This article was first published Sept. 6, 2023 by Catholic Star Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Camden, and is reposted with permission. We are grateful to our Camden colleagues and their freelance partners, for making it possible to share this story with our readers, many of whom spend time in Atlantic City throughout the year.
PHOTO GALLERY: St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church
On Pacific Avenue, in the shadow of the row of casinos that line the coast in Atlantic City, stands a church constructed in the style of the Romanesque Revival. With imposing, 120-foot towers, it traces its roots to 1902.
Inside St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, faithful are greeted by five altars, 18 murals, 52 symbols associated with the Passion and Death of Christ, and some 142 stained-glass windows that were hand-crafted in Germany and Philadelphia, not to mention an impressive pipe organ in the choir loft.
“The caliber of work in that church – it’s one of the rare things left in Atlantic City that is from the time before casinos,” said Jim Dessicino, who was born in Atlantic City and went on to earn two degrees in sculpture. “Atlantic City doesn’t have anything that comes close to an art museum of the caliber of the work that is inside of St. Nicholas of Tolentine.”
On Sept. 10, the feast day of St. Nicholas of Tolentine, and just a week shy of the 118th anniversary of the dedication of the church – Dessicino began leading weekly tours of the church, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in February 2001.
Exploring History, Art and Architecture
While tours had previously been offered sporadically, and usually upon request, Dessicino has been working with Deacon Mike Bortnowski and others to design and plan tours that will be offered every Sunday at 11:15 a.m. Following the 30-minute tour, guests will be encouraged to stay and participate in the noon Mass with the parish community.
Much to his excitement, Deacon Bortnowski was tasked by his pastor, Father Kevin Mohan, to take the lead in organizing and scheduling the church’s weekly tours.
“Visitors who take the tour will learn of the unique historical, artistic and theological significance of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church,” Deacon Bortnowski said. “Our entire Catholic faith tradition is reflected in the beautiful architecture throughout the church.”
A stained-glass window of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost by Franz Mayer Studio, Bavaria, Germany, dates back to 1904. The Stations of the Cross on either side of the window were created by German sculptor Joseph Sibbel, circa 1903.
All Are Welcome
There is no cost for the tours, but organizers hope guests will consider making a suggested donation of $20 to support further church restorations.
Tours will be led primarily by Dessicino, who brings to his role a wealth of experience – including a stint as one of the few non-Italians to lead tours of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. After college, he worked for a company that supplied guides for Vatican museums – a relatively new approach at the time of allowing outside tour guides into Vatican City.
Dessicino is thrilled to be involved in leading tours of St. Nicholas of Tolentine and hopes that the beauty of the house of worship will draw more to the church – and the faith. “I am excited to be able to show non-Catholics our faith through beauty, and to use the transcendental of beauty to be able to lead people into the faith.”
Bortnowski hopes the tours will help bring more visitors to the church community.
“We invite all visitors who come to Atlantic City to take that pilgrimage to visit our parish,” he said. “All are welcome.”
Church tours are available Sundays at 11:15 a.m. Anyone with questions can contact Deacon Mike Bortnowski at [email protected] or call the parish office at (609) 345-1878.
David Karas is a freelance correspondent for Catholic Star Herald and John Kalitz is the Digital Media Manager for the Office of Communications in the Diocese of Camden.