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You might not think of New Jersey right away when you think of Catholics in the United States, but by percentage of the population, New Jersey is the second most Catholic state in the union.
About 40% of New Jersey residents are Catholic and the state’s Catholic history goes back to the 1600s.
This long and rich history means that New Jersey has a number of beautiful and significant sacred places. Check out these 5 holy sites not to miss in the Garden State.
Sanctuary of the Four Chaplains, St. Stephen’s Church, Kearny
The story of this sanctuary and chapel will give you chills. The Four Chaplains were men of different faiths—including Father John P. Washington, St. Stephen’s associate pastor—serving in World War II who made the ultimate sacrifice when they gave up their life jackets to save soldiers aboard the sinking USAT Dorchester following a German submarine attack.
To honor them, St. Stephen’s Church commissioned internationally renowned sculptor Timothy Schmalz, best known for his work in the Vatican, to create a statue depicting their heroism. The church also holds an annual Mass on Four Chaplains Day, February 3, that is often attended by the chaplains’ families and other special guests, including Archbishop of Military Services Timothy P. Broglio.
The National Shrine of St. Gerard, St. Lucy’s Church, Newark
St. Gerard was a Catholic lay brother in 1700s Italy who was known for helping pregnant women and for his healing abilities. This church holds a monthly Mass in honor of St. Gerard, the patron saint of expectant mothers and childbirth, as well as an annual festival. This spot is an especially significant place to visit for pregnant women and their loved ones.
Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark
Perhaps the most beautiful church in the state (but there’s some strong competition!), this French Gothic Cathedral covers 45,000 square feet, equal to London’s Westminster Abbey, and is longer and taller than St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
Many art historians consider the cathedral’s stained glass to be the second finest in the world, after the Chartres Cathedral in France. It is also home to the largest church organ in New Jersey.
Pope John Paul II was so impressed by the glorious building that he elevated it to a cathedral basilica during a 1995 visit, where he was joined by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton.
St. Vincent de Paul Church, Bayonne
Due to these windows—along with other unique and extraordinary architectural features—the church is on the national and state registers of historic places.
St. John the Baptist Church, Jersey City
Are you an art lover? You won’t want to miss the 5,488 square feet of mosaics at this church. The mosaics were executed in Venice under the direction of Victor Zucchi of the Payne Studios.
Look out for the unbelievably intricate details: For example, 16 “tesserae,” or pieces of mosaic made by fusing pure gold leaf between two pieces of glass, make up the eye of each figure.
Only four churches in the United States, including the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, and the Cathedral of St. Louis, surpass St. John’s in its quantity of mosaics, but arguably not in its quality.
While the mosaics give the church a Byzantine feeling, the subjects are copied from Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces.
St. Columba Church, Newark
We couldn’t resist including one other amazing New Jersey holy site! Instead of a trip to France, head to St. Columba Church in Newark. Its design is based on the early 18th-century Chapelle Royale of Versailles.
Special thanks to Sean Quinn of the Archdiocese of Newark for providing information for this article.