A Brief History of St. Francis'
The roots of the St. Francis' parish family stretch back more than a century. The church, named in honor of St.Francis of Assisi, is a recent development brought about by the merger of St. Andrew’s Church, Plainfield and Holy Innocents Church, Dunellen, on November 9, 1980.
Episcopal services were first held in Dunellen in 1870, led by the Rev. Fox of Grace Church, Plainfield but the Church of the Holy Innocents was established by a devoted layman, Benjamin Smith. In 1872, Mr. Smith bought the Methodist Church building (built in 1866) at 400 New Market Road and donated it to the Diocese of New Jersey in memory of his deceased daughter. The beautiful stained glass window at the narthex entrance reflects his gift. Bishop Scarborough consecrated the building on October 6, 1881. In later years, the church added 2 parish halls, one in 1931 and the second in 1961. Its history includes periods of struggle, a time when the congregation reached full parish status (1958), and a time in the mid-seventies when it was almost closed.
St. Andrew’s Church began as The Church of the Heavenly Rest on February 9, 1879 when 10 people met in the home of Mr. Charles Lewis and resolved to establish a mission of in Enova, now part of Plainfield,. Bishop Scarborough consecrated the church building on April 12, 1883. Ten years later, the cornerstone of the parish hall was laid. In 1909, the Rev. Cortlandt Mallery began serving at the Church of the Heavenly Rest and on November 1920, when the congregation incorporated as St. Andrew’s Church, he became its first and longest-tenured Rector, serving until 1946. The window over the altar in the present St. Francis’ church building recognizes the devotion of the Mallery family.
On All Saints Day, 1979, Fr. Mark Chattin became Vicar of both St. Andrew's and Holy Innocents; this began a fully yoked relationship between the congregations and led to a merger resulting in St. Francis Church on November 9, 1980. A much stronger church has emerged from the merger of the two struggling churches and the congregation continued to grow.
The terms of the merger included a new name for the merged parishes and the erection of a new church building and rectory. The new church would include artifacts from both churches and yet provide a fully new identity as St. Francis church. The congregation sold the buildings and property of St. Andrew's in 1983 and used the money for the new building program.
The first phase of this project ended when a new vicarage was completed in 1984 adjacent to Holy Innocents Church in Dunellen. The new church complex was begun in 1989, with the first service there being held on Christmas Eve while the building was still under construction. On March 4, 1990, Bishop Belshaw consecrated the new St. Francis’ Church building.
From the late 1990’s through much of the first decade of the 21st century, there was frequent turnover of clergy. Solid lay leadership sustained St. Francis through this time. The Rev. Jack Zamboni was called as Vicar in 2008, and became St. Francis’ first Rector after the congregation was recognized as an Independent Parish of the Diocese of New Jersey by the Convention of the Diocese on March 2nd, 2013.
Today St. Francis' is a very active church community within our area and beyond. We serve Dunellen, Piscataway, Plainfield, South Plainfield, Middlesex and other surrounding areas. St. Francis' houses the Day Center for Fish Hospitality, a ministry to homeless families, and also hosts the Precious Gifts Day Care Center; AA meetings; and Country Line Dancers. We support community ministries such as Grace’s Kitchen, FISH and Fish Hospitality. By God’s grace, St. Francis is a vibrant entity within our Diocese and continues its rich heritage as we move into the future.