Saint Francis of Assisi Parish
is a wonderful blend of hundreds of families. We share an active
parish life: we worship together; our children attend our
school; we reach out to each other and to our community through
our many ministries, organizations, and activities. While many
of our families have belonged to the parish for several
generations, others are relatively new. Our parish family
continues to grow.
How did our parish get its name? When was our parish formed?
Who answered the call to form the mission, and then the parish,
of Saint Francis of Assisi? Who were the families who made up
the mission, then parish, church of St. Francis of Assisi?
Where did they celebrate mass? How did our parish develop and
grow into our parish today?
The patron saint of our parish is Saint Francis of Assisi,
founder of the religious order of priests and brothers known as
the Franciscans. Fulfilling the motto of Saint Francis, “My God
and My All,” the Franciscan priests first brought the great
message of the Cross to the people in our area. The holy seed of
the word of God, first sown by the Franciscans, continues to
thrive in our parish today. Our beautiful church on Ringwood
Avenue is a fitting tribute to Saint Francis and to all those
who continue to spread the Good News.
In the late 19th century, the Franciscan Friars of
the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus Order of Friars
Minor began to minister to the people in the Wanaque Valley. The
friars resided at Saint Anthony Monastery in Butler, where they
administered a parish. The Franciscans also established a
mission church that would become Saint Catherine of Bologna
Parish in Ringwood. Traveling by horse and buggy between his
order’s congregations in Butler and Ringwood, Father Francis
Koch, O.F.M., often stopped in Wanaque. Beginning in 1880, he
first celebrated mass with the people of Wanaque. Later, Father
Koch would return to the area to help guide the mission that
would become our parish of Saint Francis of Assisi. Except for a
brief period from 1901 to 1904, when the priests of St.
Bonaventure Friary in Paterson assumed the pastoral care of the
community, the Franciscans would minister to the people of
Wanaque well into the 20th century.
Many families came in search of work in the area. They counted
on income earned in the mines such as those in Ringwood, which
had been worked since the days of the American Revolution. The
closing of the Ringwood mines around 1897 caused widespread
unemployment among the miners. As a result, they were forced to
look for new work; they moved down from Midvale to “Wynockie” in
the area now known as Haskell. There they found jobs in the
paper mill run by the Wynockie River Paper Company, which stood
at the site of the present Wanaque Dam. Mass was celebrated in a
home at the corner of Highland Avenue (now Warren Hagstrom
Boulevard) and Ringwood Avenue; in another home, near the
Haskell School on the corner of Storms Avenue; and in the
Mechanics House, owned by the Odd Fellows, in Midvale.
When the Franciscans resumed their care of the people
of Wanaque in 1904, Father Hyacinth Rueberg, O.F.M., guardian of
the Butler Monastery, decided to build a mission church in
Wanaque and there was formed on October 17, 1905, “A religious
corporation, Saint Francis of Assisi Church, Wanaque.” It was
Father Hyacinth’s intention to buy land and build a church on
the property where the buildings are now situated on Ringwood
Avenue. At the time, the property was being used as a baseball
diamond and was unavailable for sale. Father Koch again became
involved with the Wanaque Valley. With his help, the Wanaque
River Paper Company donated the plot of ground for the first
church, located on a little hilltop at the rear of the paper
works which is now the site of the dam. Then in 1905 a
two-story cement block building with gable roof and belfry was
erected. The second story was designed for the purpose of
worship. In May, 1906, the first high mass was celebrated in
the newly completed church. Father Koch worked with the people
to help them to complete the combination church and school.
Based on information from baptismal records, it seems that
Father James Keenan guided the mission after completion of the
church, from 1906 to1908. In 1908 Father Raymond Walsh replaced
Father Keenan. He in turn was succeeded by Father Lawrence
Bultmann in the fall of 1909.
Father Francis Koch invited the Gray Franciscan Missionary
Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Peekskill, New York to send a
number of the order’s sisters to educate the children. Sister
Seraphine, O.S.F., the first superior, and Sister Yolande
arrived before the convent was completed. They lived in the
back room of the church and taught catechism to the children.
Once the convent was completed, Sister Carol and Sister Helena
arrived to become the first faculty of Saint Francis of Assisi
School. The two sisters taught all the grades; the student
enrollment was sixty children.
Over the next seven years, Saint Francis of Assisi Mission
Church was presided over by as many priests. Father Seraphim
Geegan served for two years, from 1914 to 1916. Father Raymond
Walsh, Father Leonard Heckman, and Father James Keenan (during
the calamitous flu of 1918, on his second of three assignments
to the parish) each served for one year, respectively, from 1916
to 1919. Father Theodore Chemin served from 1919 to 1921, and
was followed by Father Otto Spahn, who served briefly in 1921.
