A Legacy of Priests and People Together
Like the tough immigrant workmen who formed its first congregation, St. Joseph’s Church put down its roots among the alien rocks of Bergen Hill over a century ago. With little more than the raw energy of its people and the vision of its leaders, the hardy transplant bloomed amid the clamor and dust of a growing industrial city. Its real story is not found in the building of a church, a school, or an institution, but in the flow of life through its long history -always changing, adapting, renewing – alivve with the color and vitality of its people.
The life began with the arrival of some three hundred Irish laborers, imported to work on the Erie railroad tunnel that was being built through Bergen Hill in 1856. These poor, unskilled workmen lived in makeshift shacks thrown up along the work-site. In one such shack Father James Coyle came to live in June of that year, sent by Father john Kelly of St. Peter’s Church on Grand Street, to establish a mission to minister to the needs of these (mostly Catholic) workers.
His mission field was a large tract of farmland extending from Hoboken on the North to Bergen Point on the South, and from the Hackensack meadows on the West to the Hill on the East. Perhaps five-hundred Catholics lived in scattered settlements throughout this district. In years to come more than twenty separate parishes would be carved from this area, but in that spring of 1856, Father Coyle was quite alone.
He took his meals with an aunt, Mrs. Colton, who lived on Bay Street. Each night after supper he left her home with a lantern and made his way up Bergen Hill to his shack. On October 26, 1856, the Sunday after he was officially appointed pastor of his parish, he celebrated the first Mass on Bergen Hill in one of the local boardinghouses. About two-hundred people attended, and at each succeeding Mass the number grew. Poor as they were, these immigrant families responded generously to his appeal for help in building a proper place of worship, to be named (at first) St. Bridget’s Chapel, after their favorite Irish saint.
On November 11th, twelve lots 25′ x 50′ on Clinton Avenue (now Hopkins Avenue) were purchased on mortgage for eighteen hundred dollars from Mr. E. Coles, and the building of a structure that could serve as both church and school was begun. It would be two stories high, with Gothic windows and a sloping roof. Local workers like Dennis McCarren, a mason, and James Keary, a carpenter, built rapidly, and in only five weeks the little chapel was far enough along for Father Coyle to celebrate the first Mass there on Sunday, December 21st.
The total expenses of the new parish that first year (including twenty-two dollars for the salary of a teacher, Mr. Breen) came to $3,409.39 -an enormous sum for a poor congregation whose weekly collection amounted to no more than twenty dollars. Collections were taken up in the churches of St. Peter and St. Mary, and this was supplemented with Christmas contributions from the clergy of the diocese.
On January 26, 1857, Father Coyle opened Bergen Hill’s first parochial school on the second floor of the Chapel on Hopkins Avenue. One hundred and twenty parish children attended. Unfortunately, Father Coyle was taken ill soon after the school opened, and he was forced to resign.
A MEDIATOR ARRIVES
His place was taken on February 26, 1857, by Father Aloysius Venuta, a Sicilian-born priest who had come to the United States some years earlier, after barely escaping imprisonment for his revolutionary activities in Italy. A tough, active, fearless, yet intensely spiritual man, Father Venuta had just the qualities needed to hold the infant parish in its precarious niche on Bergen Hill during the turbulent time that followed. Historian Owen Grundy has described, in his History of Jersey City, the conditions that led to the turmoil and poverty of the next ten years:
The railroads … changed the social complexion of the city …. Needing cheap and unskilled labor, thousands of immigrants, mostly Irish, poured in, and soon the immigrant population outnumbered the native born. While the nativists retained political control, the immigrants grew restive … There was open conflict be-tween these two segments of the population. Since most of the Irish were Roman Catholics, the nativist attacks took on a religious as well as ethnic character.
A depression in 1857 caused a shutdown of work on the Erie tunnel, and the helpless workers rioted, barricading the railroad tracks, terrorizing and looting the local stores. Soldiers were called out to put down the rioters. A four day battle ensued during which the troops were showered with rocks from the Hill. A passage from the parish record of the day describes perhaps this very incident, and the hostility and prejudice it aroused. Even then, the press took a large share of the blame:
At this time the laborers on the tunnel have been augmented to the number of twelve hundred. On February 4 a disgraceful riot occurred between about a score of drunken laborers, in which some six or seven men were badly beaten … six shanties were burned …. This now brought disgrace on the Irish-men and Catholics of Hudson City, not that it was more lawless than acts of the boasted civilized natives of New York and other American cities, but on account of the manner in which this affray had been misrepresented in different newspapers.
