FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP (NJ)
NorthJersey.com [Woodland Park NJ]
July 7, 2021
By Deena Yellin
The Archdiocese of Newark has sold the Hunterdon County retirement home of former Archbishop John J. Myers for almost $1 million, unloading a property whose lavish renovations sparked controversy seven years ago.
The five-bedroom, five-bath house, secluded on eight wooded acres in Pittstown, sold for $910,000 on June 8, the archdiocese said in a statement. Myers had moved out as of early 2020 to be near family in Illinois as his health deteriorated. The 79-year-old died in September.
Myers, who led the archdiocese for 16 years, held on to the home despite criticism over a $500,000 expansion in 2014 that added a 3,000-square-foot wing with three fireplaces and an indoor exercise pool. More than 17,000 people signed a petition that year urging that the home be sold.
The property was purchased in 2002 for $678,000, county records show, so this year’s sale represents a loss when the renovation costs are taken into account. Myers had used the residence on weekends before moving in permanently after his retirement.
Proceeds, after a deduction of a real estate transaction commission, “will return to the archdiocese to benefit ongoing ministries, especially those impacted by the pandemic,” according to the June 23 statement. The archdiocese includes Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union counties.
Records show that the house in Franklin Township was built in 1989 and is assessed at more than $1 million. Property taxes are nearly $29,000 annually.
Myers defended the expansion in a 2016 interview, saying cash used for the construction was eventually covered by a restricted donation intended for housing for church leadership. He said the 2015 sale of a home that had been used by another archbishop, and purchased with the restricted donation, “more than paid for” the addition.
He said he needed space for an office and a more private area for guests. The new wing added a fifth bedroom to the home.
At the time, critics urged Myers to sell the three-story, 7,500-square-foot property and use the money to help the poor.
Robert Hoatson of West Orange, a former priest who has been harshly critical of Myers’ handling of sexual abuse cases, said Myers came to Newark “to be treated as royalty” and one of the manifestations of that was “the purchase of a mansion in western New Jersey that was his castle.”
“He used archdiocesan maintenance and construction personnel to outfit the house, while parish churches and schools needed extensive repairs to their facilities,” Hoatson said in an interview.
Dioceses around the country have drawn controversy for building large homes for their clergy during times of financial crisis and on the heels of hundreds of priest abuse cases that generate big settlements and legal bills.
It appears that the Newark Archdiocese plans to avoid any more controversy.
In its statement, it said that “except for parish-owned properties, this is the only private residential property that is owned by the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese has no plans to purchase any future residences.”
Staff Writer Abbott Koloff contributed to this article.
Deena Yellin covers religion for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering how the spiritual intersects with our daily lives, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.