Saints Peter and Paul Church has been the spiritual home of thousands of Orthodox Christians of northeastern New Jersey since 1907. From a parish community founded by immigrants from Eastern Europe, it has become the home for people of multi-cultures seeking the Orthodox faith from across the country.
The spiritual roots of the century-old community were planted in Alaska in 1794 as an initiative of the North American Ecclesiastical Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church, expanded on the west coast and developed on the east coast as Orthodox emigrated from southeastern Europe in the late 1890’s and following WWII.
The earliest worship and administration of the community were in various house chapels under the guidance of +Father Alexander Hotovitzky, who was a missionary of the Russian Orthodox Church, founder of several parishes in the United States and Canada, and later returned to Russia where he was martyred in 1938.
The parish is part of the Orthodox Church in America, which consists of more than 700 parishes, missions, communities, monasteries and institutions in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Earlier History of Jersey City
The present location of the church was part of a tract of land purchased by Michael Pauw, an Amsterdam Burgomaster and Lord of Achttienhoven in 1630 as part of Pavonia, the first settlement at Paulus Hook was in 1633. The area was an island at high tide, in 1638 was granted to Pauw's agent, a man named Micheal Paulez (Pauluson, Powles) who operated an occasional ferry and traded with the local Lenape population. His name was eventually anglicized to Paulus, and given to the hook jutting into the river and bay.
On February 25, 1643, 100 Native American Indians were massacred at or in the vicinity of Paulus Hook (Pavonia Massacre.
Until the American Revolution, the Dutch and then the English governed the site. In 1664, an expedition sailed from England to seize Dutch colonies in the New World. New Amsterdam Governor Peter Stuyvesant and the Dutch surrendered to the English forces on September 8, 1664 but the Dutch recaptured the territory the next year. Eventually, as a result of a war in the "Old World," the Dutch lost their "New World" territories to the British. In 1672, war broke out between England and the Netherlands. Peace was achieved in 1674 and under terms of the Treaty of Westminster, England recovered New Netherland. The king awarded the territories to the Duke of York (later King James II) the region between New England and Maryland as a proprietary colony (as opposed to a royal colony). James then granted the land between the Hudson River and the Delaware River (the land that would become New Jersey) to two friends who had been loyal through the English Civil War: Sir George Carteret and Lord Berkeley of Stratton. The Duke, to honor Carteret who had been with him in exile in Jersey, Channel Islands, named part of the territory "New Jersey."
In 1776, patriot colonists built several forts to defend the western banks of the Hudson, one of which was located at Paulus Hook. After suffering defeats in New York City, the rebels abandoned Paulus Hook and the British occupied it. The fort was a naturally defensible position that guarded the gateway to New Jersey.
In mid-summer 1779, a flamboyant 23-year-old Princeton University graduate, Major Henry Lee, recommended to General George Washington a daring plan to attack the fort, in what became known as the Battle of Paulus Hook. The assault was planned to begin shortly after midnight on August 19, 1779. Lee led a force of about 300 men, some of whom got lost during the march, through the swampy, marshy land. The attack was late in getting started but the main contingent of the force was able to reach the fort's gate without being challenged. It is believed that the British mistook the approaching force for Hessian allies returning from patrol but this is not documented. The attacking Patriots succeeded in damaging the fort and took 158 prisoners, but were unable to destroy the fort and spike its cannons As daytime arrived, Lee decided that prudent action demanded that the Patriots withdraw before the British forces from New York could cross the river. Paulus Hook remained in British hands until after the war but the battle was a small strategic victory for the forces of independence as it forced the British to abandon their plans for taking rebel positions in the New York area.
On November 22, 1783, the British evacuated Paulus Hook and sailed home. This was three days before they left New York on Evacuation Day, November 25, 1783.
While the battle occupies only a small portion of U.S. Revolutionary history, it is an important part of the history of New Jersey and holds an even more important place in the history of the neighborhood. A monument was erected in 1903 to memorialize the battle.
History of the Parish
The Saints Peter and Paul Parish was established in 1907 by immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires as a parish of the North American Ecclesiastical Mission under the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in Russia. On October 15, 1907, His Eminence, Platon, Archbishop of New York and the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America received a petition from Orthodox Christians in Jersey City to be received into the North American Ecclesiastical Mission as a parish.
The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated on Sunday, October 24, 1907 by Very Rev. Alexander Hotovitzky (who later died for the faith in Soviet Russia). The parish consisted of 25 married couples and 75 single members. The history of the Orthodox community in Jersey City prior to 1907 is vague. For instance, there was a charter issued on December 10, 1889 for the Saints Peter and Paul Brotherhood; its ledger is in the parish archive as well as several legders documenting finances of the Brotherhood and it’s membership. The parish archive has a photo of the Very Rev. Alexander Hotovitzky pictured with the Brotherhood at an outdoor social in 1908.