It was under these difficult conditions that Father Venuta assumed his pastorate. Since no rectory had yet been built, he lived among his parishioners, at the home of Edward Vincent on Hopkins Avenue. He moved among his people, mediating their quarrels, defending their rights, placing himself often between angry mobs and the lines of soldiers. One early observer wrote of how “hundreds of times he was called from his bed in the dead of night to quell the rioting among them … often at great risk to himself. The sound of his well-known voice stopped the tumult and his soothing words calmed the belligerents ‘ “
Despite poverty, prejudice, and civil riots, the little parish began to grow. Early in his pastorate Father Venuta began looking for a permanent home for himself and his flock. In 1857 a lot 100′ x 100′ on Baldwin Avenue (the site of the present church) was purchased from Peter Bentley and Jacob Van Wagen, and work was begun on a brick building with a sloping roof, 45′ x 100′. Father Venuta chose a new name for the church – St. Joseph, the patron of the working men for whom he had such devotion. Father bought more land on Baldwin Avenue and built a high stooped house to the right of the church (for a parochial school) and a red brick rectory to the left. He moved into the rectory in 1870, and about the same time the lay teachers were replaced by the Sisters of Charity, under Sister Mary Aloysius. The Sisters lived in a frame house on Magnolia Avenue while the school was being built. When it was finished, the Sisters were housed on its top floor.
During these same years, Father Venuta started a mission in South Bergen and built a small frame church near Liberty Hall. So well populated had that neighborhood become that on December 23, 1869, the district south of the horse-drawn railroad operating on what is now Montgomery Street became St. Patrick’s Parish and became the responsibility of Father Patrick Hennessy. This was the first division of the parish. No longer did Father Venuta have to hurry down to Greenville to say the ten o’clock Mass.
HARDSHIP AND SACRIFICE
Meanwhile the small brick building on Baldwin Avenue was beginning to overflow. Father Venuta prepared to build a magnificent new church right around the old one, leaving the front wall open so that services could be continued without interruption while the new church was being completed. In 1868, Bishop James Bayley blessed the cornerstone of the present St. Joseph’s Church and work was begun.
The church was literally carved from the heart of the Hill. According to tradition, the blue-gray stone from which it was built was taken from the Erie cut where the railroad workers had toiled, and the dirt from the excavation was thrown into the Pennsylvania cut south of Magnolia Avenue.
James Vincent (son of Edward, with whom Father Venuta made his first home) donated his services and the use of his horse and cart. To make room for the new church the rectory was sold and the building moved across the street on Pavonia Avenue, near Baldwin, where it remained until the Courthouse required the property for a lawn some years later.
Such an ambitious building program soon drained the resources of the parish, and economic conditions suddenly worsened. During the panic of 1873, work on the building had to be stopped, and when it was revived the labor was contracted out on a day-by-day basis. It was during this period that the building began to deteriorate as a result of sloppy and inconsistent workmanship. At one time the walls were in danger of collapse. On a Confirmation visit, Bishop Bayley noted in his diary the precarious condition of the church: “The rain beats in through the windows on the side altar. The construction is defective and needs watching. In the course of time there is danger of the wall collapsing…”
Father Venuta drove himself to gather funds to complete the church properly. He stinted on his own food and clothing, and appeared so threadbare and shabby that his parishioners sent him clothing, saying he needed more help than his church. More often than not, this charity for himself found its way to the poor.
Exhausted after twenty years of ceaseless labor, Father Venuta died after a brief illness on January 22, 1876, leaving a personal estate of twenty dollars and a few books. He lay in state in the church he had been building for ten years. Seventy-five priests attended his funeral Mass, celebrated by Bishop Michael A. Corrigan, and six thousand people flocked to pay their respects to this simple man who had spent all his strength in their service.
The number of people attending Father Venuta’s funeral was just one sign of the many changes in the population and character of the city since the parish had been founded. Many more industries had moved into the area, and new railroad lines and tunnels had been built or extended as Jersey City became the hub of an industrial-transportation complex linking New York to the West. New houses, shops, and neighborhoods had sprung up and filled in what had been quiet stretches of woodland when Father Coyle had first taken up his mission.
