Queen of Angels parishioners in Newark say goodbye to barren church

By Barry Carter/Star-Ledger
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on July 08, 2014

Tony Brice, who grew up in the church as a child, pulls out a candle holder display to be salvaged. He compared going to the church now like going to a funeral. Queen of Angels Parish, the first African-America n Catholic Church in Newark, closed two years ago because it couldn't survive declining membership. It leaves behind a glorious past as the beacon on the hill on Irvine Turner Boulevard.


NEWARK — The stained glass windows are gone. The pews have long been removed as well.

Queen of Angels Parish, the first African-American Catholic church in Newark, sits barren, waiting for the wrecking ball.

It will happen later this week, according to the Archdiocese of Newark, or maybe next week for the sanctuary known as the beacon on the hill on Irvine Turner Boulevard.

Faithful members who believed the church was going to be demolished Monday gathered to pray here one last time.

"My heart is so broken," said Stephanie Treadwell. "This is like we’re homeless."

The church, a victim of declining membership, was closed two years ago by the Archdiocese of Newark. Church members scattered to other parishes looking to rekindle Queen of Angels’ spirited style of worship, which made it stand out among Catholic churches in Newark.

That feeling was there Monday, raw and emotional, wrapped in decades of memories from members who worshiped there for decades, some for 70 years.

Several stood in the shade on the side of the sanctuary, singing and giving praise with their brothers and sisters who walked around inside.

It didn’t matter that they were surrounded by debris or that the altar was gone, that the walls were cracked and had holes. A wooden crucifix remained and stood alongside a total of 50 former Queen of Angels members and friends, some of whom now attend Christ the King Catholic Church in Jersey City.

Inside, they milled about looking around, digesting the inevitable.

It’s so sad to see it go," said Loretta Lindsey.

She was married here. She and her sister went to school here. Lindsey’s kids did, too.

There were stories like this, personal testimonies and tears cradled with encouragement.

Miles Callender was doing fine until Treadwell started singing. He broke down, flicking away the stream of emotion.

It came back moments later with his voice cracking. During his drug addiction years, Callender said, the church and Father James McConnell stood by him unconditionally.

"Everybody in here literally helped saved my life," he said.

"No matter how many times I knocked on the door of the rectory, throwing up sick and lying to Father James … he loved me until I learned to love myself."

Callender said he’s been clean five years and is working on a master’s degree.

The gathering was just like last year when they toured the place to say goodbye. This time, though, it was farewell for good, and they were having church again like they used to back in the day.

"They can tear the church, but they can’t take away the heart, they can’t take away the spirit, and they can’t take away what we have," McConnell said. "We know what we have. We have the power of the living and true God.

And steeped in that spirituality is a rich history they have not forgotten.

The actual church was originally built by German Catholics in 1861 and was known as St. Peter’s. The Queen of Angels actually started out on Academy Street in 1930 and stayed there until a fire destroyed the building in 1958.

It wound up at St. Peter’s when the German parish invited them to worship. By 1962, the German parishioners had moved to Irvington and Queen of Angels took over and occupied the space for good. In its time, the church became a force in the community, getting involved in the civil rights movement and attracting activists and entertainers.

Martin Luther King Jr. visited and meetings for his Poor People’s Campaign were held at the church. When he was killed, 25,000 people walked through the Central Ward calling for racial harmony.

Queen of Angels helped organize the march.

It did the kinds of things to sustain a neighborhood, that brings families together. There were dances and community theater, bake sales, fish fries and bingo. Everybody knew one another. Everybody was family, even if you weren’t related. Generations were baptized, received communion and went to the church’s school,

"When someone had a problem, we were all there," said Vivian Gayle. "If somebody fell, we were there to pick them up."

They had some grand times at Queen of Angels, but McConnell said the building is just a building.

"We are a church without walls," McConnell said. "The only way we can do that now is to leave this place."

It was a simple benediction, yet fitting.

They filed out of the church, singing as they always do.

"Can’t nobody, do me like Jesus. Can’t nobody do me like the lord. He’s my friend."

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