Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

New Jersey

New Jersey is part of the New York City conurbation. It is separated from New York proper by merely a river that is crossed by bridges and tunnels. As such, the New Jersey and NYC Lithuanian communities are closely related. New Jersey Lithuanian sites may easily be visited when visiting New York City.

Elizabeth Lithuanian church, hall, and monuments

One of the hearts of the New Jersey Lithuanian community is Elizabeth city near Jersey City with its old and massive Lithuanian St. Peter and Paul church (211 Ripley Pl., built in 1910).

Elizabeth Lithuanian church and rectory

Elizabeth Lithuanian church and rectory

The church houses an Our Lady of Šiluva altar (near its side wall) dedicated to the earliest church-recognized Marian vision in Europe (which took place in Šiluva, Lithuania). It is full of ethnic woodcarving motifs and it has a rock from the holy site of Šiluva. Moreover, Our Lady of Vilnius is included in the main altar (at the top of the altar; it is a copy of the Virgin Mary painting in Vilnius). The church decorations are also especially Lithuanian with Lithuanian inscriptions available on the stained glass windows (with sponsor names) and on the stations of the cross (with explanations of the New Testament events depicted there). Much of the artwork inside has been created by Lithuanians. Near the entrance, there is a gallery of church-history-related artifacts and Lithuania-related images (e.g. painting of a traditional wooden cross or a picture of the cross erected by church members at the Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai).

Elizabeth Lithuanian church interior, looking from the choir

Elizabeth Lithuanian church interior, looking from the choir

Our Lady of Šiluva altar at the Elizabeth Lithuanian church

Our Lady of Šiluva altar at the Elizabeth Lithuanian church, full of Lithuanian traditional woodcarving motifs

Lithuanian stations of the cross in the Elizabeth church

Lithuanian stations of the cross in the Elizabeth church

The bottom of the stained glass windows of the Elizabeth church

The bottom of the stained glass windows of the Elizabeth church

Outside of the church stands a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross, while the plaque with the church name also features Lithuanian designs (Coat of arms and Columns of Gediminas).

Elizabeth Lithuanian cross

Elizabeth Lithuanian cross

The church's peculiar towers look "too short" because their steeples were removed in 1981 due to them having been damaged by the planes taking off from the nearby Newark airport.

Since 2006, the Elizabeth Lithuanian church shares its priest with the Polish St. Adalbert parish (but both churches are open). One of the church's famous priests (in fact, its founder) Mssgr. Kemėžis has a street named after him nearby. On the street sign, however, his name is written with a typo as "Kemensis".

Kemėžis Pl. plaque with a typo

Kemėžis Pl. plaque with a typo

Since 1974, Lithuanian bakery (131 Inslee Place) offers Lithuanian bread among other eastern European flavors. As numerous vans parked outside suggest, the bread of the bakery is rather popular. Bakery's front facade is covered by wood to remind of European traditional architecture. The bakery is not owned by Lithuanians, however, and never was, as the owner family is of Polish heritage.

Lithuanian Bakery of Elizabeth

Lithuanian Bakery of Elizabeth

Lithuanian bread at the Lithuanian Bakery

Lithuanian bread at the Lithuanian Bakery

Elizabeth also has Lithuanian Liberty Hall. The impressive castle-like building was built in 1924. It served as a hub for various Lithuanian organizations (dances, sports, a bank, etc.) and became especialy popular after Lithuanian refugees arived after World War 2. The Lithuanian Liberty Hall has been sold in the 1980 and now it serves as a Pentecostal church. The inscription "Lithuanian Liberty Hall" remains. The interior lacks anything Lithuanian although some of the details date to the Lithuanian era.

Lithuanian Liberty Hall of Elizabeth

Lithuanian Liberty Hall of Elizabeth

Lithuanian Liberty Hall interior

Lithuanian Liberty Hall interior

Newark Lithuanian church and cross

While Elizabeth Lithuanian church is today the grandest in all of the New Jersey, this wasn't always the case. Newark's Romance Revival Holy Trinity Lithuanian church may have surpassed it in grandeur. Unfortunately, it has caught fire in 1981 and, while the damaged did not destroy it, the diocese refused to permit repairs. The parish was thus relocated to a rather simple two-floored edifice it has previously built as a parish hall in 1963.