AN ARISTOCRAT AMONG US
The expanding economy and central location brought many new immigrants -Italians, Poles, Germans, and people from all parts of Europe – adding diversity and strength to the community and to its church as well. The growing size of St. Joseph’s congregation created new demands, not only for the traditional spiritual services, but also for more and better education, cultural activities, entertainment, and social amenities. It was a new kind of challenge, and a new kind of leader, once again uniquely qualified, came to preside over the flowering of the urban parish in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
Monsignor Robert Seton, grandson of St. Elizabeth Seton, foundress of the Sisters of Charity, was appointed pastor of St. Joseph’s in July of 1876. A witty, erudite, and cosmopolitan aristocrat of the Church, Monsignor Seton was, in his way, as essentially suited to his task as the frugal, saintly Father Venuta had been. Monsignor Seton had been one of the thirteen original students at the American College in Rome, the city where he was ordained. He had some reputation as a linguist, scholar, and writer. At first he was not very impressed with his new assignment. He recalled later:
The Parish was in poor condition. I found nothing prepared for me, but set about with good will and the help of God to do my duty. God favored me in let-ting me find a small but exemplary community of Sisters (belonging to the order of Mother Seton’s daughters at Madison) already established in the Par-ish and conducting a school alongside the Church. They were angels of kindness and efficiency, and a consolation in my long years of trial and discomfort. At this time, St. Joseph’s was not a first class, hardly even a city Parish. It was in a rocky, ill-favored suburb of Jersey City.
He immediately began to establish St. Joseph’s as a “first class” parish. He completed the work on the church building, first removing the old brick church through the unfinished front door, then raising the majestic stone tower, and completely finishing the interior. He then decided to build a new rectory, remarking that only a saint (Father Venuta) could have lived in the present one and he, Seton, was no saint. He built a convent for the Sisters, enlarged and landscaped the church grounds, and substantially improved the original school building, which now served as a parish hall as well.
To raise money for all these improvements, he encouraged parish groups to present plays, musicales, and magic shows. He loved music and theatre, and St. Joseph’s graduation programs began to include presentations of poetry, tableaux, choral song, and dance. The school hall came to be a gathering place of local intellectuals and professional people, Catholics and non-Catholics, who (at the dawn of the Progressive era of social reform) were involved in the movement to uplift and improve the community. The school register was growing, and extra classrooms were added to the school hall. Under Sister Scholastica, the principal, commercial subjects were added to the curriculum.
For a short time, even the study of French, Latin, and Greek in a ninth grade course of studies was introduced.
Monsignor Seton soon became a familiar sight on his daily excursions through the city. He liked to walk a mile and a half down to the Pavonia Ferry, where he would touch the gate, and then tramp briskly back to the rectory, stopping along the way to chat with children, whom he loved. When he had been made monsignor, he had adopted the courtly style of dress: knee breeches, purple stockings, silver buckled slippers, and a touch of purple in his robe. He always carried a silver-headed cane, and it can well be imagined that he attracted some attention on his daily rounds. The sound Before his pastorate at St. Joseph’S Monsignor P. E. Smyth helped establish churches throughout New Jersey of that silver cane tapping was a signal for his frequent visits to the school. He was insistent neatness, punctuality, and order. Conscious of his aristocratic lineage from the royal house Scotland, he demanded high standards of courtesy among the students. No lounging, no litter, and no sloppiness was ever tolerated. Sunday sermons were little gems of wit and wisdom, admired and discussed for days.
THE WAR YEARS
In 1901, Monsignor Seton retired to Rome for a rest after, as he put it, “twenty-five years, six months, and four hours” of work for St. Joseph He was succeeded by Reverend Patrick Smith, a extraordinarily able administrator who had spent most of his life building and organizing parishes throughout New Jersey. At the turn of the century, St. Joseph’s was about to embark on the period of its greatest growth, and Father Smith had the experience and talent equal to the job of bringing it into the twentieth century.
