In December 1898, the Society of Saints Peter and Paul was organized by Lithuanian Catholics in the city to share their culture and traditions. After years of traveling to other areas around Bayonne to worship, in 1907, the parish was incorporated and masses were celebrated in the ethnically Italian Our Lady of the Assumption Parish on West 23rd St.
One year later, property and a church building were purchased and the Lithuanian Catholics had a place to call their own. In 1974, a new rectory was built and three years later a new church on the site of the original building was completed.
Over the years, the parish flourished and to this day includes several spiritual and reflective novenas. In 1941, the Perpetual Novena in honor of the Miraculous Medal began. A variety of novena prayers are recited Mondays through Fridays including: the Novena of the Infant Prague statue on Mondays, the Novena to Saint Anthony on Tuesdays, Saint Jude Novena on Thursdays and the Good St. Anne Novena and the St. Peregrine Novena on Fridays.
Programs for children are also important to the spiritual life of the parish. Children serve as lectors during the Children's Mass every Sunday and a choir consisting of about 10 children sing hymns during the Mass. The religious education program includes 85 children in grades 1 through 8. Classes are held following the Children's Mass. Students are reminded of the importance of participating in their faith. Extra classes are offered to the children and prayer services are held in other parishes to help the youngsters spread their faith and make new friends while learning valuable lessons from their neighboring communities.
For adults, the "Why Catholic?" program provides an opportunity to meet in small groups and reflect and share themes of the Catholic faith. The "Why Catholic?" group meets weekly and is an opportunity for parishioners to grow in faith and explore Sacred Scripture and their life experiences. There is also a catechism group for adults in conjunction with St. Mary Parish where faithful meet, reflect, meditate and discuss a variety of subjects related to Sacred Scripture.
Longtime parishioner of St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Rosanne Adams, helps run parish Bingo, fundraisers and parish celebrations. "People are always involved in this parish," Adams said. "There is a dwindling Lithuanian population, but it is still an intimate and very authentic parish. Father Lombardo is a kind and compassionate pastor and the masses are always beautiful."
James F. O'Neill, a parishioner for 40 years, has seen the transition to a more diverse community from a predominately Lithuanian parish. "The parish is more universal in nature today," O'Neill said. "In the past, there were all firstgeneration Lithuanian families at the church. I was asked to be the first lector to read in English because most of the parishioners were not well versed in the English language. I felt such a sense of power when I was at that podium," O'Neill laughed.
The dearth in Lithuanian priests in the area has led to a decrease in the once major population of the parish. Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Kearny, another archdiocesan parish with a strong Lithuanian heritage, also has experienced a steady transition in demographics over the years (see The Catholic Advocate, Oct. 10, 2007).
"There is a lack of Lithuanianborn priests available. Father Lombardo is half Italian and half Irish, but he is doing a good job. He had to work at being accepted and is a very affable priest," O'Neill added.
Also a trustee, O'Neill has a deep, spiritual connection to his home parish. "I feel closer to God when I am at St. Michael's. It is such a small church and I feel a sense of spirituality. Because of its size, the parish draws people from all over Bayonne. They all look at the church as their own. People shopping on Broadway come in because of the parish's central location."
O'Neill has witnessed the evolution of St. Michael the Archangel Parish, and often reminisces fondly about its past. "I miss the midnight masses. I am an ex-altar boy, but I never had a complete religious feeling until I attended St. Michael's. The love of this parish is now shared by many more people than when I first attended."
Lucille Gerardi agrees that Father Lombardo is a great leader for the parish. "Father Gerry can't do enough for his parishioners. He has been working to rejuvenate the parish."
Along with being a eucharistic minister, Gerardi takes care of the altar and the priests' vestments. "I help out with whatever they need done. I just love the church and I like participating. I like to stay in the background, but I always help out and people know they can depend on me. I would never say 'no.'"
Gerardi washes and irons the cloths for the altar and views it as a privilege. "My sister-in-law used to take care of the altar at another parish and I thought it was such an honor and privilege to touch the altar. I take pride in dressing it. I call it 'God's tablecloth.' It is not a job or a chore to do it. I just do it with tender loving care."
(St. Michael the Archangel is located at 15 East 23rd St. in Bayonne. Call (201) 436-1412 to learn more about the parish's programs. Information provided by parish historian Joe Olesky was used in this article.)