Last month's feature was dedicated to Patrick Keely's work in New Jersey, so it is fitting that this month we consider Keely's only important rival in New Jersey, Jeremiah Rourke. The last half of Brian Regan's tale (Gothic Pride) of the planning and building of Newark's Cathedral of the Sacred Heart reads almost like a novel, but it might legitimately be regarded as a biography of one of the state's most accomplished architects, Jeremiah O'Rourke. O’Rourke was born in Ireland in 1833 and trained at Dublin’s School of Design before immigrating to the U.S., where he settled in Newark about 1850. He worked for 9 years as a draftsman, drawing plans for a local builder, until opening his own office in 1859. He designed his first church in the early 1860s. He and St. Patrick's Pro-Cathedral priest, Rev. Georhe H. Doane, were in sympathy in their aim to erect a magnificent Gothic cathedral in Newark, and in 1870 they made an extensive tour of French, English and other continental abbeys and cathedrals. They made it a point to get acquainted with English architects whose work they admired and with suppliers of stained glass and other architectural elements. Doane's previous study in England opened many doors for them, and it appears they used their time well when later it came to specifying materials and working out solutions to some of the design issues for a project of this enormity.
In 1885 O’Rourke was appointed by President Cleveland as the Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury, responsible for the design of all federal buildings. During his tenure he personally designed several, including post offices in Buffalo, NY, Erie, Pennsylvania, Roanoke, Virginia, and Kansas City, Missouri. According to Regan O’Rourke's tenure there was not a happy one, as he clashed with the Office's staff and alienated many of his fellow members in the American Institute of Architects by keeping much of the government work in-house instead of engaging outside architects as the AIA had advocated. O'Rourke designed the very large Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City, as well as the home church of the Paulist Fathers, also in that city. He was the initial architect involved in the design of Newark’s Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, although two others would serve in that capacity before the building was completed in 1954. His last years saw him engaged in acrimonious exchanges with the contractor for the cathedral, who he accused of substituting inferior stone contrary to specifications, and other construction flaws that resulted in reworking some portions of the building. He crossed the Newark's Vicar General (second only to the Bishop), too, which was a serious mistake, as O'Rourke was removed from the project for that offense. As I said, it reads like a novel.
O’Rourke was responsible for more churches in New Jersey than any other architect, as far as I can discover. Here's the list I have compiled, but I suspect it is incomplete. Wharton, St. Mary’s Church • Newark, Cathedral of the Sacred Heart • Newark, St. Joseph’s Church • Newark, St. Michael’s • Newark, St. Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral (renovation) • Camden, Church of the Immaculate Conception • Orange, St. John the Evangelist • Rahway, St. Mary’s • Plainfield, St. Mary’s (above)• Jersey City, St. Lucy’s • Bloomfield, Sacred Heart • Boonton, Mt. Carmel • Bound Brook, St. Joseph'sl • Paterson, St. Joseph’s • Monmouth Beach, Church of the Precious Blood • Harrison, Church of the Holy Cross (left).
Like most nineteenth century architects, his work borrowed freely from other buildings, not only from historical antecedents in Europe. He was responsible for at least two churches that are clearly derivative of Philadelphia's St. James the Less—Mt. Carmel in Boonton and (I believe) St. Joseph's in Bound Brook. Another set of "twins" can be seen in St. Lucy's in Jersey City and Bloomfield's Church of the Sacred Heart. St. John the Evangelist in Orange was one O'Rourke said he regard as among his best, although the financial mismanagement by the priest there was a source of embarrassment for years, and Regan tells us something of an impediment to the fund-raising efforts for the cathedral. St. Joseph's church in Paterson became the Cathedral of St. Joseph when that city became the seat of a Diocese, and his Immaculate Conception church in Camden was later designated a cathedral. The Church of the Holy Cross in Harrison bears some resemblance to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, with its (almost) twin towers, although on a much smaller scale. In a tribute to O'Rourke, there is a stained glass window portrait of him in Wharton's St. Mary's, although it ostensibly portrays the prophet Jeremiah.
O'Rourke died in 1913 and was the subject of a front page obituary in the New York Times.
My newest book: I began work on the churches of Morris County about five years ago and was close to publication then except I was always finding something I wanted to tweak. I'm done tweaking now. There were 104 churches and meetinghouses erected before 1900 that survive in the county, and all are included here. It is not unusual to find that the later churches are larger and more lavish than earlier ones, but it struck me how the steeples became taller, too. Much taller, as though that was a means of saying "mine's bigger than yours." That suggested a title, of course, and there was a surprising amount of data to support the idea that church-building was one of the ways that congregations competed for members, as well as for prestige and social standing in the community.
Coming up next: By the end of May I expect to release A Might Architectural Shout: The Development of Religious Architecture in Essex County, a book I've been working on for almost seven years (not steadily, of course). It treats the 109 remaining churches and one surviving synagogue in the county in a series of two- and four-page spreads, but the real subject is the social, liturgical and cultural forces that shaped the churchscape. I deal with the major factors—immigration, pluralism, urbanization and industrialization and the wealth accumulation it produced, and how those factors are reflected in the plan and design of the religious architecture of the county.