Parish History



First Wooden (Mission) Church


Incorporated into a Parish


Fire Destroys Church


Second Wood Church Dedicated


Groundbreaking for Present Stone Church


Dedication of Present Stone Church


Dedication as Cathedral of the Diocese of Metuchen


  A Short History of St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral Parish

St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral was not always a cathedral, nor was it always known as St. Francis Parish. In the mid-1800’s, it was a mission church dedicated to St. Joseph. Since then, two other churches have been erected. St. Francis Cathedral, as we know it today, is the third church. All three played vital roles in the enduring history of the faithful Catholic Christians who were and are St. Francis Parish and Cathedral.  

First and Second Frame Churches

  Dedicated in 1871, the  first frame church seated 225 people.  On January 26, 1878, the church was officially incorporated as St. Francis Parish and served until December 21, 1903. On that date an oil lamp overturned and flames completely destroyed the church, but did not affect the rectory. The second wooden church was dedicated in December, 1904 and seated 324 people. In 1920, Columbia Hall, a center for parish activities was built.

More Room Needed

By 1960, St. Francis Parish had grown to more than 2000 families, and the pastor, Fr. John J. Foley’s plans to build a larger stone church and rectory had solidified.  Around the same time, Columbia Hall burned down, and immediately a new gymnasium and social center were added to the plans. During construction of the new buildings, parishioners attended Masses in basement classrooms of St. Francis School, at Metuchen High School and in neighboring parishes.  In June 1961, the new rectory was completed, and the ground-breaking ceremony for the church took place on July 24, 1961. When the CYO Hall was completed in December 1961, parishioners once again worshipped together while awaiting the church’s completion.   
  Present Church Dedicated
  On May 19, 1963, the parish gratefully celebrated the Church Dedication and the Blessing of the Cornerstone.  The new building’s seating capacity had grown to 1000. Only the finest materials were used in the new Gothic structure, which eventually became the Cathedral.  The interior walls were constructed of limestone with marble wainscotting.  The woodwork was solid oak, the floors terrazzo, and the altars formed with marble imported from  Italy.  Over the main altar a near-life size bronze crucifix was topped by an exquisite Gothic baldacchino. At the rear of the church was built the magnificent Rose Window. The late Msgr. Dominic Turtora once said, “The great Rose Window of the Cathedral of Metuchen reminds us that Jesus stands in the center of all creation.” Since the year 32 AD when Jesus named St. Peter as the first pope, the Roman Catholic Church has seen 256 popes.  During the year 1878, when St. Francis Parish was incorporated, Pope Leo XIII succeeded Pope Blessed Pius IX, who remained pope until 1903.
Cathedral Parish Established
Between 1878 and 1981, St. Francis Parish saw 9 popes and 15 pastors. On November 19, 1981, Pope John Paul II  established the Diocese of Metuchen, naming Auxiliary Bishop Theodore McCarrick of New York as its first Bishop. The pastor, Msgr. Dominic Turtora, became the first Rector of the Cathedral of the Metuchen diocese, a diocese that embraces four New Jersey counties: Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren, – a diocese that now includes more than 500,000 Catholics.

In June 1986, Bishop McCarrick was transferred to the Archdiocese of Newark, and on February 5, 1987 Bishop Edward Hughes, of Philadelphia was installed as the second Bishop of the Metuchen Diocese. Upon Msgr. Dominic Turtora's retirement on October 26, 1995, Msgr. Richard Behl was appointed the Cathedral's second Rector. When Bishop Hughes retired in 1997, Bishop Vincent De Paul Breen of Brooklyn, New York was appointed the third Bishop of Metuchen on September 8, 1997. Due to failing health Bishop Breen retired in September 2001 and Bishop John M. Smith was appointed Apostolic Administrator of our diocese. In January of 2002, Bishop Paul Gregory Bootkoski was appointed the fourth Bishop of Metuchen, his installation was on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, 2002
  Into the New Millennium

Bishop Bootkoski and the Cathedral's second Rector, Msgr. Richard A. Behl, stand at a unique vantage point where they may reflect on the long and enduring history of the parish of nearly 4000 families. With God’s grace, they will guide the Cathedral Parish through the challenges of the 21st century.

Dr. Carmen Collins

Recent Addendums:
Oct. 6, 2002 - On Sunday October 6 following 10:30 a.m. Mass Bishop Bootkoski blessed the statues of the "Risen Christ" and of "Rachel Weeping" which are situated in the Christ Garden.

Oct. 4, 2003 - Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration began in the Lady Chapel (Parish Center) on Saturday Oct. 4th on the feast of St. Francis.

Jun. 12, 2005 - On Sunday, June 12 following 9:00 am Mass,  Msgr. Behl dedicated the Garden of Mary’s Children. The garden remembers those children of our parish who have gone to join Jesus and Mary in Heaven.

Dec. 2, 2007 - On Sunday, December 2, Msgr. Michael J. Alliegro was installed as the third rector of St. Francis Cathedral by Bishop G. Bootkoski. (Msgr. Richard A. Behl, our previous rector, was installed as pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Old Bridge on Dec. 1.)

Aug. 17, 2009 - It is with great sadness and a deep sense of loss that we announced the passing of Monsignor Michael J. Alliegro on August 17, 2009.  Bishop Bootkoski appointed , Monsignor William Benwell V.G. to be temporary Administrator of Saint Francis Cathedral until a new Rector is named.

Sept. 8, 2009 - On Tuesday, Sept. 8, Monsignor William Benwell, V.G., informed us that Bishop Bootkoski has appointed Monsignor Robert J. Zamorski as Rector of Saint Francis Cathedral. Msgr. Zamorski will assume his duties at the Cathedral on October 16, 2009.

Nov. 8, 2009 - at the 12:00 Noon Mass, Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski installed Monsignor Robert J. Zamorski as our fourth Rector of Saint Francis Cathedral.

Dec. 6, 2009 - On Sunday, December 6, 2009 following 12:00 Noon Mass  parishioners joined Msgr. Zamorski as he dedicates a new pathway in the Garden of Mary’s Children

Jan. 31, 2010 - On Sunday, January 31, 2010 the cause for the Beatification and Canonization of Maria Esperanza De Bianchini was formally opened at the 3 PM Mass.

March 8, 2016 - On Tuesday, March 8, 2016 Pope Francis appointed Rev. Msgr. James F. Checchio fifth Bishop of Metuchen, the installaton Mass is scheduled for May 3, 2016 at 2:00 pm at Sacred Heart in So. Plainfield.



First frame church.
Dedicated in 1871.

The second wooden church.
Dedicated in 1904.


* Note: The history excerpts on this web-page are from our 125th Anniversary book (1878-2003),
            a 120-page hardcover, filled with photos and information.


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