He redecorated the church, installed electric lights, enlarged the rectory, and, in 1909, opened a new school building on Magnolia Avenue (the site of the present convent). St. Joseph’s School Hall (the original school building) was completely redecorated. Pavane Hall, as it was commonly called, teemed with activity, reflecting the robust life of the community. Besides the many parish organization and school affairs, many political,
The church interior tastefully blends old forms with the requirements of revised liturgy social, and cultural events were held in Pavane Hall, including a rally for Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.
On one December evening in 1916, for example, four hundred members of St. Joseph’s Holy Name Society held a banquet in the parish hall, which was decorated with American flags, the papal colors, and banners from various societies of the church. A string orchestra played, and several civic leaders, congressmen, judges, the dean of Fordham University, and of course, Monsignor Smith himself spoke. Though it was a festive occasion, a somber note could be detected in the oratory, which dwelt on the Great War and its impact on the country. On December 6, 1917, solemn ceremonies were held on the lawn next to the church to raise a service flag in honor of the six hundred and sixty-one me of St. Joseph’s Parish who served during World War 1, and the twenty-one who did not return.
In the fall of 1918, the parish hall became the center of another kind of contribution to the war effort – the opening of a Red Cross workroom where the women of St. Joseph’s could gather to sew and knit garments to be shipped overseas. Mr. Charles Gilease (a tenor who always sang at parish functions) sang Over There and the twenty-three sewing machines collected from the parish began humming. All was not harmony, however. The Jersey Journal reported, “There was some rivalry as to the best pajama maker at Thursday’s meeting.”
By 1920 St. Joseph’s had become the second largest parish in the city, with over eight thousand communicants, and it was necessary to renovate the basement and fit it for additional Masses and other church services. The school on Magnolia Avenue, only ten years old, was overflowing, and it was decided to tear down the parish hall and build an addition to the school on the site. On Washington’s Birthday in 1922, the Holy Name Society presented a final minstrel show in old Pavane Hall, the scene of so many gala events. Monsignor Smith, by then in his eighties and the oldest priest in the diocese, announced that construction would soon begin on a handsome brick and limestone school, equipped with a heating plant that would serve all the parish buildings. Its style would conform architecturally with the existing (Magnolia Avenue) school, and the two buildings would be connected so that they could operate as one. Monsignor Smith lived just long enough to see his new school completed in October of 1922.
ON A STEADY COURSE
The following spring Monsignor James Mooney came to St. Joseph’s from Seton Hall, where he had been President and Director of Immaculate Conception Seminary. Monsignor Mooney was one of the foremost experts on canon law and the author of many ecclesiastical papers. During his administration a catechetical program was organized by Father James McNulty, curate of St. Joseph’s and later Bishop of Paterson, to provide for the religious education of the public school students throughout the city. In 1927 there were five hundred students attending the Sunday school at St. Joseph’s. (Eleven hundred pupils were enrolled in St. Joseph’s Elementary School.)
Monsignor Mooney died in 1928 and was succeeded by Monsignor John Duffy, the first of St. Joseph’s pastors to be a native of Jersey City. Like his predecessor, Monsignor Duffy was a teacher and scholar for many years and had held high office in the diocese before his appointment as pastor. In fact, he was vicar general of the diocese at the same time he was serving St. Joseph’s, and had to report daily to the Chancellors’s office in Newark. Despite his other duties, Father Duffy was a tireless worker for the parish. During his administration he completely redecorated the upper and lower church, installing new pews, a new choir loft, and organ. He altered the entrance to the church and landscaped the convent grounds.
In 1933 Monsignor Duffy was appointed Bishop of Syracuse, and Father William Carlin, popularly known as the “Fire-fighting Priest” was appointed pastor. Father Carlin, whose father had been a Newark fire captain, served as fire chaplain first in Paterson, then in Jersey City, for twenty-six years. In his room at the rectory he installed a fire alarm station, which received the alarms at the same time they were received at the fire department. Father Carlin, in his boots, fire coat, and hat, was always on hand, no matter what the hour of day or night, to give spiritual assistance to the fireman or victims. Whereas the two previous pastors had served relatively brief terms at St. Joseph’s, Father Carlin, a very popular man in and out of the parish, remained at St. Joseph’s for thirteen years until his death in 1946. His term included the dark years of World War 11 when, of the eleven hundred and fifty-one men the parish sent to war, thirty-five were lost in action.
