A Church So Poor It Has to Close Schools, Yet So Rich It Can Build a Palace
KEARNY, N.J. — Mater Dei Academy sits shuttered, blue drapes pulled across its windows, atop a hill in this working-class city. From its steps, you can peer across the mist-shrouded expanse of the Meadowlands to the distant spires of Manhattan.
For generations, this blond brick Catholic elementary school tossed a lifeline to the immigrants who, wave upon wave, washed ashore here. The Archdiocese of Newark closed it two years ago. Church officials offered deep regrets; the church’s wallet is thin to the touch these days.
“It was a loved place, that school,” said Dorothy Gawronski, a crossing guard holding a red “Stop” sign. “But the church, I don’t think it’s rich anymore.”
All of which brings me along a winding and narrow road that switches back and forth across the wooded Capoolong Creek to a splendid 8.5-acre spread in the hamlet of Pittstown. This is rural and rather affluent Hunterdon County, 49 miles from Mater Dei.
John J. Myers, the archbishop of the Newark Archdiocese, comes to this vacation home on many weekends. The 4,500-square-foot home has a handsome amoeba-shaped swimming pool out back. And as he’s 72, and retirement beckons in two years, he has renovations in mind. A small army of workers are framing a 3,000-square-foot addition.
This new wing will have an indoor exercise pool, three fireplaces and an elevator. The Star-Ledger of Newark has noted that the half-million-dollar tab for this wing does not include architects’ fees or furnishings.
There’s no need to fear for the archbishop’s bank account. The Newark Archdiocese is picking up the bill.