Newark Holy Trinity Lithuanian church entance and traditional cross

Newark Holy Trinity Lithuanian church entance and traditional cross

The church is still open, however, the mass is now Portuguese-only as the Portuguese-speaking community has gradually displaced the Lithuanian one. Still, there are many Lithuanian details left, including Vytis on the door glass, Lithuanian folk-art wooden frame than encloses the church's mass schedule and a Lithuanian sun-cross that stands near the entrance since 1962 (relocated from the old church). At its center is Rūpintojėlis, the traditional Lithuanian image of a sad Jesus. The church is closed except for the daily Mass.

Vytis on the Holy Trinity Newark Lithuanian church entrance

Vytis on the Holy Trinity Newark Lithuanian church entrance

Now-demolished old Newark Lithuanian church

Now-demolished old Newark Lithuanian church

Inside, interestingly, when the old church burned down, it was not the main hall of the parish hall that was turned into a church, but rather the basement hall. The main parish hall above still serves as such. The basement hall is now a de facto church. Its entrance door has a stained glass window with Lithuanian and English name "Holy Trinity". Various religious statues and items have been moved there from the old church, an entire room is dedicated to them; at least one cross has a Lithuanian inscription but, otherwise, little Lithuanian history remains in what is a rather international-style room.

Bayonne Lithuanian church

Elsewhere in New Jersey too, Lithuanian parishes indicate Lithuanian presence. The trend was the same: the Lithuanian parishes established in Jersey suburbs ~1910 with the first Lithuanian migrant wave, however, the current churches constructed in 1950s-1970s modern or semi-modern style as the small communities became rich enough and post-WW2 refugees needed to be accommodated. In ~2000s Lithuanian language, services were abandoned as new generations replaced their parents and grandparents who spoke Lithuanian well.

A small towerless St. Michael Lithuanian church stands in the southern suburb of Bayonne since 1977. Its address is 15 E Twenty-Third St but the nearby Church St. is also known as Matulis Way after the church's priest who passed away in 2000. Bayonne has ~400 Lithuanians (~0,6%). St. Michael church was, however, formally partially transferred to Syriac Catholics in the 2010s. Despite the transfer, the interior for a while remained all-Lithuanian and was nearly always open (unlike all the other Lithuanian churches of New Jersey, which are unlocked only for the mass) ~2017. Even the Lithuanian flag remained beside the altar. Also, the old stations of the cross, most likely relocated from the previous church, are adorned in the old Lithuanian-language inscriptions. The stained glass windows, usually among the most impressive parts of the Lithuanian-American churches, here are rather modest, however. A complex "time-sharing" system between Roman and Syriac Catholics is apparently in place, as posted near the entrance. Later, however, the "Saint Michael the Archangel Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church" sign was covered and it is unclear how much remains in the interior today.

Bayonne Lithuanian church

Bayonne Lithuanian church

Entrance to the Bayonne Lithuanian church with its Lithuanian dedication

Entrance to the Bayonne Lithuanian church with its Lithuanian dedication

The interior of Bayonne Lithuanian church

The interior of Bayonne Lithuanian church (Lithuanian flag on the right)

Old Lithuanian station of the cross at the Bayonne Lithuanian church

Old Lithuanian station of the cross at the Bayonne Lithuanian church

Like many of the New Jersey Lithuanian parishes, Bayonne one was not simply a church but an entire Lithuanian complex. In 1982, a parish hall was constructed nearby (St. Michael Madonna Hall and Center) where secular and other events would have been taking place.

