Father Gabriel Zeis, chaplain in the Aquinas Institute, Princeton, holds a photo of Bishop James A. McFaul (1894-1917) that will be featured in the exhibit.
Father Gabriel Zeis, chaplain in the Aquinas Institute, Princeton, holds a photo of Bishop James A. McFaul (1894-1917) that will be featured in the exhibit.

By Mary Morrell | Contributing Editor

John Baptist Satori was the founder of the first pasta-making factory in the United States. Why is this of interest to Catholics?

Because Satori, born in Rome as the son of the Pope’s jeweler, is also considered by historians as the father of the Diocese of Trenton and the builder, along with his friend, French commercial sea Captain John Hargous, of the first Catholic church in New Jersey – St. John the Baptist at the corner of Market and Lamberton Streets, Trenton.

Satori’s colorful and important history is but a small part of the upcoming exhibit, “The Diocese of Trenton: This is Our Story,” on display beginning Nov. 10 and running through Dec. 7 in The Aquinas Institute, 24 Charlton St, Princeton.

“This will be the third exhibit offered at the Institute,” said Father Gabriel Zeis, member of the third order regular of St. Francis, chaplain in the Institute and diocesan vicar for Catholic education.

“The first was in 2016, ‘The Printed Word: Faith Aspirations of a Young Nation;’ the second in 2017, ‘Laudato Si: Proclaiming God’s Glory in Nature,’” explained Father Zeis, creator of all three exhibits which stemmed from his long-time interest in the American religious experience.

“I believe that all these exhibits come at an appropriate time,” said Father Zeis. “This year we ask the question: What is the Church? And the answer is a resounding: ‘It is a diverse community struggling to be whole and holy, the best that a human can be through God’s generous grace within human opportunities and freedom.’”

Highlights of the exhibit include presentations on the earliest missionaries, the Jesuits, and their work among the Lenni Lenape native population; the beginnings of Catholicism, in what was known as West Jersey and East Jersey, and the German immigrants who labored for the Quakers in their industries of glassmaking, iron works and printing.

“One who visits will see items brought by the earliest missionaries, trinkets they gave the Native Americans bearing the Jesuit identification mark, the name of Jesus. They will see examples of glass made by our earliest forefathers and mothers, they will see plague bundles brought by the early Catholic colonists to ward off illness while on board ship and while venturing through our early wilderness,” described Father Zeis.

Chronicles of Faith

Visitors to the exhibit, he noted, “will meet our first Catholic historians, especially John D. McCormick, who chronicled the Catholic communities’ history through the 19th Century. They will meet our earliest Catholic leaders, one in particular, John Baptist Satori. They will meet our bishops and learn about the times in which they shepherded the Diocese of Trenton beginning in 1881. And finally, they will learn about the lay men and women who continue to discover how to serve Christ and his Church today in a section called ‘Living Stones.’

Some of the items in the exhibit, noted Father Zeis, were retrieved through the archives of Seton Hall University, South Orange; Georgetown University, Washington, and various archives of religious communities.

Others were contributed by private collectors whose interests dovetailed with the exhibit, such as antiquarian book collectors who had items in their private collections, or through parishes, like Sacred Heart, Trenton, and St. Mary, Bordentown, which is now part of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, that had some meaningful items.

“Some private collectors have also contributed items, such as one man who happens to study the Leni Lenape extensively and has found Jesuit artifacts among his other discoveries. We have also been blessed to have access to the Diocese of Trenton’s archive. This was due to the generosity and support of Bishop David O’Connell,” said Father Zeis. 

Planting Seeds

In reflecting on the purpose of the exhibit, Father Zeis offered, “I hope that what is seen in this exhibit is something beautiful, something that can soothe the soul of those who are struggling with some negativity toward the institutional Church today.”

Father Zeis invited both Catholic and public school students, as well as parish groups and ministries to spend some time viewing the exhibit, stressing, “The importance of this exhibit is that it is educational, and it is spiritual. It encourages our Catholic community to remember their meaningful past and the holy and great people who struggled to live their faith in a new land, but also to commit themselves to their own spiritual growth so that they, too, may plant strong seeds of faith for the future. I hope that many of our elementary schools and parishes take advantage of this exhibit.”

The exhibit opens Nov. 11 for the general public. Reservations are needed to view the exhibit. “We do this so too many people don’t show up at one time. We want people to feel free to enjoy the exhibit and have time to read and reflect on the life of their Diocesan Church,” said Father Zeis.

To visit the exhibit, call 814-381-9322 to make a reservation, or e-mail fr.gabezeis@gmail.com for a convenient appointment.