St Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Jersey City, NJ (Exterior)

St Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Jersey City, New Jersey, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary of the Immaculate Conception
Location: Jersey City, New Jersey, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 16 July 2017, 8:00am

The building

A very large Romanesque church that is fitted tightly into a residential neighborhood. It dates from 1903 and was built by Italian and Irish immigrants to the area. The interior is bright and stately, with intricate tiles and stained glass windows, but the overall feel is one of comfortable coziness. Mrs Devote and I, in town for a quick holiday excursion over to New York, were trying to figure out where we would attend mass, and the church just seemed to appear when I looked out the window of our hotel.

The church

Their mission statement, quoting from their website, reads: "We the people of God, motivated by the Holy Spirit, desire to praise God in our everyday lives by dedicating ourselves to share our faith and our talents in service to one another; to grow as Christian brothers and sisters and to welcome all who want to join our community of faith." There are two Sunday masses, one in English and one in Spanish, plus the Saturday vigil mass in English. There is a single weekday mass that alternates between English and Spanish. They also have a First Saturday devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a holy hour after the Monday mass, and a Rite of Christian Initiation program for adults.

The neighborhood

Jersey City sits directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan. The area is a very diverse mix of immigrants, Jersey City natives, and newcomers who have arrived to take advantage of the more affordable housing stock and quick access via public transportation to lower Manhattan. This particular area of Jersey City used to be a very hardscrabble working class neighborhood, but it is now rapidly gentrifying. The street where the church is located contains simple row style homes within just a few blocks of high rises filled with expensive condos. It is one of the hottest housing markets for commuters who have been priced out of other places that have easy access to New York City.

The cast

The Revd Helber Victoria, pastor.
He was assisted by a cantor,
two unnamed lectors (one male and one female),
and an organist who remained unseen but could be heard.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Mass (English)

How full was the building?

About twenty per cent full. The congregation were very ethnically diverse, but primarily older. I did not see or hear any children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, comfortable enough. No padding (which is uncommon in Catholic churches anyway), but the kneelers were in good condition.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very quiet. The few people there were clearly at prayer.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Worship, a publication of Oregon Catholic Press.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, opus 988 of the venerable Aeolian-Skinner Organ Co. Very nice sounding.

Did anything distract you?

The woman lector who processed in with the priest wore very brightly colored pants of many colors.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The liturgy was quite nice – reverent, I thought. But the hymns were a little too heavy on the new style, although they were played well. The cantor had a nice voice with a slight Spanish accent and was restrained enough not to overpower the congregation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – The pastor is a native of Tarqui-Huila, Colombia. While having a very good command of the English language, he made a mild joke about using a slightly shorter version of the gospel because he was not sure he could "handle such complicated words so early in the morning." Nice sermon overall.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It focused on the parable from Matthew about the sower of the seeds and how we were all there in church this morning because someone planted the seeds of faith in us in good soil.
In addition, he spoke of how we could all be sowers.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The very last person to approach for communion indicated instead that he wanted to receive a blessing. He seemed to be a man whose life was hard and therefore appreciated the blessing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

One of the parishioners who brought up the gifts was an older gentleman wearing skin tight cutoff shorts. Not really appropriate, I thought.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

A second priest, who may have been the Revd Eustace Edomobi, the parochial vicar, had assisted with the distribution of communion and was inviting everyone to breakfast.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

We didn't stay, though, as Mrs Devote and I were keen on getting on to spending our day in New York.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – If I lived in the area, I would find this church to be quite edifying. Being a city kid, I like the multi-ethnic nature.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

How the church seemed magically to appear as I looked out the hotel window.

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