Kearny Lithuanian church, crosses, and club

Another area that has been popular among Lithuanian immigrants was the Kearny suburb. In 1915 when a Lithuanian parish has been established in nearby Harrison, there lived 400 Lithuanians in Kearny and 700 in Harrison (~450 and ~150 today). ~1955 a new larger towered church of Our Lady of Sorrows has been constructed in Kearny (136 Davis Ave). On the parish's 85th anniversary Reverend Pocus wrote, "Second- and third- generation families may never fully appreciate the fervent longings of their forebears for the sights and sounds of their homeland. But certainly, our older parishioners can recall the poverty of our people, their loneliness in a strange land, their youth and energy, and feeling of unity which they felt with their fellow Lithuanians".

Kearny Lithuanian church

Kearny Lithuanian church

The Kearny Lithuanian church is still officially Lithuanian and has a plaque commemorating that. It also has another Lithuanian traditional sun-cross (1962) near its entrance, donated by the Knights of Lithuania organization. The interior includes a Lithuanian flag and Lithuanian stained-glass windows, including that of Our Lady of Vilna and Our Lady of Šiluva. The stations of the cross are with Lithuanian inscriptions, while each of the pews have been donated by a Lithunian family whose names are written on them.

Kearny Lithuanian church entrance and the traditional Lithuanian cross

Kearny Lithuanian church entrance and the traditional Lithuanian cross

Our Lady of Vilna stained glass window

Our Lady of Vilna stained glass window

Another traditional Lithuanian sun-cross stands at Kearny Riverwalk, not far away from a few other ethnic memorials. It has been constructed in 1996. The plaque in the back lists people in whose memory the cross was constructed (mostly relatives of he donors). Both sun-crosses have been constructed by the local chapter (Council 90) of the Knights of Lithuania Catholic organization.

Lithuanian cross at Kearny Riverwalk

Lithuanian cross at Kearny Riverwalk

Morever, Kearny had a Lithuanian Catholic Community Center. Marked with Vytis, it served as a community hub and also as a bar. The building has been constructed in 1929. It was originally established as Lithuanian-American Citizens Club, and renamed as Lithuanian Catholic Community Center in 1953 (the final plaque has only "Lithuanian Community Center" listed. It never reopened after the COVID pandemic restrictions closed it down in 2020, however.

Lithuanain Catholic Community Center in 2022, relatively soon after closure

Lithuanain Catholic Community Center in 2022, relatively soon after closure

Schuyler Savings and Loan Association (now Schuyler Savings Bank) is a Lithuanian bank. Until some 1990s almost its entire board was Lithuanian. With Lithuanians moving out of these parts of Kearny, however, the bank changed as well. However, plaques at the Kearny RIverwalk cross still show Schuyler Savings as a major benefactor. It is named Schuyler after its street.

At one time, the whole district surrounding the Kearny church was Lithuanian.

Paterson Lithuanian church

After World War 2 (1962) the Paterson Lithuanian parish also constructed its modest St. Casimir church (147 Montgomery St; closed 2014, sold to non-denominational Christians).

Paterson St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Paterson St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Jersey City Lithuanian church site and Blozis Hall

Jersey City had a Lithuanian church as well, which the New Jersey Lithuanian parish that was the closest to the New York City. St. Ann Lithuanian church, which stood on Grand Street and Manning, however, was demolished in the 1980s after a fire. It was a squarish small wooden building squeezed between other buildings. It was opened in 1913, after the newly-established St. Ann Lithuanian parish acquired a former protestant church that had been converted into a cinema. Those buildings that surounded it do not survive anymore either, as the entire neighborhood, including the street grid, was rebuilt, making it difficult to even discern the exact site the church stood at.

Jersey City also has a high school gymnasium and a 1939 art deco apartment building named after Al Blozis (591 Montgomery Street). That building is called Al Blozis Hall. Al Blozis, 1919-1945, was born to Lithuanian parents in New Jersey and died in World War 2 serving the US army. His endevors inspired a comic "Human Howitzer".