These were difficult years economically as well. They included the great Depression, and the mobilization for war; the beginning of the shift in population from the cities to the suburbs, and the gradual changes in population in the urban centers. The expansion and building of the growing years for the city, as well as the parish, were over, and it was a time of reflection and conservation, to preserve the best of what had been accomplished.
ST. JOSEPH’S EYES
When Father Carlin died in February, 1946, he was succeeded by Reverend Francis J. Sexton, who had celebrated his first mass in St. Joseph’s and assisted as a curate there as well. It was during Father Sexton’s administration that there was a recurrence of a strange phenomenon that has intrigued generations of people who live near St. Joseph’s Church.
From the top of the church tower two lights, mysteriously peering down from the belfry like two glowing eyes, could be observed from time to time. The first reported sighting was in 1924, but the lights, or “St. Joseph’s eyes,” as they were sometimes called by local people, were seen on several occasions since. The most sensational sightings occurred in 1954. On an evening in May two small boys reported seeing green lights in the tower (where there is The side altar of the Blessed Virgin remains a quiet spot for Prayer. One of the beautiful stations of the cross installed by Monsignor Seton no electricity) and their story drew a crowd of two hundred and fifty people. The following evening there were a thousand. In a few days the number had grown to twenty thousand, and the police were helpless to untie the traffic jam that extended from the Holland Tunnel to Medical Center. The residents of Henry Street, the best viewpoint, complained that people were climbing on their roofs, over the fences, and the noise and confusion was unbearable.
Despite reassuring statements from the priests and possible explanations from the police (reflection of traffic lights), the story grew bigger and almost exploded when the church sexton was found dead in the choir loft one morning. He had last been seen climbing to the tower to investigate the origin of the lights. The excited crowds around the church each evening did not cease until police draped a tarpaulin from the eaves of the church steeple, and the lights could no longer be seen.
A CENTURY OF GRACE
Excitement of a far different sort engulfed the parish two years later. October 26, 1956, marked the hundredth anniversary of St. Joseph’s founding. The centenary was celebrated on December 18th with the consecration of St. Joseph’s church by Archbishop Thomas Boland. Eleven priests assisted him in the ancient and intricate three-hour ritual of consecration. A Pontifical Mass followed, at which Bishop James McNulty of Paterson, once a curate of St. Joseph’s, preached the sermon. Father Sexton celebrated a Low Mass at the side altar of the Blessed Virgin which, together with the side altar of St. Joseph, had been consecrated that morning.
In preparation for the anniversary, Father Sexton had seen to the complete renovation of the church, which was repainted a cathedral gray to underline its French Gothic style. It was a solemn and joyful occasion, rich in religious tradition and symbolism – a most fitting tribute to one hundred years of parish life.
At the century mark in its history, St. Joseph’s had about fifteen thousand parishioners. Six curates were assigned to assist Father Sexton: Fathers Thomas Mulvaney, Charles Hunter, David McCarthy, George Drexler, Francis Ballinger, and Walter DeBold. Eight hundred and twenty-five children were enrolled in the parochial school, which was staffed by sixteen Sisters of Charity under the principalship of Sister Clara Rose.
In 1960, one year after celebrating his own fiftieth anniversary of ordination, Father Sexton died quietly in his sleep.
In May, 1961, Reverend Peter S. Rush, a former army chaplain, was appointed the new pastor of St. Joseph’s. Father Rush, winner of the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, and the Army Commendation Medal, had seen action in World War II and the Korean conflict, and had retired a full colonel. He came to the parish at the start of the turbulent Sixties, when urban decay and civil disobedience were more and more the news of the day. The deep commitment of Father Rush to his church, community, and country proved to be an anchor for the people of St. Joseph’s, young and old, during those uncertain years. He strove to create a family spirit in the congregation by instituting services in which the laity took a more active role. Special Masses were celebrated honoring various vocations – for doctors, firemen, policemen, housewives, teachers. At each of these, the “tools” of the trade were blessed, and the lay participants were invited into the sanctuary to offer prayers.
“The more people who get inside the altar rail, the greater the spiritual motivation in the parish:’ Father Rush said. Each holiday – Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July – was the occasion for a special liturgy that drew hundreds of people, even from outside the parish. In fact, the activities of the parish began to touch many parts of the community. Father Rush celebrated a weekly Mass in the Episcopal Chapel at Christ Hospital. St. Joseph’s sponsored an Explorers Post, and a Boy Scout troop for blind youngsters. The pastor established a flag-raising ceremony around the school each morning that attracted many people from the surrounding neighborhood. He led a parade through the parish on the Fourth of July and participated actively in numerous veterans activities. In 1963 he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in the National Guard, the first chaplain of any faith to hold such rank in New Jersey.
