Perth Amboy, former colonial capital of New Jersey, is a four and a half square mile city with just over 50,000 residents. Although predominantly Protestant from its establishment, its Catholic population was established and grew according to the national identity and cultural heritage of each wave of immigration that came to its shores over the past 150 years. The faith of those immigrants is evidenced by the many church spires that even today tower over the homes and businesses of the city, providing an impressive sight that includes crosses atop twelve Catholic churches—nine Roman as well as three Greek Catholic—and three orthodox churches. However, the truth of the matter is that today, while Catholic churches find themselves two or three consolidated together as a parish served by one priest, and church attendance low, the listing of Protestant churches and worship centers within the city is well over forty.
The older members of the Catholic community of Perth Amboy recall a time when there were eight vibrant Catholic elementary schools as well as a Catholic high school in the city and how they marched together in an annual parade through town, carrying signs, flags, and banners—all showing a strong Catholic presence, while singing lyrics such as “Heads lifted high, Catholic Action our cry…” and “Faith of Our Fathers, living still…in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword.”
Likewise, many remember how the city stadium would be filled to capacity for the city-wide annual May Crowning and Living Rosary, jointly sponsored by the various sodalities of the Perth Amboy parishes. This public veneration of the Blessed Mother of God was often attended by non-Catholics as well. The recitation of decade after decade of the Hail Mary resounding over the loudspeakers and carrying out over many city blocks is a childhood memory that has all but faded. Local newspapers, both secular and religious, provided extensive coverage complete with photos that did justice to the solemnity of the event.
In order to foster a return to such public manifestations of Catholic action, Mrs. Melanie Fedynyshyn, President of St. Ann Society and members the St. Ann Society of Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Assumption organized sponsored an
Evening of Prayer to the Blessed Mother of God, inviting the Catholic women of the city to come together for the glory of God and to honor His Blessed Mother. The members of Rosary Altar Societies and Ladies Guilds of fourteen different parishes eagerly accepted the invitation to attend. Many of these Roman Catholic women had never even been in a Ukrainian Catholic Church before let alone attend a Moleben, but they followed in their booklets, prayed fervently, and sang along with the St. Ann Society. There were even a few Protestants in attendance who had asked to come. For them, it was a revelation of how Catholics venerate rather than worship Mary. This was underscored by Rev. Ivan Turyk, pastor of Assumption Church and spiritual advisor to St. Ann Society, who delivered the homily: Mary’s Place in Our Faith and in Our Lives. The Rosary was recited by all in attendance. Likewise, in a show of unity all sang Immaculate Mary, a hymn representative of the Latin tradition, as well as Always Protect Us, Dear Virgin Mary as the Ukrainian Marian hymn.
Following the prayerful component of the evening, the visitors were guests of St. Ann Society at their annual covered dish dinner in the parish hall, but there was more than just the joint breaking of bread. The coming together of Catholic women from neighboring parishes and the fellowship that followed reminded many of the Catholic presence once so dominant in Perth Amboy. Some commented on how they find strength and inspiration from each other when they come together in common prayer. There was felt a strong desire to “come together again”. It was especially edifying to witness Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic love for the Blessed Mother of God in such a unified manifestation, reflective of the Universality of the Church. The intent was to sponsor an evening of Marian Devotion that would provide nourishment for both body and soul, and it gave many food for thought.