Church of the Ascension – Bradley Beach
Bradley Beach, founded by James J. Bradley, was incorporated as a Borough on March 28, 1893, and was given its name by its founder. Catholic residents in the Borough attended Holy Spirit Church, located in Asbury Park, under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Trenton. The Catholic population continued to increase over the years and, in 1907, Bishop James A. McFaul instructed Fr. Thomas A. Roache, the pastor of Holy Spirit Church, to form a mission in Bradley Beach. The new mission encompassed all of Bradley Beach in addition to parts of Neptune Township and Neptune City. This new mission formed the foundation for Ascension Church.
The plans for the Church of the Ascension were drawn up in 1909 by George I. Lovatt, an architect from Philadelphia. The architecture is early English-Gothic. The altars were obtained from Italy, while the windows were purchased from Munich, Germany. A contract was signed by J.W. McShane and Fr. John J. O’Hara in Lawyer Carton’s office in Asbury Park. Lawyer Carton served as witness to the signing, which amounted to $20,000 in costs.
On August 2, 1909, Bishop McFaul appointed Fr. John J. O’Hara as the first resident Pastor of the Church of the Ascension. Initially, Fr. O’Hara celebrated Mass in the Bradley Beach Casino on the boardwalk during the summer and in the Bradley Beach Grammar School in the winter. The Parish boasted one 150 parishioners at its beginning.
History indicates that Mr. James Bradley donated property for each church in his borough. In compliance with the only stipulation made by Mr. Bradley, the Church if the Ascension was built adjacent to the Bradley Beach Grammar School. The Rectory was built on the corner of the selected property, currently located at Fletcher Lake Drive and Brinley Avenue. The cornerstone of the church was laid on July 10, 1910 by the Vicar General of the Diocese of Trenton, Msgr. John H. Fox, who was also Rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Trenton. The Church was later dedicated by Bishop McFaul on June 25, 1911. At that time, four Sunday Masses were celebrated in the summer and only two on Sundays in the winter.
In 1913, the Rectory, built to harmonize with the Church in both material and architecture, was completed at a cost of $11,200. George I. Lovatt was once again the architect, and William Wrifford of Camden, NJ was the contractor. With the completion of the Rectory, Fr. O’Hara left behind his former residence at 318 Fifth Avenue in Bradley Beach.
In 1915, the basement of the Church was renovated as a Recreation Hall, with volunteers doing most of the labor. In 1943, this Recreation Hall was converted into a chapel to accommodate the growing number of people attending Mass, especially during the summer. However, this eliminated most of the social and recreational activities in the parish. In 1961, plans were made to build a Parish Center which would be available for all social and athletic activities of the parish. The cornerstone of the Ascension Parish Center was laid on August 15, 1963 by the Most Rev. George W. Ahr, Bishop of Trenton. Fr. O’Hara, by then a monsignor, his curate Fr. Garry, and trustees John Timcoe and Albert Sarada participated in the ground-breaking ceremony. Msgr. O’Hara was by then still pastor of Ascension Parish, assisted by Fr. Samuel Constance. The Center was to be a two-story building to serve many purposes:
• The lower level was to consist of a cafeteria-style room with a commercial kitchen. This has been used for parish gatherings and dinners, and at one time was used as a bingo hall.
• The lower level was also used for parish CCD classes and CYO meetings. On occasion, it was leased to the Bradley Beach Board of Education for use as a kindergarten.
• The second level was designed as a full-size gymnasium with stage. This area was not just for sporting activities, but has also been used for plays and parish socials.
On November 8, 1967, the Church of the Ascension was gutted by a horrible fire. For three hours, volunteers helplessly battled the flames. Onlookers wept as smoke poured from every window and door. Many recalled Msgr. O’Hara refusing to leave the Rectory even as it was being enveloped by thick smoke. By Noon, the interior of the once beautiful church became a charred and twisted rubble of ruin. The following day’s Asbury Park Press edition quoted Msgr. O’Hara as simply saying, “I will restore it.” All religious services were held in the Parish Center, and many area churches offered their facilities as well. With great care and planning, the Church of the Ascension was fully restored in eighteen months. The first liturgical celebration in the newly renovated church was the Sacrament of Confirmation administered on April 23, 1969.
In 1972, Msgr. O’Hara retired at the age of 92, having served more than 60 years as the parish’s pastor. He still resided, however, in the Rectory as Pastor Emeritus until his death nine months later on November 12, 1972. He was succeeded by Fr. Samuel Constance, who continued Msgr. O’Hara’s ministry of fostering a strong parish life and continuing the implementation of Vatican II changes with both gentleness and inspiration. Fr. Constance also began making badly-needed improvements almost immediately:
• April 1972: Air-conditioning was installed in the Parish Center
• January 1973: Air-conditioning was installed in the church
• April 1974: Fire and burglar alarms were installed in the church and Rectory
• June 1975: A ramp was built on the west side of the church making a side entrance to the church and chapel
• October 1977: the Sanctuary of the church was renovated.