COMMITMENT TO JERSEY CITY
In 1962, Father Rush brought to fruition a long-projected plan to remodel the school built by Monsignor Smith on Pavane Avenue in 1922.
Toward the end of his life Monsignor Smith directed construction of this school to accommodate a burgeoning population. The Rectory was the handiwork of Monsignor Seton, even classrooms were added to the building, in addition to new wiring, floors, windows, and an elevator. The tenements next door to the school were razed to create a playground and basketball court for the children. Six years later the one-hundred-year-old convent on Baldwin Avenue was torn down, and the Magnolia Avenue school was renovated for use as a convent.
The extensive rehabilitation program stirred the whole neighborhood around St. Joseph’s, and a corner seemed to be turned in the battle against the blight that threatened so many of the oldest neighborhoods of the city. And then, paradoxically, disaster struck in the form of urban renewal.
In the fall of 1966, construction of a five million-dollar civic-municipal complex was announced. The proposed construction site was the area bounded by Baldwin Avenue, the Pennsylvania Railroad cut, East Street, and Magnolia Avenue – the heart of St. Joseph’s Parish. Approval of the project, to be voted on in two weeks by the City Council, was apparently a formality. Political forces and public expediency seemed to make it inevitable.
At the Sunday Masses on October 16th, Father Rush asked his parishioners to join him in a protest at the Council meeting. “This is not a political issue, and I am not a political priest:’ he told them. “This is a question of people and their homes ‘ ” The project, he pointed out, would displace at least sixty and probably as many as two hundred and fifty households in the parish.
On the Tuesday morning following, Father Rush led three hundred and fifty people into the Council chamber at City Hall to present the case for saving the parish neighborhood. The Jersey Journal reported the surprising result the next day:
Mayor Whelan suffered a stunning setback in the City Council with the defeat of the Jersey City civic center bond issue. It is a defeat which will have the political speculators wagging for months, and perhaps will have more bus-loads of people at future public hearings on civic matters. That the civic center plan failed at the last moment can be attributed to City Hall’s plunging ahead without taking the people sufficiently into its confidence. Not until late in the game was the precise site promulgated. If such precaution shuts out real estate speculators, it also shuts out the people involved. And, led with surprisingly strong generalship, the citizens struck quickly and in force.
ST. JOSEPH’S IN THE SEVENTIES
Father Rush received many letters and telegrams congratulating him on his David and Goliath victory, and the gratitude felt by the people whose homes he saved was immeasurable. When he retired in 1970, it was with the best wishes and prayers of the many whose lives he had touched during his years at St. Joseph’s.
He was succeeded by Father Casimir A. Delimat, a priest who had served as a curate under Father Sexton. During Father Delimat’s administration, many innovations were made in the curriculum at St. Joseph’s Elementary School, where Sister Jean Cordis was principal. New educational techniques and the impact of the media had created a need for a different approach to education in the Seventies. Decreasing enrollment freed some of the classroom space, and the basement of the school was converted into a Learning Center, fully equipped with audio-visual aids, reading machines, and an extensive collection of filmstrips, records, and tapes. On its visit to the school in 1977, the Evaluation Committee of the Newark Archdiocese commented, “Using the best approaches of modern media the Learning Center of St. Joseph School affords the opportunity to better stimulate and supplement classroom activities and participation.”
Father Delimat’s administration was tragically brief. He was stricken with a heart attack and died on March 3, 1974. A plaque in his memory was placed in St. Joseph Learning Center, and it expressed the feelings of his parishioners: “In memory of a man who loved mankind, of a friend who shared knowledge, of a priest who dedicated his love and knowledge to speak the good news of Christ.”
Reverend Joseph Derbyshire was appointed the new pastor and almost immediately was faced with a crisis. Early on the morning of November 4th, a fire gutted the side chapel of the church, causing three-hundred thousand dollars in damage. Father Derbyshire appealed to his parish for help to restore the church, and it has since been completely refurbished.
