St. Lucy's History and Tour
When you open the door and enter the church, you experience the mystery of God. The architecture, the light, the colors, the statues of the saints moves you into a different dimension. It is breathtaking. You perceive the sound of the transcendent. Since 1891 the community of St. Lucy's Church has been transmitting this divine presence to the next generation. The communion with God transforms people's lives. They re-emerge back into the plaza as witnesses of the presence of God. This is the "tradition" entrusted to all who step into the church.
The influx of immigrants from the cities and towns of southern Italy and Sicily gave birth to the parish. What began as a trickle in the 1860s became a flood in the 1890s. By the turn of the century, Newark's First Ward was known as “little Italy” with nearly 30,000 Italian immigrants living in a square mile around the church. They brought their language, customs, and devotion to patron saints of their hometowns. The third bishop of Newark, Most Reverend Winnard Wigger, established parishes for Italians as a response to the rapidly growing population of Italian Catholics. As these immigrants began the adventure of life in the "new world," their "popular religiosity" was the way they transmitted their faith from generation to generation. God was walking with the community of St. Lucy even before they built the church on Sheffield Street.
St. Lucy's was the third Italian parish established in Newark. Incorporated in September 1891, the cornerstone was laid the following December on the feast of Saint Lucy, and hence the name. The brick and stone church structure so admired today was not built until 1925-1926. Like the original wood-frame church, the new church was dedicated on St. Lucy's Feast Day, the 13th of December. The architect was Neil Convery. Gonippo Raggi painted the impressive murals. Raggi also worked on the Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
The structure of St. Lucy is a Neo-Renaissance Church, which was inscribed on the State and National Registers of Historical Places in 1998. The parish namesake, Saint Lucy (Santa Lucia), martyred in Syracuse (Sicily) in third-century is the patroness of those afflicted with diseases of the eyes. Lucy's mother wanted her to marry a pagan, but Lucy wanted to either remain celibate or marry a Christian. The Emperor Diocletian had Lucy's eyes plucked out.
Under the direction of Reverend Doctor Conrad Schotthoeffer, the pastor of St. Philip Neri, St. Lucy's parish was organized as a mission church of St. Philip Neri, which was the first Italian parish in Newark. Father Schotthoeffer learned Italian, while doing his theological preparation for the priesthood at the Casa Brigole-Sale in Genoa, the same place where Bishop Wigger studied before his ordination in 1865. A young Father Joseph Perotti migrated from Italy to Newark in 1896. One year later Bishop Wigger appointed Father Perotti pastor of St. Lucy and the parish was canonically erected, separating it from St. Philip Neri. Later Father Perotti was elevated to the status of domestic prelate with the title of Monsignor. He continued as pastor until his death on 14 September 1933. Father Gaetano (Cajetan) Ruggiero immigrated to Newark in 1921. Several month after the death of Msgr. Perotti, the bishop appointed Father Ruggiero pastor in 1934, a position he held until his death on 14 February 1966. The tomb of Father Ruggiero is with us today in the church garden, which is where the old wooden structure was until the current church was erected. The memory of the love these first two pastors had for St. Lucy and the community of people in the parish is alive in the hearts and memories of parishioners today. The third pastor, Msgr. Joseph Granato, served the parish with dedication and faith in God's providence for 54 years, until June 2009. Now the "spirit inspired tradition" of St. Lucy's continues under the leadership of Fr. Luigi Zanotto and the Comboni Missionaries.