In the aftermath of seeing Newark’s Queen of Angels Church demolished in 2018, Francisca Osuji said she couldn’t bear the sight of the barren plot of land and avoided passing it for two years.
“That was my home,” said Osuji, whose four children were baptized there. “That was the place I could go to when things didn’t go right for me.”
But Osuji said that hearing news that the church’s stained-glass windows will soon find a home at another one of the city’s religious landmarks – South Park Presbyterian Church — brought her some consolation. “Knowing that some of the people can see and feel the joy that comes from those windows — maybe it will give me some peace that everything wasn’t destroyed,” Osuji said.
The South Park Presbyterian Church, the fire-wrecked cathedral across the street from Symphony Hall, plans to install the windows in their effort to renovate the building. The project has been in the works since 2008 and began with stabilizing its signature facade.
It reached a milestone last month when the city’s Landmark and Historic Preservation Commission approved architectural plans designed by Gensler to construct an apartment building behind the church’s restored facade. The church is owned by the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District, the same organization that runs the annual Lincoln Park Music Festival, and it will use the ground floor as its new headquarters.
Anthony Smith, the organization’s executive director, who sits on the city’s landmark and historic preservations commission, remembers the effort to rehome as many relics from Queen of Angels as possible. “We don’t take well to demolishing historic buildings,” Smith said. “We wanted to know what could be salvaged.”
Smith said the donation of the stained-glass windows was fitting because both churches were social justice-minded in their day. In addition to being the meeting place of 19th-century abolitionists, South Park Presbyterian Church, built in 1853, served as the hallowed grounds where by President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech. That single event in the city’s history gave the surrounding neighborhood its current name — Lincoln Park.
Queen of Angels, which was Newark’s first black Catholic church, also had a storied role in the fight for Civil Rights. “The church was integral in developing the March for Understanding, in which 25,000 citizens marched peacefully through the heart of the inner city,” said Maria Margiotta, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Newark. “For several decades, it was seen as a model of religious, social, and civil rights activism.”
South Park Church wasn’t the only institution to receive artifacts from Queen of Angels Church. The Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover received 14 Stations of the Cross statues, which were handcrafted in Austria about 200 years ago. The altarpiece ended up at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Marysville, KS. A Steinway piano was donated to NJIT. Light fixtures, pews, and more stained-glass windows, found their way to Seton Hall University.
Cecilia Faulks, who became a member of the Queen of Angels Church in 1967, said she attended a special ceremony at Seton Hall to honor the installation of the donated items. Faulks found “comfort” in knowing that many of the cathedral’s artifacts were relocated to other parishes.
“It’s heartbreaking, even to this day,” Faulks said. “But you have to move on, you can’t keep holding on to sadness.”
Queen of Angels might have been saved if not for an administrative error. The name of the street where the church was located — Irvine Turner Boulevard — used to be Belmont Avenue, so the building department didn’t realize the church had landmark status under the National Register. A demolition permit was issued and the rest is history.
The congregation found a temporary home at St. Augustine Church on Sussex Avenue. Then, when the archdiocese transferred Father James McConnell to Christ the King in Jersey City, the churchgoers splintered as many couldn’t make the Sunday trip across the Hackensack River. Those who remained in Newark joined Blessed Sacrament on Clinton Avenue or St. Ann’s on 16th Avenue, Faulks said.
“Even though we ended up at different churches, we will always be Queen of Angels,” Faulks said.