In addition to being full-time pastor of Ascension Parish, Fr. Constance served as a member of the Priests’ Senate for Monmouth County for three years. He served as Moderator of the Monmouth County Federation of Holy Name Societies and as Chaplain to the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Court Ascension. He was also Chaplain to the Bradley Beach Independent Fire Company for almost seventeen years. During the dreadful fire at the Brinley Inn, Fr. Constance spent most of the night at the scene, comforting survivors and blessing those who had died. Through his guidance and boundless energy, the Ascension Parish flourished both as a community as well as spiritually over the years.
In addition to Msgr. O’Hara and Fr. Constance, other pastors of Ascension Church have been:
• Fr. Michael Vona
• Msgr. James J. Brady
• Fr. David Hillier
• Fr. Jerome M. Nolan
Two administrators have also served Ascension Church for short periods of time as well:
• Fr. Daniel Smith
• Fr. Robert Connors
At a more recent date in the history of Ascension Church, the chapel underneath the church once again resumed its former role as a site for social gatherings for the parishioners of the local Catholic community. The space was re-dedicated as Msgr. O’Hara Hall and now witnesses Parish functions ranging from social gatherings to organizational meetings.
St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church – Avon by the Sea
St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church received its charter on September 18, 1907, the 700th anniversary of the birth of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Fr. William J. McConnell, of St. Rose, Belmar, proposed that a mission church be established in Avon by the Sea and he received the approval of the Most Rev. James A. McFaul, Bishop of Trenton. The Church, located on property donated by Edward Batchelor, Avon’s founder, was completed on August 15, 1908, the Feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Lady. Under Msgr. McConnell the Church flourished. Early statistics indicated there were 150 members of the church (most of whom lived in Neptune City) and 350 summer visitors. In the late 1920s, the Avon mission was placed under the direction of Fr. John J. O’Hara of the Church of the Ascension in Bradley Beach.
In 1930, the first resident Pastor was appointed, Fr. Thomas F. Hennessy. He built the St. Elizabeth Rectory (now serving as the residence for the Pastor of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish). The Great Depression engulfed the Parish, which had incurred a debt for the construction of the Rectory. When Fr. Hennessy became ill and was transferred to St. Joseph Church in Washington, NJ, Msgr. O’Hara of Ascension Church, Bradley Beach resumed administration over St. Elizabeth Church and, for a short period of time, Masses were held only in the summer.
When the Parish regained financial stability and the number of parishioners increased, Masses were resumed on a year-round basis. On June 7, 1936, the Most Rev. Moses E. Kiley, Bishop of Trenton, appointed Fr. Leo Dineen as Pastor. At his untimely death in February 1940, Fr. Edward McAndrews was appointed Temporary Administrator. In September 1941, Bishop William A. Griffin appointed Fr. Joseph A. Mulligan as Pastor. Father Mulligan, later honored with the rank of monsignor, served with distinction for 32 years. Msgr. Mulligan’s death in 1972 was mourned by all who knew him.
Fr. John W. McMullin was appointed Pastor by the Bishop George Ahr following Msgr. Mulligan’s death. He implemented renovations recommended by Vatican II, including the removal of the church’s traditional wall altar with reredos for a new free-standing altar. He dedicated the Parish Hall located under the Rectory to Msgr. Mulligan.
Fr. McMullin died on May 18, 1979 and Fr. Joseph A. Radomski, was appointed Pastor by Bishop Ahr on July 5, 1979. On August 22, 1986, a raging fire destroyed most of St. Elizabeth Church. From the ashes of that tragic fire, “Fr. Joe” rebuilt and restored not only the original church but also has added an addition with seating for another 200 people. Since the addition was rebuilt during the Marian Year, all the stained glass windows were dedicated to the Blessed Mother. Lavatories and a meeting room were built below the addition, which was dedicated as Fr. McMullin Hall.
Father Joe Radomski retired in February 2006, and in May of 2006, Bishop Smith appointed Father William Lago as Temporary Administrator. Fr. Lago was succeeded by Fr. Joseph Mokrzycki, who, after 2 ½ years as Pastor, passed away on January 25, 2010. Fr. Daniel Gowen was installed as Pastor on August 22, 2010. After several years at St. Elizabeth’s, Fr. Gowen was succeeded by Fr. Dean A. Gaudio, who became the Administrator on July 1, 2014 and the Pastor by January 2015.
A New Parish, A New Era – The Parish of St. Teresa of Calcutta
On July 1st, 2018, upon the retirement of the last Pastor of Ascension Church, Fr. Jerome Nolan, the church communities of the Church of the Ascension, Bradley Beach, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, Avon by the Sea, officially united as one new Parish of St. Teresa of Calcutta. Fr. Dean A. Gaudio, formerly the Pastor at St. Elizabeth Church, Avon, became the first Pastor of this new Parish community. Celebrating the union of our two churches, an Inaugural Mass and Celebration was held at the Church of the Ascension on July 1, 2018; members of both communities as well as representatives of St. Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity were present to pray for and celebrate the reimagined Catholic presence in our corner of New Jersey.
The rich history of both church communities that are now united as the Parish of St. Teresa of Calcutta is and always has been made up of countless families and individual parishioners who have helped to create the wonderful church communities in our Parish. Inspired by the lessons, hardships, and triumphs of the past, the parishioners of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish look forward to a bright new future as we walk hand in hand, united in Christ, doing the Lord’s good work across the Jersey Shore and beyond.