Many of the immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who came to America were Eastern Rite Catholics (Uniate, those united to Rome); the religious and political circumstances of the Empire forced these believers under the Church of Rome. When the immigrants came to America, they were affected by a letter written by Pope Pius X in September 1907 that dealt with the governance of the Eastern Catholics in the United States. The letter imposed new restrictions on Eastern Catholics, which created considerable dissatisfaction among Eastern Catholics in the US and, to a lesser extent, in Europe. It, in turn, resulted in many conversions to Russian Orthodoxy, particularly in America; this continued a movement that began in 1892 under Very Rev. Alexis Toth, who was later canonized by the Orthodox Church in America. The Orthodox Church in America claims that by 1916, the Roman Catholic Church had lost 163 Uniate parishes, with over 100,000 faithful, to the Russian missionary diocese. Our parish arose out of these circumstances.
The first church of these immigrants was founded on Chestnut Avenue. It overlooked the present Newark Avenue Cemetery: the cemetery of many and the earliest burials of our parish. Conflicts developed within the church between parishioners, who embraced Orthodoxy and those who wanted to remain in union with the Roman Church. The congregation relocated to downtown Jersey City and built a church at the corner of Green and Sussex Streets. It’s membership was dominated by Ukrainian Catholics, and it was at this time that the Orthodox began to establish their church. Below is a rough timeline of our parish's history:
The parish archive has a photo of the Chestnut Avenue church. Above the entrance to the church, but difficult to determine, is a date, either 1896 or 1898.
A Certificate of Incorporation was issued to the community on February 16, 1907, and it was registered as “The Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of Jersey City”. The use of the terminology “Greek Catholic Church” by Father Alexander Hotovitzky and our parish was resented by the Saints Peter and Paul Ukrainian Church. However, this terminology was used throughout the United States and was successful in bringing back thousands to Orthodoxy.
Father Alexander Hotovitsky was released from serving the parish in October 1908, and Rev. Alexander Nemolovsky was assigned as the first permanent resident rector. A house was rented for him at 131 Grand Street for $25 per month. Another house was rented at 64 Grand Street, Jersey City for $35 per month and work began to make it a “House Church”. The first baptism was on February 3, 1908 and the first marriage was on February 8, 1908.
The temporary “House Church” at 64 Grand Street became inadequate and negotiations began with the Collegiate Reformed Church of New York City, which held the deed to the vacant First Reformed Church of Jersey City at 111-113 Grand Street. The sale price was $35,000 and the purchase was made February 4, 1909. A down payment of $10,000 was made and a second payment of $1,000 was due within two years. The interest rate was 5%. Parishioners made loans to the parish for the down payment.
The Certificate of Incorporation of the parish was signed on August 31, 1909 by the following:
Rev. Alexander Nemolovsky
D. Szmaida Stephan Herenczak
Alexy H. Nikolin Troffy Mikulak
Kondrat Waricha Thomas Dzinhina
Stefan Yacewich Louis Tarby
John Petrichen Luke Yewusiak
The notary was Victor P. Hladick
An oak Iconostas was installed in July 1909 for $1,200, and the Royal Doors were a copy of the Royal Doors at Saint Nicholas Cathedral, New York City.
In 1909 Father Alexander was consecrated bishop of the
Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America, and later became the Archbishop of Brussels under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (the Russian Orthodox Exarchate in Western Europe) until 1946, and entered the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate until his repose in 1960.
The church building was designed and erected by an ecclesiastical architect and builder, John Welch, a Scotsman, who had designed and built churches in Brooklyn and Newark. The church rested on 500 pitch covered pilings driven into marshy ground. The cornerstone of the Grand Street Church was laid on September 22, 1853, but it was not completed and dedicated until April 5, 1857. The new church had replaced an earlier frame structure. The land was originally given to the Reformed Church by private business men, “the New Jersey Associates”.
The original images of the Iconostasis were painted in Russia and installed in November 1911.
A building was purchased at 107 Grand Street for $7,500 for a rectory; this was previously the historic Lyceum.
Rev. Alexander Chichilla was the rector.
An agreement was signed by the parish and the National Sheet Metal and Roofing Company for the following construction and repairs: carpentry and metal work on the east tower and dome for $950, carpentry and metal work on the west tower and dome for $950, carpentry and metal work on the center tower and dome for $690, and copper finials and capping of buttresses for $250.. The total cost for the above was $4,292 including the $425 retainer.
With the blessing and encouragement of Father Michael Dziama the R Club was formed. It had a membership of 130. They retained the highest membership for two consecutive years. The national conventions of 1941 and 1942 gave a special award to the chapter. The chapter held this first place for six consecutive years.
The church mortgage was liquidated during the tenure of the Very Rev. Michael Dziama The church became debt free and had 450 families. The Holy Protection Sisterhood was established.
Photius Bodasiuk of Kiev began painting 70 icons, which spanned a three year period. Family membership was raised to 615.
