LAKEHURST – A place designed for regular worship for Catholic, Protestant, and even Jewish military personnel hosts only weddings, funerals, and baptisms now. The Navy Lakehurst Historical Society holds its meeting in the Norman-Gothic cathedral too. And a service honoring chaplains who gave their lives to save others is held there every year.
The Cathedral of the Air was the idea of American Legionnaire Gill Robb Wilson, who was the Legion’s national chaplain. The project was approved in 1929 and ground broke three years later. In 1933, the cathedral structure was completed and its first stained-glass window, Chancel Rose, was installed.
Over the next 20-some years, other stained-glass windows, 18 in all, were installed, depicting everything from Creation and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to the Graf Zeppelin at Lakehurst in 1928.
Catholic symbols are hung throughout the cathedral – stations of the cross, a three-foot crucifix hanging over a wooden exit door, the Virgin Mary holding the Christ-child – which would have been covered for Protestant services, it’s followers rejecting the icons and symbols of Rome.
The cathedral hasn’t had a Roman Catholic chaplain in years; there is no chaplain offering regular services anymore. Base residents have other options of where to worship on the base, and of course Catholic, Protestant and Baptist churches populate the surrounding municipalities off-base.
Despite its proximity to the base and Hangar One, the Cathedral of the Air played no part in the Hindenburg disaster of May 6, 1937, according to Navy Lakehurst Historical Society president Carl Jablonski. He’s been very busy with Hindenburg presentations for the disaster’s 80th anniversary.
Jablonski, himself a Roman Catholic originally from Jersey City, remembers visiting the cathedral as a child on his family’s summer vacations to the shore. Used to the massive church structures in North Jersey, he said he remembers thinking how the cathedral was “small.” It can hold 240 people.
The cathedral is the first stop in the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society tours. The tour also includes visits to the Hindenburg crash site, Navy Lakehurst Heritage Center, the Ready Room, the POW-MIA Room, and Hangar One.
For more information, visit nlhs.com.