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St. Matthias, located in the Somerset section of Franklin Township, New Jersey, is a relatively young parish, tracing its history to only 1962. It was founded when the population of Somerset grew too large to be accommodated by nearby parishes.
The area to become Franklin Township was settled by the Dutch who recognized the potential of the fertile farmland nearly 300 years ago. St. Peter’s Parish, in nearby New Brunswick, was established in 1829 to meet the needs of the growing Catholic population and served the area well for many years.
The area’s population boomed in 1840 when hundreds of workers arrived to build the canal, which was to run through the New Brunswick area. Coming from various parts of Europe, those workers and their families represented diverse ethnic origins and religious backgrounds. The canal and the company that built it changed the face of the countryside by bringing in many industries and the people needed to support them.
By 1880, the Catholic population had increased significantly, so that the necessity of establishing a Catholic parish in Franklin Township became evident. Accordingly, the first Catholic parish in the township, St. Joseph's, was established in the East Millstone section in 1883. More Catholic churches were built over the years as the growth of the population in nearby towns warranted. St. Peter’s Church in New Brunswick, the oldest, became the largest parish in the area, with residents of Franklin Township attending Mass and receiving sacraments in that parish church.
Throughout the 20th century, St. Peter’s continued to grow. It had reached such a size that on June 8, 1962, the most Rev. George W. Ahr, Bishop of Trenton, circumscribed a section of the parish and established the parish of St. Matthias within it, naming Father William McKenna the first pastor.
Our patron, Saint Matthias knew Jesus in His public ministry and worked tirelessly for the Faith. St. Matthias replaced Judas, the apostle turned traitor through an election by the eleven other apostles. He was put to death for his preaching about Christ after converting many to Christianity.
First Masses at Hillcrest School
Because no church building existed, the first two Masses of St. Matthias parish were celebrated at Hillcrest School on June 17, 1962, with Henry Haase and Cullen Smith assisting Father McKenna as altar servers. As Sunday Masses at the school were overcrowded, it was deemed necessary to change the temporary place of worship. Beginning on July 1, three Masses were celebrated each Sunday in the auditorium of Franklin High School. Assisting Father McKenna were Fathers James Sadowsky, S.J. and Leo Hombach, S.J., both of Fordham University in the Bronx, NY.
The first recorded Baptisms in the parish were those of Cynthia Lynn Bacon, Patricia Ann Downey, Laura Doyle and Lisa Schillen, who were baptized by Fr. McKenna on July 8, 1962. Baptisms were held after Sunday Masses at the high school. All the rites of passage in the parish were finally recorded with the first funeral, which was that of Alphonse Pino on July 28, held at St. Peter’s.
The church and grade school buildings were constructed in 1964 and opened for use in 1965. The early staff comprised Sister Mary Janice, R.S.M. principal, and eight faculty members -- four Sisters of Mercy and four lay teachers.
Thirty years later— in 1996 -- an addition to house Pre-K and kindergarten classes along with a state-of-the art library and a parish meeting room were added to serve the 2700 families enrolled at St. Matthias. The new facility was dedicated on November 2, 1996. Presiding at the ceremony was the Most Rev. Vincent De Paul Breen, bishop of Metuchen, the diocese in which St. Matthias parish is a part.
Since its founding in 1962, The Catholic Community of St. Matthias has grown in population and in services. As of October 2003, the parish comprises approximately 3000 households and offers more than 60 ministries through which parishioners can contribute their time, talent and treasure as well as gain personal spirituality and general enrichment.
Below are some facts about this energetic parish
* The first class was graduated from St. Matthias School (SMS) in 1970
* A member of the class of ’73 – Joseph Celano – was ordained in 1997 and is now pastor at St. Bernard’s Church in Bridgewater, NJ.
* Lay Eucharistic ministers began serving in 1975
* The popular spring carnival has been held for every year since 1987.
* SMS received Middle States Accreditation in 1991
* The rectory was converted to parish offices in 1994
* The annual picnic was first held in 1997
* A Technology Trot has been held annually since 1998 to raise money for the technology development of SMS
* During Hurricane Floyd in 1999, St. Matthias served as an evacuation site
* SMS was named National School of Excellence and received the Blue Ribbon Award in 2001
* The library was renamed the John M. Collins memorial Library in 2001 to commemorate John Collins, a graduate of SMS and a New York City firefighter who died during the 9/11 attack on New York
* St. Matthias was the 2002 recipient of The Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy Memorial Parish Stewardship Award
* Parishioners show their generosity by donating food to the Franklin Food Bank on the first Sunday of each month
* The first St. Matthias parish directory was published in 2002 – the 40th anniversary of the community
* An annual golf tournament is held each fall to benefit SMS
* As of 2004, the parish has two new deacons — Russ Demkovitz and Helmut Wittreich; joining Deacon Steve Holzinger '94, Deacon John Radvanski '98 and Deacon Ron Caimi '98