Founded in May 1985, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church is part of the Diocese of Paterson. From our earliest days our mission was to be a caring Christian Community, aware of the needs of others, welcoming friend and stranger alike, until there are no more strangers. Today, in 2016, we are a parish in transformation. As we move through our 30th anniversary year as a parish, our mission has changed to help us focus on goals more inline with an established community
“Opening hearts to the fire of God’s love… Transform our Parish through prayer, worship, service, charity, and growth in knowledge of our faith, while being guided by the Holy Spirit. We invite all people to enrich our community with tolerance and cooperation with all other faith”
In an effort to further enrich our faith and serve our community, a parishioner created program fully supports our new mission statement and began rolling out in September 2015. The goal of the Ignite program is to focus on 4 Pillars; Prayer & Worship, Faith Formation, Faith Sharing and Service and Charity.
Today we are focusing on offering programs for busy parents, retreats for young adults and service within and outside our church walls. Our prayer is that these programs, which will continue to be modified to fit our needs, will help us grow in our faith and love of Jesus Christ as well as honor our patron Saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton, who was a woman of prayer and service and is quoted as saying
“The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner he wills it; and thirdly to do it because it is his will”
It is with this new mission that we open our doors and welcome parishioners, new and old, to join us, to worship with us and to serve with us.
For years many Catholics in the Flanders area traveled to surrounding parishes to attend mass. In 1974, when the population grew in the Clover Hill area, St. Lawrence Church of Chester began Masses and Religious Education classes in Mt. View School. The seeds for our parish were sown in those Masses almost 40 years ago. We had a humble beginning, we did not even have a name for our parish and we worshipped in the school cafeteria. On June 24, 1985 we became St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish and Father John Wehrlen was sent to be our Pastor.
With the formation of our parish, a house was acquired on Main Street in Flanders so Fr. John would have a home. Not only did this provide a residence for our pastor, it also held administrative offices, meeting rooms and a daily chapel. From the outset, Father John made it clear that this was not a rectory, but rather, a parish house because it belonged to all of the people of this newly formed church. Parishioners donated their time to make this house a home by painting it, furnishing it, and supplying everyday living needs.
We held our First Communion and our First Baptism at the Parish House. We held many social events there including clam and lobster bakes, Easter egg hunts and parish picnics. The choir practiced in the chapel while the Seton Society met in the living room. We held an annual Christmas Boutique there and crafters met every Wednesday (Father’s day off!) throughout the year to hand make all the items we sold.
The first church secretary was Pat Fisk and Liz Thomlinson was the Religious Education coordinator. Madelyn Petrucha and David Reidel were appointed as our first church Trustees. Fanny Farkle, Father John’s dog, was always on hand to welcome guests!
As word of our new parish spread, more and more people began to crowd the cafeteria for Mass. Everyone made an effort to learn everyone’s names. As we grew it became clear that we need some leadership to assist Father John. Nine members were either elected or appointed to serve on the Parish Advisory Board. One of the first jobs the board undertook was to make the school cafeteria a suitable place for worship. Banners were made and a portable altar was built. Each Saturday afternoon, volunteers would ‘dress’ the cafeteria and another group would break it down after the last mass on Sunday. Father John had a ‘week-end bag’ that carried the essentials he needed to celebrate Mass.
As our population continued to grow, additional masses were added to the schedule.On Holy Days, when school was in session, we would celebrate in the Knights of Columbus Hall or the Flanders Firehouse. On some snowy weekends, when we couldn’t get into the school we would huddle in the Daily Mass Chapel to celebrate. Packed in like sardines, close in body and spirit.
Our children are educated through our K-8 Religious Ed and Confirmation Programs. We have always been blessed with volunteers willing to make time to share their faith with our children. In the early days we used the school classrooms. Walking down those hallways you could feel the power of the Holy Spirit at work! Today we use trailers that were converted to classrooms.
In the early years our parishioners were mainly young adults with small children. Now those small children have families of their own and many are still in town and continue to be members of St.E’s. We had a Social Committee that hosted many events throughout the year such as Musicals, Fashion Shows and New Year’s Eve parties. We had tailgate parties and picnics and gold outings.
