Saint Gabriel's Catholic Church Past, Present and Future in Marlboro, New Jersey
Imagine a long stretch of road, one that reaches between Freehold and Marlboro, and picture on that road a little figure in black on a horse cart. The year is 1871 and the driver is Father Frederick Kivelitz, of St. Rose of Lima's Church in Freehold. He is heading for The Village of Marlboro where he will say mass for the Catholic families in the village.
Until the 1860's, these families attended mass in the church of St. Rose of Lima, but by 1871, there were a sufficient number of Catholics to consider forming a separate congregation, a mission of St. Rose's, for the people in the Village of Marlboro and the Hamlets of Wickatunk and Hillsdale, later known as Bradevelt. With the help of Father Kivelitz, these people gradually formed the congregation of St. Gabriel's. At first, mass was celebrated in the houses of the parishioners. Father Kivelitz would journey from Freehold to offer Mass once a month. Later, he arrived on bicycle.
In 1878, a major event occurred in the life of the small congregation. Under the guidance of Father Kivelitz, a church building was erected and the cemetery established near Bradevelt railroad station on a lot donated by Patrick Fallon. In a ceremony that drew hundreds of people, the cornerstone of the church was laid and the building was consecrated on Nov. 4, 1878 by the Rev. M.A. Corrigan, Bishop of Newark.
The original building was a brick structure 30 by 50 feet. The cost of the structure was $1,150. Built in 1878, this Victorian Gothic church is of simple design. It is 1 ½ stories high with a steeply pitched roof with steeple and lancet arch stained glass windows with highlighted brick surrounding. By August of 1885, St. Gabriel's was clear of debt and had $100 in the treasury, sufficient for the congregation to be withdrawn from the spiritual charge of St. Rose of Lima and become a parish in it's own right. Father Kivelitz placed the Rev. John O'Leary in charge and he served as pastor of the new Roman Catholic Church of St. Gabriel's for the next three years. He was succeeded by the Rev. James A. Lawrence who was in turn, succeeded by Rev. James F. Gough of Trenton.
The parish of St. Gabriel's continued to grow along with the local population. Through the years, the church building and an adjoining rectory both experienced a fire on the cemetery grounds. The church was damaged considerably with the roof being destroyed. Fire also plagued and destroyed a church hall that was erected behind the church after World War II. The structure was actually two former army barracks that had been purchased for the church by the Collier Sisters. Many well-attended church dances were held in this “hall”. There was a small kitchen in one portion of this building. One evening after one of the famous dances where upwards of 600 people were said to have attended, the fire bells rang out. The hall burned “like a paper bag,” and there were many sad people who watched it go up in flames.
The next pastor was Rev. James A. Healey, who arrived in 1914 and died while in charge of the parish on March 17, 1919. Hundreds attended the funeral, including the bishop.
In 1922, a second church, a mission of St. Gabriel's was built. It was called St. John's and was located in the center of Marlboro Village on land donated by John Holland. For years, the church functioned as a mission of St. Gabriel's. St. John's has since been converted into business offices. St. Catharine's Church in Holmdel was also a mission church of St. Gabriel's.
In spite of the setbacks, St. Gabriel's flourished under the pastorships of Rev. John O'Grady, Rev. Francis Sullivan, Rev. Lucitt, Rev. Cogan, Rev. Horan and Rev. John Novack.
By the 1960's, St Gabriel's church had undergone tremendous population growth. People attempting to hear mass could not squeeze into the church and they found themselves looking into the windows. Church expansion plans were begun by the Rev. James T. Connell, under whose leadership a new church was built on Route 79 in Marlboro. In 1986 parish growth required the expansion of the church, rectory and the construction of a parish center. St. Gabriel's currently has 3,700 parishioners. The original church exterior was renovated in 1995-1996 where mass is still offered. The adjoining cemetery consists of approximately 21 acres. In June 1990, under the pastorship of Rev. Ralph Stansley, the cemetery renovation and mausoleum construction was started. The project is being completed by St. Gabriel's present pastor, Fr. Eugene J. Roberts.
In July 1992, the present chapel mausoleum was dedicated and blessed by the Most Rev. John C. Reiss, Bishop of Trenton. The mausoleum consists of 876 crypt spaces and 144 cremation niches. The stained glass windows on the outside and the inside depict the risen Christ. The white statues on the front of the building are imported from Italy and from the left are St. Gabriel, the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and the Sacred Heart. In February 2000, the cemetery expansion and the second mausoleum began. Construction of a third Mausoleum is in the planning. The master plan is for a total of eight chapel mausoleums to be constructed as needed in a park setting featuring a water stream, trees, walking paths, benches and statues. The mausoleum will offer indoor and outdoor crypts, cremation niches for single, double and multiple family needs.
The cemetery and mausoleum expansion is being coordinated by Fr. Roberts and St. Gabriel's parishioner Rich Holton. To learn more about St. Gabriel's Catholic Church, call us today at (908) 208-0786!