The Early Years
Catholic worship in the Spring Lake area predates the construction of St. Catharine Church by 18 years. The communities of Spring Lake and Sea Girt were first developed as coastal resort areas. With the advent of the railroad in the mid-1870s, these towns were laid -out into building lots by investors who purchased and developed properties where farm lands had previously been located.
Summer visitors began to flock to Spring Lake’s elegant Monmouth Hotel as well as to smaller inns and private homes. This influx necessitated Sunday services which began in Sea Girt with Father Michael Glennon traveling from Holy Spirit Church in Asbury Park to the Parker House Hotel in Sea Girt.
In 1883, Father Glennon contracted with William Byrne of Jersey City to build Spring Lake’s first Catholic Church, St. Ann, on the southeast corner of Monmouth and Fifth Avenues. Parish records began with the first Baptism in 1894; the first wedding in 1898, and the first death recorded in 1918 (the Parish did not have a cemetery until 1917).
The Maloney Years
Spring Lake was becoming an increasingly popular resort for many wealthy families from Philadelphia and New York. One of those families, the Maloneys, was so fond of the beautiful town by the sea that, in 1892, Martin Maloney (1847 – 1929) built his first summer cottage on Morris and First Avenues.
Mr. Maloney had come from Ireland in 1854 as a boy and worked along with his father in the coal mines in Scranton, PA. He gained business acumen in other jobs. When he was not quite 20 years old, Martin used his work experiences to establish a plumbing business. He was well on his way to becoming a leading figure in gas, water, oil, and electric interests.
As Maloney’s wealth increased so too did his sense of responsibility to those less fortunate than he. He devoted his life and tremendous wealth to good works and to the welfare of his beloved Catholic Church.
Also, at the age of twenty, he married Margaret A. Hewittson of Carbondale, PA. Out of this union came three lovely daughters, Margaret, Helen and Catharine. As the years passed, the Maloney Family was found to spend more and more time in Spring Lake, eventually making it their permanent home.
Martin Maloney began plans for a beautiful twenty-six room mansion that he needed for his increasing social status. He contracted with the well-known architect Horace Trumbauer and commissioned him to build it. It was to be named after his native town in Ireland, Balingarry. It was the scene of many distinguished gatherings of Roman Catholic Cardinals, Archbishops, and other dignitaries.
Beloved Daughter, Catharine
On May 20, 1900, Mr. Maloney’s beloved seventeen-year-old daughter, Catharine, (Kitty as she was known) died from a prolonged illness. Hoping that European doctors might find a cure, Mr. Maloney had sent Kitty abroad with her mother and older sister, Margaret. They were returning home on the liner, New York, when Kitty died in her mother’s arms. Mr. Maloney did not learn of her death until the arrival of the ship in New York. She was temporally interred in a vault.
The family began to plan an impressive and enduring monument as a magnificent place of eternal rest for their beloved daughter. Maloney petitioned Bishop James A. McFaul, the Bishop of Trenton, his desire to donate a church after purchasing five lots of land overlooking the Lake. He requested, in return for his gift, the parish name be changed from St. Ann to St. Catharine.
St. Catharine Church
Horace Trumbauer once again was commissioned to design what was to become the finest high-style example of Classical Revival architecture in Monmouth County. Constructed of limestone and buff Pompeian brick on the outside, the Church interior offers a wealth of Christian art rich in religious symbolism.
Martin Maloney brought Professore Gonippo Raggi (1875 – 1959) from Rome in 1904 to execute the paintings on the interior walls. The frescos and canvasses depict Bible stories, the seven Sacraments, Pentecost, copies of the masters (Raphael 1483 – 1520), and a cycle of murals with Irish themes. The latter was a collaboration between Professore Raggi and Chicago-based Celtic artist Thomas A. O’Shaughnessy. It is significant that these panels were produced following the establishment of the first Irish Free State in 1921. The interior also features plaster walls and barrel-vaulted ceilings with decorative coffering and recessed panels each bearing a design. The cornerstone was laid on March 17, 1901 and it was dedicated on May 25, 1902.
Catharine, her parents, and other relatives are entombed in the family crypt under the floor of Sacred Heart Chapel (Maloney Family Chapel) on the north side of the Church’s nave.
St. Catharine Church celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2001-2002. During the Centennial Year, many events were held to honor the beautiful gift Martin Maloney had given to the current and future generations of Catholics in Spring Lake and the surrounding area.
A badly-needed restoration of the exterior and interior was completed in 2007 through the generosity of parishioners and friends of this historical Church of God. It was restored to its original beauty as it looked in 1928 when Professore Raggi completed his spectacular 27 paintings.
St. Margaret Church
During the 1920s. Spring Lake became a magnet that attracted hundreds of Catholic vacationers from the urban areas of New York and Philadelphia. In the ensuring years, it became more of a year-round residential community. The beautiful St. Catharine Church, which seated only about 320 people, was filled to capacity especially in the summer months.
With this situation in mind, the then Bishop of Trenton, Most Reverend John J. McMahon advised the Pastor, Monsignor Thomas U. Reilly, to plan a summer Church to be erected at the north end of Spring Lake. Several locations were considered before the property at Ludlow and Third Avenues was purchased and incorporated in 1929.