In the fall of 1986 a survey was conducted regarding the need for a church building and a multipurpose hall and a Building Committee was formed. Its principal task was to locate property suitable for the building of a church and related buildings. After several properties were evaluated a decision was made to purchase the 7-acre parcel behind the original Parish House. In December 1987 the committee selected Mr. Paul Reilly, AIA, from Red Bank, NJ to be our church architect. We also engaged the services of RBA Group from Morristown, NJ to assist with the preparation of the site plan and to secure all necessary environmental permits. Meetings with the architect, Reverend Joseph Farias, Diocesan Liturgical Consultant and parishioners, allowed us to understand liturgical requirements as well express our desires to assist the architect.
In April 1988 we launched our first Church Building Campaign. Within 6 weeks we acquired pledges totaling $1.06 million, just a little short of our goal, but enough to continue with our dream. Architectural drawings were developed and Jack Kelly (still a current parishioner), of Kel Tech Associates was hired as Construction manager.
In May 1990, Bishop Rodimer dedicated the spot on which our church would be built.
In July of 1990 we found that it was necessary to either relocate or demolish our original Parish House to make way for the entrance to our church site. Sadly, a decision was made to demolish the house and rent to eventually purchase the Pearsall property that was located just net door. With the razing of the original house we had room to build a road that would lead to our Church. A small bridge was also constructed here to go over the small tributary that runs through our property and we dedicated the bridge to St. John the Baptist.
Easter 1991 found us celebrating our first Mass in our beautiful new Church. Pride was evident in the faces of all those who attended Mass in the Church they had built. Through all the long months of designing, fund raising, and building, Father John was always there to remind us not to worry, all would turn out as planned and he was right! In September of 1991 we held our dedication and of course celebrated with a picnic on the church grounds.
When we first opened our doors we had less than 200 families. Within 8 years that number soared to 1100 families. Today, our census shows 1,657 registered families have joined St. Elizabeth’s.
In 2010, the Bishop came to celebrate Mass as part of our 25th Anniversary. Afterwards there was a huge family picnic out in the backyard. Many of our founding parishioners who have since moved from the area were in attendance.
Throughout the years, our parish community hosted and participated in many fund raising efforts (Tricky Trays, Carnivals, Christmas Boutiques, Cars Shows, Fish & Chip Dinners to name a few) to help defray some of our escalating operating costs and assist needy families in our community. That effort continues through various Diocesan and Pledge Campaigns in an attempt to build a Parish Community Center (concept drawings are on display in the Church’s community room). We forge ahead with our plans for the Parish Center even though we continue to encounter issues with the ever changing State and Municipal environmental regulations and inadequate funding. Our Parish needs a place where our spiritual family can meet and socialize…. returning to our roots where our families share their faith and feel the power of the Holy Spirit at work!
Over the year’s we have had many priests celebrate Mass with us. Father John was named a Monsignor while he was serving as our pastor. Father Jovan, Father Vincent McTigh, Father Raymond Jasaitis were all associate pastors. Father Elias Lorenzo, Father Gerard Lair and Father Christian Casper, all from the St. Mary’s Abbey, Delbarton, were assigned to us. In 2005 Father John decided it was time to retire and Father Stanley Barron was named Pastor. Father Stan introduced us to Fr. Vincent Klim, and Monsignor Madden from Nazareth Village. Father John Andrew Connell, from Nazareth also, now serves as weekend associate. Father Hernan Cely currently serves us as Parochial Vicar and Director of Religious Education.
Several of our parishioners have been ordained Permanent Deacons. Deacon Dennis King and Deacon Frank Puglia actively serve our parish. Deacon Stephen Natafalusy is now retired after many dedicated years or service and sadly, Deacon Jim McGrory has recently left us and is in heaven smiling down on us.
We have also benefited from having seminarians assigned to us over the years. To name a few, Father Richard Carton, Father Jose Bocanegra, Father Michael Lee and homegrown Father Peter Clarke. They helped by assisting Father with visiting the sick, running our VBS program, and helping with the liturgy planning.
Serving St. Elizabeth’s for over 25 years, Suzanne Laggy is the Parish Secretary and bookkeeper. On any given day she can be seen picking up groceries for the Food pantry, logging tickets for the current raffle, negotiating better prices for our contracted services or comforting a drop-in looking for a shoulder to cry on. Suzanne’s counterpart is Debbie Meola who is our Religious Education secretary. Denise Vitale coordinates the program. Shannon Jones runs our Youth Ministry welcoming the youth of St. Elizabeth’s from Junior High through High school. Business Coordinator Dick Wertz rounds off our current non-liturgical staff.