moving forward with various fundraising events to raise money to begin structural work on the damaged portions of the church.
The next meeting will be held Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the Senior Center in Holmdel to discuss the plans and ideas moving forward.
If you would like to volunteer for this initial church clean-up day, contact Manieri or Treasurer Rhonda Beck by calling 732-768-7583 or 732-685-4450 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.