Founding a Parish The canonical founding of a parish is an act of historical importance, calling for much wisdom and proper timing. There are times when a church is fostered for years before it is established as a parish. At other times a parish is established by canonical decree in order to keep pace with the rapid growth of population. The parish of Our Lady of Consolation was formed through such wise canonical decree on October 8, 1963, following the surprising growth of population in Wayne Township during the 1950's.
On the same day the Most Reverend James J. Navagh, D.D., LL.D., Bishop of the Paterson Diocese, appointed Reverend Carl J. Wolsin as the founding pastor. Father Wolsin celebrated the first parish Mass on October 15, 1963, in the auditorium of the Schuyler-Colfax Junior High School. We have made great strides forward since this beginning, but to understand more fully how our parish came into existence, we must look to the history of the Church in New Jersey.
The earliest Catholics in this part of New Jersey go back to the days before Wayne Township was formed in 1847, when this part of the country was sparsely inhabited and there were no Catholic churches. Even so, early Jesuit missionaries traveled long distances over difficult roads to bring Catholics the solace of their Church and to say Mass in private homes.
It is reported that one of the earliest Catholic missionaries, Reverend Ferdinand Steinmeyer, S.J., popularly known as "Father Farmer," visited these hills during the course of his wide travels to minister to Catholics. "Father Farmer" was an indefatigable worker. He traveled on horseback over rough country roads, making tours throughout New Jersey every spring and autumn.
"Father Farmer" may have indeed traveled over trails that were originally footpaths of the Leni-Lenape Indians. The tribe in this region of New Jersey was the Minsi, "people of the stony country," and one of their forest trails was widened into a wagon road and called the Pompton Turnpike.
"Father Farmer" visited Pompton and other villages in northern New Jersey from 1765 to 1786. His missionary labors came to an end shortly after his last visit to New Jersey, for he died in Philadelphia in August, 1786, after thirty years of pioneering work as a priest.
At that time this region was a part of the township of New Barbadoes, County of Essex, in the Colonial Province of East Jersey.
Other Early Missionaries
After the American Revolution our Township became a part of Saddle River Township, Bergen County, of the sovereign state of New Jersey. Catholics in this area were served by Franciscan priests who carried on the missionary work started by the pioneering Jesuits. Many of the earliest churches in this part of the state were thus founded by Franciscans.
In 1837, when Passaic County was carved out of Bergen County, this area of ours became Manchester Township. Ten years later, in 1847, our area was separated from Manchester Township in honor of Major General Anthony Wayne, a trusted officer of General George Washington.
Many important changes were then taking place in New Jersey, including an increase in population which brought more and more Catholics into the state. Up to that time part of New Jersey belonged to the Diocese of New York and part of the Diocese of Philadelphia, but finally New Jersey was given full status of a diocese in 1853, when the Most Reverend James Roosevelt, O.D., was made Bishop of Newark, ministering to all the churches in the state. Wayne Township then became part of the Diocese of Newark. At that time there were few churches in Passaic County, and Catholics depended upon the visits of Franciscan missionaries to their homes and to small mission churches.
The Church of Saint Joseph in Echo Lake was founded in those early days and became the cradle of the Catholic Church in northern New Jersey. It is still a Franciscan church of renown. In Hibernia, the Church of Saint Patrick was also established, and subsequently Franciscan churches were established in Little Falls and Singac, to become secular churches in later years.
The great increase of population toward the end of the last century brought more and more Catholics into northern New Jersey, and thus the Diocese of Paterson was formed in 1937. At that time Catholics in Wayne Township who wished to attend Mass had to travel to Saint Mary Church in Pompton Lakes or to other churches in equally distant towns.
We Grow in Numbers
In 1947, ten years after the Diocese was established, and one hundred years after Wayne Township was formed, the population of the Township showed a sudden increase, beyond all bounds of expectation. Improved roads, faster cars, frequent bus service, and growth of neighboring cities, all brought commuters into these pleasant hills. By the late 1950's a building boom was under way. In 1967 the population was four times greater than that of 1950. A goodly number of newcomers in the northern section of Wayne were Catholics and so at last, as we have seen, the Bishop of Paterson founded the parish of Our Lady of Consolation in October 1963. There were 870 families in the new parish.
The First Mass
The celebration of the first parish Mass on October 15, 1963, brought much joy to the new parishioners. There was much work to be done. The parish had no buildings. It would need a church, a rectory, a school, and a convent. There would be sacrifice involved, but now the Catholics of this section of Wayne could work together as a group for a united purpose.