Reverend Derbyshire was transferred in 1978, and Reverend James Pagnotta was appointed Administrator on May 4, 1978, and became the youngest pastor in the history of the parish and the Archdiocese (at the time) on January 29, 1979. Father Pagnotta has served continously at St. Joseph since Nov 4 1972 and is the longest serving priest of the parish ( associate and pastor combined). The pastorate of Father Pagnotta is only surpassed by Archbishop Seton’s “25 years 6 months and four hours.”
Sr Joan McKee was principal of the school for twenty two years and upon her retirment on Sept 1, 2001 was replaced by the eight grade teacher and vice principal, Mr. John Richards.
During the long pastorate of Father Pagnotta numerous fund-raising drives, festivals and capital campaigns were conducted to bring about much-needed renovations, replacements and restorations to the parish plant and buildings.
The boiler system was successfully replaced in 1978, and on October 22nd, Bishop Jerome Pechillo visited the parish to bless the new equipment and offer a Mass of Thanksgiving for the people of St. Joseph’s who in this, as in every other challenge for over a century, have sustained the commitment made so long ago: to build a church on these rocks and make it grow.
In 1990 a major renovation and resortoration project was begun and is currently in its Phase IV stage.In Phase I new exterior doors were added to the Church structure. In 1994 Phase II was begun and completed through the generosity of the parishioners who contributed to a “Capital Campaign to restore the interior of the Church to its original grandeur. The floor of the church was replaced, the marble ambo restored, the Altar of Sacrifice was constructed with the base of the original carra mrable of the reredos. The baptismal font was placed in the nave of the church to comforn to the liturgical norms of Vatican II. The original pipe organ was repaired and converted to “stage of the art” technology and the console moved to the front fo the nave. A new sound system was installed and years and years of grit were removed from the ceiling frecsos and icons of the Apostles.
In 1997, Phase III – the parish addressed the needs of forgotten parishioners when a modern three stop handicpa life was installed inside the new southwest entrance of the church. A meditation garden and walkway was installed along the parking side of the church. In Phase IV, conducted – 1999 to the present, all the windows in the grammar school were replaced; the Baldwin entrances to the church hall were replaced along with the installation of three modern restroom in the parish center. The latest renovation is the erection of a new north/east entrance to the church and parish center which enables parishioners to go from the church to the parish hall without leaving the building. This is of particular importance on Sundays when the Liturgy of God’s Word is celebrated during two masses for the children of the parish. They are dismissed to the Parish hall for the Proclamation of the Sunday Scriptures and an explanation of the Gospels on their own level. The children return to the nave proper for the Eucharist with the community.
The church community survives because it is a living body, resilient and flexible. Starting with the seed planted by Irish immigrants, it has, in one hundred and forty-six years, nourished and assimilated every ethnic group that has found its way to this gateway of the home of immigrants – Asian, Hispanic, Black, Filipino – all the cultures of the world, including the Third World, come together as the parish family. It will endure because its roots are old, thick with tradition, and deeply embedded in the rock of faith on which St. Joseph’s Church was built. And because its members are willing to cross cultural lines and recognize the the face of the Lord in one another.
Today Hispanic heritage is observed in Spanish liturgies along with Filpino celebrations of San Lorenz Ruiz. Neighborhood/civic awarenss is fostered in Block Associations and community formums. Modern church issues and community particpation is addressed in the Pastroal Council with its Word, Worship, Community Building, Social Services clusters along with the Finance and Stewardship committees. Area co-operation is achieved with Deanery 10 membership and participation.
Decreasing enrollment in the late sixties was turned to advantage – classroom space was freed for establishment of a “Learning Center,” providing up-to-date equipment for a modern educational program which today includes compture labs and Internet education.
SAINT JOSEPH PARISH STEWARDSHIP STATEMENT
We, the parishioners of Saint Joseph Parish, are a Eucharistic Community trying to live according to the Gospel teachings of Jesus Christ. Our mission is to identify ourselves as a community of God’s people and actively give witness to the Gospel by accepting, sharing and responding to all, by praying, teaching, ministering and loving. We fulfill this mission by the Christian example of our lives and by using our gifts of time, talent and treasure for the benefit of all in our community. May we respond with care and compassion to the human and spiritual needs of all as a sign of God’s universal love for all creation.