The Orthodox parish of Bayonne celebrates its 100th anniversary

On October 23, Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding. The church at 28th Street and Boulevard Kennedy has been a mainstay of the city of Bayonne and a mainstay of the community for 100 years.

A group of Carpatho-Russian immigrants from Hungary in Bayonne organized in 1918, gaining the approval of Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky, of the Russian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America and the Aleutian Islands, to found the parish of Saints Peter and Paul.

These immigrants formed the Carpatho-Russian American Citizens Club in 1919. Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church was later incorporated by the state of New Jersey on December 22, 1922.

Soon after, a house was purchased on West 27th Street and two West 28th Street lots in Bayonne. According to Rector Most Reverend Wilfred Sophrony Royer, construction of the original church began in January 1923 and was completed in September 1924.

The construction of a new building began in 1936, on the site of the old church. The church was completed in stages and finished in May 1938, and it still stands in the same location today.

A History of Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church

As the only structure of Russian-Byzantine architecture in Bayonne, the church has become a local landmark. In the years that followed, improvements such as new bells, a chandelier, iconography on the walls and stained glass windows were added to the church.

Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church as it stands today was built in 1938. Photo courtesy of the church.

Two houses on the corner of 28th Street and Kennedy Boulevard were purchased in November 1955 and demolished in 1957, making way for the church parking lot. The house adjacent to the church was purchased in 1964, which was then demolished, and a new parsonage was built in 1980. Other improvements to the church included: painted wall icons for the church, new sidewalks, a new fence, new pews, air conditioning, wooden floors, red carpeting, gilding of domes and other renovations to the interior and exterior of the church.

In its 100-year history, Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church has been served by thirteen parish priests and had twenty-seven parish council presidents. The Bayonne Community News visited the historic church to interview the current parish priest, Royer.

Royer is not only a local religious leader, but a professor of philosophy at Saint-Pierre University. Since August, Royer has been a priest at Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church for nine years.

“It is certainly a historic occasion,” Royer said of the parish’s centenary.

Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church is located on West 28th Street in Bayonne. Photo courtesy of the church.

The difference between a parish and a church is simple, he says: “I guess the terms are interchangeable, but a parish specifically refers to a local community. The word church could either be in local communities like this or refer to the church worldwide.

The church has a rich local Orthodox history

“They built this church on top of the original,” Royer said. He noted the historical character of the building and highlighted the Russian-Byzantine architecture.

The screen of icons, or iconostas, in the church come from the former Saint Plato Orthodox Theological Seminary of Tenafly. The seminary was the largest in the Western Hemisphere until it closed in 1922, and Saints Peter and Paul Church inherited its icon screen when it opened.

“Our icon screen is the icon screen for this seminary chapel,” Royer said. “That’s why if you look at the door on the screen, it’s Saint Plato… We started the same year the seminary closed. Tenafly is not very far from Bayonne. So he was brought here.

The interior of Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church is just as historic as the exterior, lined with spiritual golden murals. Photo by Daniel Israel.

In congregational terms, while other denominations may dwindle locally, this Orthodox church is growing stronger, Royer said.

“We get a lot of people coming through the doors,” Royer said. “That doesn’t mean they’re staying.”

The parish diversified at the same time as Bayonne.

“In many older parishes, the congregations were mostly born in the United States,” Royer said. “The parish is now multi-ethnic. I think about a fifth of our membership is of Middle Eastern descent, due to local demographics.

The congregation strengthens in 2022

While some Catholic parishes have consolidated in Bayonne in recent years due to dwindling attendance in the Archdiocese of Newark, Royer said the Diocese of New York and New Jersey is heavily invested in maintaining the opening of Orthodox churches. The demography of the faithful is changing in Bayonne, but the Orthodox Church of Saints Peter and Paul remains strong.

Despite the difficulties of COVID-19, among other challenges, Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church maintains a reliable congregation. Photo by Daniel Israel.

“Our diocese and our Archbishop Michael Dahulich, and the same goes for other dioceses, are trying to keep parishes open as long as possible,” Royer said. “It’s only when they get to a point where they can’t support themselves or they end up closing a parish. Even before they do, if they cannot support a resident priest, they will keep the parish open as long as possible by sending in diocesan substitute clergy.

Royer continued: “This means that a church may not have a priest every Sunday. This depends on the availability of alternate clergy in our diocese. In the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, it’s pretty rare right now. We have retired priests, but some of them are not ready to travel. We are roughly able to fill vacancies in parishes, but when it comes to finding supply or substitute priests, there aren’t that many.

Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church has done surprisingly well amid the COVID-19 pandemic, recording its first infection among congregation members this year alone, Royer said. Things were rough at first, but have largely normalized now.

Detailed stained glass adorns the Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church. Photo by Daniel Israel.

Not discouraged by the COVID-19 pandemic

“For the first three or four months, the church was not open to the public,” Royer said of 2020, noting that he held special services himself. Eventually, the state allowed churches to reopen with limited capacity, and Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church was one of them.

“The first Sunday we opened to the public in 2020 turned out to be Orthodox Pentecost,” Royer said. “We had to follow state rules about limiting the percentage of people, it was 25% of seating capacity. We put tape on all the other pews and asked people to stand at opposite ends. I limited myself to the choir loft to the choirmaster and his family.

Over time, the restrictions began to affect the church less, Royer said.

The altar of Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church is behind what is called an icon screen. Photo by Daniel Israel.

“Whereas we could have 50% of the seats, to the point where it would be almost the size of the whole congregation if they all came at once,” Royer said. “So we didn’t really have to worry about that. But we also had diocesan rules.

Things are “mostly” back to normal, “more or less,” Royer said in 2022. “I still have a few people who wear masks during church. Hudson County was a hotbed of COVID-19, but we had no cases in this congregation until January of this year. This is because we followed the diocesan rules to the letter, and they were quite strict.

In anticipation of the centenary celebration

The parish has five affiliated organizations: the Ladies Guild, the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Sisterhood, the Carpatho-Russian American Citizens Club, the Bayonne Alpha Chapter of the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America, and Lodge #100 of the Russian Brotherhood Organization of the United States These organizations not only served the church, but were also involved in community affairs, Royer said.

Famous for its Russo-Byzantine architecture, Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church is a local landmark. Photo by Daniel Israel.

According to Royer, many notable people hail from this parish, including clergy, community leaders, and business leaders, as well as Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Nicholas Oresko, the namesake of Nicholas Oresko Community School and Golden Globe Award-winning actress Sandra Dee. , born Alexandra Zuck.

Having been to several parishes in the past, Royer said this was the first 100th anniversary he was celebrating. He has always been involved in planning celebrations for these parishes and has been involved in planning upcoming events for Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church.

“We have an anniversary committee,” Royer said. “The person who did it was our recording secretary Marge Kovach.”

Reverend Royer has been a priest at Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church for nine years. Photo by Daniel Israel.

A Hierarchical Divine Liturgy will be served on October 23 at 9:30 a.m. by the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, Most Blessed Metropolitan Tikhon Mollard, Archbishop Michael Dahulich of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, and Royer. A centennial banquet is held at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bayonne from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. that day.

Additional information about the parish and its anniversary celebration can be found on the parish website at

For updates on this story and others, visit and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at [email protected]

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