For the First Wave Lithuanian immigrants to the USA (i.e. those who came before World War 1), Jersey City was the gate to continental America. Immigrants would have been processed at Ellis Island nearby (read more about it in our article on New York City), then purchase tickets and board trains at the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal that would take them to their new homes throughout the United States. This railroad station is now abandoned but it can be visited (near where tourist boats depart New Jersey for Liberty Statue).

Abandoned railroad station near Ellis Island

Abandoned railroad station near Ellis Island

Recommended literature: Barbara Krasner "Kearny's Immigrant Heritage" pg. 67-76.

 


The map

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination - America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of New Jersey Lithuanian sites

 


Destination America expedition diary

As “Destination – America” reached its penultimate day, we explored New Jersey, where several churches are still officially Lithuanian, with the largest such one in Elizabeth, where we were met by Laima Liutikienė, an active member of the Lithuanian-American community who immigrated after independence.

Augustinas Žemaitis, 2017 10 03.

More info on the Destination America expedition

Click to learn more about Lithuania: New Jersey, USA Leave a comment
Comments (8) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Jersey City is not the capital of NJ. Trenton is.

  2. Nesuprantu, kodėl Elizabeth tapo Elizabetu. Negi neteko girdėti, kad Elizabeth ( Elžbieta) yra moteriškas vardas ? Sakyčiau, kad gruboka klaida. Be to lietuvių kalboje yra žodis “sopulingoji”. Minint Kearny bažnyčią, kažkodėl kokia tai “skausmingoji” Marija minima.

    • Dėkui dėl bažnyčios pavadinimo – pataisiau.

      Dėl vietovardžių – Lietuvių kalboje vietovardžiai verčiami kitaip, nei vardai. Yra Lietuvių kalbos komisijos patvirtintos taisyklės. Nėra verčiama pagal reikšmę – pvz. rašoma „Niujorkas“, o ne „Naujasis Jorkas“, taip pat „Mičigan Sitis“, o ne „Mičigano miestas“.

      Žodis „Elizabetas“ taip pat yra Kalbos komisijos patvirtintoje vietovardžių duomenų bazėje: http://pasaulio-vardai.vlkk.lt/vietovardis/elizabetas_ .

      Iš esmės lietuviški užsienio miestų vietovardžiai yra ne vertimai (translation), o transliteracija (transliteration) – tiesiog vietovardžiai perrašomi pagal tarimą ir pridedama lietuviška galūnė.

      Aišku, yra išimčių – pvz. „Varšuva“, o ne „Varšava“ (nors lenkai taria „Varšava“) ir pan. Bet tai gana reta.

  3. Newark, not Jersey City, is the largest city in NJ. Elizabeth is in no way a “suburb” of Jersey City. It is a city of 125,000 and it abuts Newark.

  4. Hi, we’ve found 2 ribbons that state:
    Lietuviszkas Palitykiszkas Klubas; Uzdetas 14, diena Gruodzio; Maituase 1903; Trenton, NJ
    and
    Sv. Jurgio Draugiste Uz.; 1 d. Vasario 1915 M.; Trenton, NJ
    Can you tell me what they are – I can send a photo. They both have the emblem with a knight on horseback holding up a sword. Thank you!

    • These are likely member badges. ~1900 nearly every Lithuanian-American organization had such badges. Typically, one side would be colorful and meant to be worn regularly by the club members (at least when going on the organization’s activities), while the opposite side would be black and worn at the funerals of club members or other somber occasions.

      The translations of what is written in old Lithuanian language:
      Lithuanian Political Club, est. December 14th; [???], 1903; Trenton, NJ
      St. George Fellowship, est. February 1st, 1915; Trenton, NJ

      The knight is probably Vytis / Lithuanian coat of arms ( http://www.truelithuania.com/symbols-of-lithuania-anthem-flag-coat-of-arms-2569 ), or, if it is with a dragon, then it is St. George (Lithuanian patron saint). Fellowships named after saints were typically proto-churches; they would rent premises for Mass and may have eventually converted into parishes (and built their own church). There was no Lithuanian parish in Trenton but there was one in Camden, named after St. George.


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