Our Founding Pastor
Father Wolsin's task was that of a founding pastor - work demanding vision and patience. There were endless details, but he could not let them hinder his major purpose. Happily, Father Wolsin's background and experience made him admirably suited for his task. He was a native of the town of Denville, fifteen miles from Wayne on that old picturesque route known as Highway 202 (a road of which Father Wolsin was very fond). He knew these hills well, the heritage of the people themselves.
Father Wolsin attended schools in Denville, then Seton Hall College, where he studied for the priesthood at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Mahwah. He received the degree of Licentiate of Sacred Theology in 1945 from Catholic University in the field of education.
Father Wolsin was ordained on February 24, 1945, at Saint John Cathedral in Paterson by Bishop Thomas McLaughlin. Father Wolsin in Paterson, where he remained as a curate for sixteen years.
In Paterson Father Wolsin was also public relations director for the Diocese of Paterson, and Paterson editor of the Advocate, a diocesan newspaper. He was also assistant superintendent of Catholic schools in Paterson. Father Wolsin also found time to be an instructor of religion at Seton Hall University and to be an examiner of the clergy.
In 1961 Father Wolsin was appointed pastor of Saint Simon Church in Green Pond, from which he also served the Mission of Saint Thomas in Oak Ridge. As we have seen, he was appointed pastor of Our Lady of Consolation on October 8, 1963.
Our parish quickly witnesses a series of "firsts."
The first baptismin the parish, on October 19, 1963, was that of Alison Mary Mosiewicz; Father; Alexander Mosiewicz; Mother: Kathleen Polevecky.
The Sacrament of Matrimony was administered for the first time on April 4, 1964, to William Lawrence Lothian and Shelia McGrogan.
The first trustees were Mr. Walter Ambrogi and Mr. John Parisen.
As a founding pastor, Father Wolsin faced many challenging tasks. Simultaneously, he had to make the acquaintance of 870 families in the parish, to form a spiritual organization, to establish societies, and to start a religious program for young people. He met the families through get-togethers - coffee and tea parties - in various homes. His founding zeal made these occasions far more than social events. Indeed, he was soon calling for the use of homes as classrooms of the young people of the parish.
First, The Young People
Father Wolsin's enthusiasm was catching, for when he pleaded for twenty-five homes, forty-two homes were offered for the religious instruction of students at high-school level.
Basement classes were held for 230 of these students in parish homes on Monday evenings. At the same time, Father Wolsin also launched a program for the training of lay teachers who would handle these classes.
For children ranging from the first to eighth grades, classes in religious instruction were held on Saturday mornings at the Schuyler-Colfax Junior High School.
The First Rectory
Father Wolsin's first rectory was at 76 Surrey Drive. It was comfortable enough for a single resident, but Father Wolsin was above all a pastor, and he wanted his rectory to serve the parish. The men of the church volunteered their services and in November, 1963, they began to make interior and exterior changes and to build a chapel in the basement.
Those parishioners who were knowledgeable in the building trades supervised the work, aided by the muscular labors of those who were without experience but who were willing to help.
When the chapel was finished it had an altar, altar rail, a tiled floor and movable chairs. The chapel could accomodate seventy people.
The Parish Goal
In January, 1965, Father Wolsin boldly announced his goal for the parish. He outlined an architectural complex that would be a worthy offering to Our Lady of Consolation - a complete series of parish buildings with adequate working facilities for the people of God. First, there was to be a school of sixteen classrooms. Next, in the course of time, there would be a church building, a convent and a rectory.
Much of the work done by a priest is unrecognized, or at least accepted by the parish as normal, needing no particular emphasis. Only on occasion does true recognition come the way of a priest. Such an event came to pass in February, 1965, when the twentieth anniversary of Father Wolsin's ordination as a priest was celebrated.
Over three hundred parishioners of Our Lady of Consolation held a reception for him on February 28 at Saint Mary school hall, Pompton Lakes. At this reception Father Wolsin could truly feel the regard and warmth of his people, could take heart, and could look forward hopefully to the fulfillment of his vision for the parish.