A new altar was consecrated on November 4, 1951 by the visiting hierarch, Demetrius (Magan) Bishop of Boston. His Eminence, Metropolitan Leonty was the primate of the Church and the rector was the Very Rev. Emilan Skuby. The lower level of the church was renovated for $36,633 to accommodate a Church School.
The present parking lot and two garages at 101 Grand Street were acquired by the church from the City of Jersey City.
A house at 123 Grand Street was purchased for $10,000 as
temporary housing for the priest and the reader until the completion of the new housing at 109 and 107 Grand Street.
The Bennington Company of Scranton refurbished the church interior with the assistance of the artists Nicholas Koltypin and Claudia Wiasigina Kowalenko. The cost was $40,000.
The church exterior was finished with stucco and painting. In November 1961 the construction of the rectory duplex at 109 and 107 was completed at a cost of $79,700.
The church was carpeted for $10,000.
A section of Graceland Memorial Park at Kenilworth, New Jersey, consisting of 3,264 graves with perpetual care, was purchased for $88,000 on October 14, 1964. The three church bells were electrified for $3,500.
The teak wood doors, manufactured in Hong Kong, were installed at the church entrances. The cost including closures and labor totaled $520. The church vestibule was also renovated.
On September 9, 1987, the Mitred Archpriest John Skvir suddenly fell-asleep in the Lord ending the longest pastorate at the parish of 37 years of service.
Deacon Daniel Skvir, son of Father John, was ordained priest on September 19, 1987, and became the Chaplain of the Holy Transfiguration Chapel on the campus of the University of Princeton.
Mitred Protopresbyter Daniel Hubiak, the former Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, was appointed rector of the parish. He served an increasing immigration of Orthodox from eastern Europe, and developed charitable services for the needy in the Soviet Union.
Father Daniel was appointed by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America to be the rector of Saint Catherine’s Church in Moscow as a Representative of the Church in America. Very Rev. Joseph Lickwar was appointed as the parish rector on December 1, 1991. The Parish loaned $175,000 to the Holy Annunciation Church, Brick, NJ. for the building of a new church. A new iron fence and gates were erected around the church for $10,000.
The front steps to 109 and 107 were replaced and catch basins adjacent to the church were installed for $21,335.
The lower level of the church was repaired and painted for $7,725.
An air conditioning unit was installed in choir loft in May for $10,600.
All brass appointments of the church were refurbished with personal donations.
A second air conditioning unit was installed for $11,872.paid for by personal donations. This was a split unit: one distributor in the altar and the other to the right of the iconostas. New choir stands were purchased for $3,000 by a donor.
Giving the Past a Future was a six-year restoration project, which included negotiations with the New Jersey Historic Trust for grants to assist in acquiring a historic architect and a historic construction company. The parish was awarded three matching grants totaling $586,736. The first phase began in June 2002, and included removal of previous roofing, rebuilding the skeleton of the cupolas, the application of a new copper roof, gutters, and cupolas, and application of stucco to the Upper Clerestory. Phase two included removal of stucco on the Lower Clerestory, application of new stucco, repointing and etching of block, new external lighting, and rebuilding the doors to the lower level of the church. The third phase included the removal and restoration of the stained glass windows of the Upper Clerestory. The architectural firm was HJGA, Consulting, Architecture and Historic Planning of Montclair and the construction contract was awarded to Schtiller & Plevy of Newark. The total expenditure was $1,173,526. The restoration was completed in 2006.
Windows were replaced at 107 and 109 at a cost of $19,265.
The City of Jersey City renamed the portion of Grand Street in front of the church Saint Alexander Hotovitzky Way. An audio System was installed in the church for $5,542. The Stremsky Family, the largest family in Russia, (53 children) visited our parish and sang the Divine Liturgy and gave an afternoon performance.
A $10,000 loan was made to the Holy Transfiguration Church of Pearl River, NY.
A major project was the repair and painting of the church hall for $17,500
The 100th anniversary of the parish was celebrated at Casino in the Park. Iron stairs and railings were installed at 109 for $4,700.
New flooring was installed in the church hall as well as carpeting of the interior stairway to the hall for $$15,860.
In May major repairs and painting of the east and west walls of the church interior were done at a cost of $75,790. Protective steel canopies were installed over the exterior air conditioning compressors for $1,900.
The name of the church in gold letters was installed above the front doors for $1,000 paid for by personal donation.
His Eminence, Archbishop Michael, was consecrated bishop of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey on May 8th at our parish with an attendance of nearly 800 Orthodox. The installation of three sets of stairs and railings at the solea for a cost of $6,000.
There was a massive snow and ice removal from the parking for $2,600. The sidewalk was replaced adjacent to the parking lot for $3,000. A Candle Desk and Display Case were installed in the vestibule donated by a parishioner. The Pledge System was implemented for the parish in January.