The Clinton Catholic Church is rooted in the unholiest of holy wars, the Thirty Year War that ravaged Europe in the 1600s. In parts of the Germanic States over 70% of the population perished. The Lutheran Palatinate and Catholic Bavarian states were among the hardest hit.

For the rest of that century, many of the survivor families migrated northward toward Holland and England. By 1710, so many German refugees were living in England, that there was no work for them.

Robert Hunter, Queen Anne’s newly appointed governor of the New Jersey Colony, suggested the Germans be encouraged to emigrate to the colony desperately in need of farmers. Catholic Germans who had secretly tagged along with Lutheran kin were eager to emigrate, knowing that West New Jersey was run by Quakers who treated all religions equally — they would suffer no persecutions there. The first group sailed with the new governor and soon settled in a region named in his honor — Hunterdon.

It was difficult being a Catholic in Hunterdon. For 80 years, St. Joseph, in Quaker Philadelphia, was the only Catholic Church outside of Baltimore. Mass was celebrated in private homes on those occasions when a circuit–riding priest arrived — about once every five years.

Fr. Ferdinand Steinmyer, pastor of St. Joseph's from 1756 to 1786, rode circuit from Baltimore to New York City.  He stopped and visited the German Catholics of Clinton in 1785 — the only recorded visit by a priest prior to 1812.

In 1842, a Redemptorist from Bohemia (Czech Republic) was assigned to preach to German Catholics of Pennsylvania and West Jersey. He visited the Clinton Catholics several times. The priest, who served as Bishop of Philadelphia from 1852 to 1860, was St John Neumann.

Until 1854, Clinton Catholics — who were now calling themselves St. Mary’s Parish — were visited by priests from Trenton and Easton.  Mass was held in a parishioner’s barn.
French circuit priest, Fr. Jego (or Jegeau) became circuit priest for Hunterdon in 1854 when Bishop Bayley of the Diocese of New Jersey established St. John’s in Lambertville and appointed him pastor. Fr. Jego encouraged the 18 families of Clinton Catholics to organize themselves into a proper parish, which was accomplished in October of 1864.
By then, large numbers of Irish railroad workers had settled in High Bridge and Hampton, making these new communities official parishes before the older St. Mary’s.

Bishop Michael Corrigan visited in July 1878 to urge the Clinton and the High Bridge Catholics to build suitable houses of worship. He returned November 16, 1879 and blessed the cornerstones of both churches. The Clinton Catholics had re–dedicated their parish to Mary as the Immaculate Conception — such parish name shifts were common in the 19th Century. The Clinton church held about 80 people. But the parish was small.
St. Mary's ChurchThe bishop set the High Bridge church as the Mother church and Clinton as the Daughter, meaning the two would share one pastor stationed at the Mother church, the pattern until 1947. For most of the joint pastorate era, mass in Clinton was on the first and third Sundays at 9 AM. The remaining Sundays and most holy days, High Bridge was the center of Catholic worship.

Parishioners who had horses rode to church, others walked. The Halstead church was renovated in 1900 then remained unchanged for the duration of its existence. It also remained homey and rural with members doing most maintenance work and parish women making vestments, when needed, quilting–bee style.

In 1947, Trenton Bishop Griffin decided the time had come for Immaculate Conception to have its own pastor.

When Father Edward Morris became pastor in June, 1966, Bishop Ahr instructed him to acquire land to build a larger parish church.

A thrifty, scholarly and patient man, Fr. Morris waited until he found a chunk of land at a bargain basement price and snapped it up. There was a cinder block barn on the land. Telling his small flock “Our Lord had a fondness for barns — He chose to be born in one”, he asked them to help remodel the barn into a temporary church. With primarily parishioner volunteers, the remodeled barn served the parish for almost 30 years.
Fr. Vernon became pastor when Fr. Morris retired in 1990. Plans for a new building were drawn and ground was broken on Dec. 8, 1992. Sadly, Fr. Vernon died in an auto accident two weeks later.

Fr. Andy [Szaroleta] was appointed pastor and began the arduous task of seeing the church plans to completion. The new church was dedicated by Bishop Hughes of Metuchen on June 30, 1996.

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