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Church program to cover origins, history, opposition


The Rev. Leonard Rusay, appointed in 2003 and the 10th pastor to serve at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, has announced that as a prelude to the parish’s upcoming 100th anniversary celebration in 2023, the church will host a program at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 15, detailing the origins and history of the church and surrounding communities.

Local historian and author Stephanie B. Stevens will be the main speaker in a Q&A formatted session moderated by Charles Paolino, a deacon of the parish.

Historical topics will include the arrival of the first Polish settlers early in the 20th century, the growth of a community with shared cultural and religious ideals, the rigours of life in a largely undeveloped area, and the founding of the parish in 1923—an event that some did not welcome.

At the time, Catholics were often the victims of discrimination and bigotry. This small parish was no exception. Many stories have been told of cross burnings initiated by local Ku Klux Klan members in a field across from the little church, intended to terrorize the young Catholic community. Yet the church survived, and the parish today now has approximately 1,600 families.

Stevens is a local historian, author, lecturer, and retired educator. She served on the Hunterdon County Cultural and Heritage Commission for many years, and as chair, initiated numerous new projects. Her books include topics of local interest including slavery in Hunterdon County, the forgotten mills of Hunterdon County, the history of Readington Township, the Polish community of Whitehouse Station, and the history of Round Valley. She founded the Readington Township Museums and served as mayor of Readington Township. She is a former member of the Governor’s Task Force on New Jersey History and in 1999, the state legislature recognized her as a “NJ Woman of Distinction.”

Paolino worked for over 40 years as a newspaper journalist in central New Jersey and is now managing editor at Renew International, a nonprofit Catholic organization that focuses on parish renewal.

The church is located at 390 County Road 523 in Whitehouse Station, N.J. The event is free and open to the public.