St. Margaret Church was designed by the architect, Vincent J. Eck of Shrewsbury and built by Harry M. Steelman Construction of Asbury Park. A brick building, the interior and exterior consist of materials such as copper, iron and wood. To accommodate the warm summer breezes, the interior has simple but attractive lines with many windows on the north
and south walls. Its large capacity seats about 420 people. The laying of the cornerstone and dedication took place on June 29, 1930.
On September 14, 1931 soon after the dedication of St. Margaret Church, a grammar school opened with 25 boys and girls in two partitioned rooms in its basement. At the request of Pastor Monsignor Reilly, two Sisters of St. Joseph from Chestnut Hill, PA came to teach and operate the school which was called, St. Margaret Grammar School. The Sisters were housed in a private home until 1962 when a convent was built on Essex Avenue next to the Rectory.
In 1948, because of overcrowding in St. Margaret’s basement, a classroom was provided for the first and second grades in St. Catharine’s basement. When the enrollment climbed to over 400 children in 1951, ground was broken for a new school that was built on Second Avenue between Pennsylvania and Salem Avenues. On September 3, 1952, 700 children filed into the new school called, St. Catharine School.
By the early 1960s, the School numbered over 1,000 students so a single floor addition was added in 1965. The school continued to flourish spiritually and academically under the Sisters of St. Joseph but they decided to withdraw in 1987 and the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell took over.
In recent years, Sisters of Mercy and St. Dominic taught along with lay teachers and aides who provided instruction to students pre-school through eighth grade. At present there is one Sister of Mercy left. (See below for more details.)
In August 1999, St. Catharine School earned accreditation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Since the first graduation in 1936 (St. Margaret Grammar School) to the Class of 2015 (St. Catharine School), 4,833 children have graduated and gone on to live their lives with a Catholic school education as part of their background.
On October 31,1917, Reverend Walter T. Leahey, started St. Catharine Cemetery with the purchase of three acres in Sea Girt on West Chicago Boulevard. The site was cleared by members of various Parish-based organizations. In 1931, six acres were added; in 1941, 30 acres were added to bring the total acreage to its current 39 acres. The first burial was recorded in 1918.
A portion of the site was set aside for the development of mausoleums. Our Lady of Mercy (300 crypts) was built in 1973 under the pastorship of Monsignor John E. Grimes; St. Joseph (600 crypts) in 1976; and Madonna was built in 1987 (1,090). Monsignor Thomas A. Luebking built Resurrection Mausoleum in 1996 adding another 4,300 crypts and niches. The latter incorporated the first two mausoleums into its design thereby creating the allusion of one large building.
Monsignor Luebking purchased St. Anne Cemetery (11 acres) on Allenwood Road in Wall Township in 1991 since St. Catharine Cemetery was reaching capacity. St. Anne’s has 13,000 sites that are double-depth which doubles its capacity. St. Anne Mausoleum was the first mausoleum added to this site in 2015. Monsignor Luebking died on July 6, 2014 and was the first to be placed in a crypt near the Chapel Altar on April 26, 2015.
Both cemeteries and five mausoleums service the broader Spring Lake area. All choices of burial can be accommodated from an in-ground plot to a niche (when Catholics elect to be cremated). Committal prayers accompany all burials for any of the plots, crypts or niches.
The Parish serves the following towns; Spring Lake, Spring Lake Heights, Lake Como, and Wall Township. A rectory was built in 1911; additions were added in 1928 and 1982.
Today the Parish has a year-round population consisting of about 3,800 families. Many are involved in ministry work assisting the two assigned priests as sacristans, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, lectors, choir members, CCD instructors and aides in the School. With the help of visiting priests on weekends, ten Liturgies (Masses) are celebrated with an estimated attendance of 2,500 people in three worship spaces; St. Catharine Church, St. Catharine Chapel and St. Margaret Church.
A significant number of parishioners actively participate in the life of the Parish. They are members of one or more lay organizations such as: Finance Council, Pastoral Council, PTA, Altar Sewing & Crafts Guild, Classics (over 55 years), CYO, Daughters of St. Catharine, Holy Innocents, Knights of Columbus, Men’s Prayer Group. Respect Life, Social Concerns, Third Order of Mount Carmel and Women’s Bible Group.
As evidence of our parishioners’ generosity to those less fortunate, they partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build a customized house for a family with a disabled child in Neptune. The annual Giving Tree is highly supported with gifts that pile up under the Christmas Tree every week during the Christmas Season. St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish was the recipient of the 2014 Diocese of Trenton Catholic Charities Award.
A teacher in St. Catharine School, Sister Carole MacKenthum, RSM. has been traveling to Uganda each summer for 12 years to improve the lives of African orphaned and needy children in the northern bush-country area. Parishioners have responded to an annual appeal to improve the clinic, add classrooms to St. Kitizo School, buy a used van to transport seriously-ill patients to a hospital, etc. Also, three new structures were built: a visitors’ house, garage for the van and a kitchen for the Sisters (previously meals were prepared outdoors over an open fire). In addition, parishioners are supporting individual students on their road to a Christian education.
Martin Maloney indeed would be proud of the Church he built in memory of his daughter, Catharine. But he surely would be most proud of the people who are carrying on his tradition of having a sense of responsibility towards those who are less fortunate.
More about St. Catharine Church
There are two publications available at the rectory
- “Guide to St. Catharine Church” (FREE)
- “A Centennial History of Saint Catharine Church” by the St. Catharine Centennial Research Committee. An in depth history of the church, its art and architecture as well as Martin Maloney. Published by Providence House ($50)