The Parish Complex
On Sunday, November 21, 1965, Father Wolsin made another bold move. He had announced in the beginning of the year that school construction would be started that fall, but now he went even further. He announced that ground would be broken in December for the entire complex of buildings - the school, the rectory, and the church. This was indeed a great victory, greater than Father Wolsin had hoped for in the beginning because at first he had thought of using the school auditorium as a temporary church until the parish could afford to erect a separate church building. But now, on this Sunday some two years after the founding of the parish, Father Wolsin announced a complete building program which would cost a total of at least one million dollars. The parish had increased from 870 families to over 1,000 families. Its financial future could be envisioned, and its support could be counted upon, principally because of a courageous tithing program.
The site for the building complex covers eleven acres. It was bought a few months before the establishment of the parish by Bishop Navagh, who opportunely purchased the property, knowing that such sizeable plots were rare in the northern part of Wayne Township. The ample acreage permitted a spacious arrangement so that each section would have its own identity, but at the same time permitting a harmonious coordination of buildings.
When the land bought it was densely wooded and had thick undergrowth. Upon clearing the site, it became evident that huge rocks would have to be removed. Indeed, thorough landscaping would be necessary. Many rocks would have to be blasted, much filling would have to be done, and the topography would have to be changed. All this involved added expense, but Father Wolsin worked with the architects and landscape specialists to create a topography that would blend into the countryside, transforming a seeming disadvantage into an architectural gain. The rocky hillside was changed from a jagged decline into a gentle slope. The curved, downward slopes were made to reveal hidden beauties of design. Now, as one enters the complex, one discovers the church; then ,around a curve, the rectory and the convent; then, around another descending curve, the school fitted into a hillside.
On Sunday, December 5, 1965, the ground breaking ceremony took place, with the Right Reverend William F. Louis, Vicar-General of the Diocese of Paterson, officiating. He was assisted by Father Wolsin. Attending the ceremony were Right Reverend Monsignor Joseph R. Brestel, Very Reverend Monsignor Edward J. Scully, Reverend Finbarr Corr. Three hundred parishioners attended the ceremony.
The architect-planner was Gerard Joseph Oakley of Bergenfield. The general construction contract was awarded to Sirubi and Sposa, Inc., of Bergenfield. The plumbing, heating and ventilating contractor was Leach Brothers of Pompton Plains, and the electric contractor was Broadfoot Company of Paterson.
As soon as the outer structure of the church was finished, even before the interior furnishings were complete, Father Wolsin celebrated the first Mass in the church on Sunday, May 21, 1967.
The school was completed in August, and on September 6, 1967, it opened its doors for pupils. On the first day 160 pupils enrolled in the four elementary grades. It was Father Wolsin's hope to add one class a year until all the grades were complete.
The teaching staff consisted of four Sisters of the Presentation from Newburgh, New York. Sister Anne Ryan was the Principal.
The school is a two-level building, stepped to conform to the site. It contains sixteen classrooms, a large auditorium, kitchen and facilities, and offices for the principal, the secretary and a nurse.
The convent was completed in July, 1967. It had five rooms for the sisters, a community room, reception rooms, a refectory, and a kitchen. it was built for expansion and to eventually accommodate twelve sisters.
There is a charming chapel. Iits chief artistic feature was a crucifix over the altar with a hand-carved corpus sculptured by an artist in the village of Oberammergau, Germany. The background of the cruicifix was an open lattice of welded nails. The poignancy of this lattice-work of nails is profound. As a background it is artistically and liturgically correct. It is the original work of an artist in Greenwich Village.
The rectory, completed in May, 1967, was a sophisticated design, with accommodations for three resident priests and a visitor. It had a secretary's office, interview offices, a dining room, kitchen, and facilities for a housekeeper.
On Sunday, October 1, 1967, the newly opened church and its companion buildings were formally dedicated by the most Reverend Lawrence Casey, Bishop of the Paterson Diocese. In his dedicatory sermon Bishop Casey congratulated the parishioners of Our Lady of Consolation on the extraordinary work that had been done within four years of the founding of the parish. Not only the church building itself, but the whole architectural complex of four buildings was a rare and remarkable achievement in that it was completed in such a short period of time. He alluded to the zeal and dedication of Father Wolsin and prophesied still greater spiritual rewards to come.
The Complete Parish
Here, then, is a complete parish with its architectural complex - church, school, convent, rectory - all within four years of the canonical founding of the new parish of Our Lady of Consolation.
Yet all these buildings are more than they appear, beautiful though they may be. All this stone and wood and steel and glass is for the saving of souls.