Later that year, the newly ordained Father Harkins assumed
leadership and served until the following summer. At the time
of Father Harkins’ departure in August of 1922, the mission
church’s affairs were being held in the Community Hall in
From the mid 1920s to the 1940s, Saint Francis of Assisi Mission
Church and School underwent significant changes. Father Thomas
Cosgrove served for five years, from 1922 to 1927. During his
tenure, the church was moved permanently downstairs. Father
Cosgrove was followed by Father Vincent Kelly, who served until
1930, when Father Xavier Niederlander arrived. Father
Niederlander remained until 1935. By that time, two masses were
celebrated each Sunday.
In July of 1935 Father Keenan returned for the third time. He
built an addition to the school to provide indoor bathrooms for
the children. On the second floor, quarters were built for the
priest in charge. In August, 1937, Father Vincent Kelly was
again assigned to Saint Francis of Assisi Mission Church.
Permission was granted by the Wanaque Board of Education for the
priest to conduct catechism classes in the public school
buildings after school. Upon Father Kelly’s death, Father Urban
Scanlon was appointed the Parochial Vicar. Father Urban
of the second floor for school use, opening up four
classrooms. In 1943, ninety-three students were enrolled at
Saint Francis of Assisi School. Four members of the Gray
Franciscan Missionary Sisters served as its faculty. On November
27, 1944, Saint Francis of Assisi Mission Church became Saint
Francis of Assisi Parish. Father Urban became its official
On January 26, 1946, Father William Joseph Hayes, a chaplain in
the Second World War, assumed the pastoral duties at Saint
Francis of Assisi. As the number of school children increased,
Father Hayes made annual improvements to the old school. In
1951, the entire building was used for classrooms; during the
last half of that year, Sunday mass was celebrated in the
Working continuously to raise money for the erection of a larger
church for a rapidly growing parish, Father Hayes acquired
property on Ringwood Avenue for a new church. In October, 1950,
ground was broken and on December 16, 1951, the cornerstone for
the new Saint Francis of Assisi Church was laid. The Most
Reverend Thomas A. Boland, Bishop of Paterson, officiated at the
dedication ceremony. On December 17, 1951, the bishop offered
the first mass in the new church. The first Sunday masses were
celebrated in the new church on December 23, 1951. The building
was designed by Brother Cajetan Baumann, O.F.M.
In June 1952, Father Godfrey Weitekamp was appointed pastor of
Saint Francis of Assisi Church. In August 1952, ground for the
new school was broken and six months later, on February 2, 1953,
the children occupied the new building. In September 1952, a
nearby order of teaching sisters, the Capuchin Franciscan
Sisters of the Infant Jesus, agreed to provide instruction for
the children. In the fall of 1952, the enrollment at Saint
Francis of Assisi School was 240 students. By June 1955, there
were 364 pupils and, for the first time, one teacher for each of
the nine grades.
Permission was granted for a friary to be built and ground was
broken in April 1953. On November 8, 1953, the completed brick
building was officially blessed by the Most Reverend James A.
McNulty, Bishop of the Paterson Diocese.
In 1958, Father Paschal Kerwin was appointed pastor; he was
assisted by Reverend Roland Burke. In the summer of 1961,
Reverend Raymond Beach became the new assistant to Father
Kerwin. Under the direction of Father Beach, a Confraternity of
Christine Doctrine (C.C.D.) high school program was instituted.
In addition, many interior renovations were accomplished. In
August 1963, Father Beach initiated the Saint Francis of Assisi
Parish Carnival. The Carnival is an important annual social and
fundraising event held on parish grounds each summer. It has
been held continuously since 1963. Father Beach was appointed
pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in 1964.
The Reverend Edward J. Sullivan, O.F.M, became the pastor of
Saint Francis of Assisi in November, 1970. The Learning Center
at the school was constructed in January of 1973. The formal
installation of Father Evan Banks, O.F.M., as pastor was held on
October 4, 1976. Father Evan was assisted by Reverend Cardius
Kazanchy and Reverend James Nero.
In 1982, a Franciscan team ministry was begun; it was shared by
Reverend Raymond Hirt, O.F.M., and Reverend Daniel Lanahan,
O.F.M. In 1983 Reverend Andrew Giardino, O.F.M., joined the
team. Saint Francis of Assisi parishioner Robert Kronyak was
ordained a deacon and served with the Franciscan team. The
Franciscan team ministered to the parish until 1990.
With its completion of over a century of service to Saint
Francis of Assisi Parish, the Province of the Most Holy Name of
Jesus Order of Friars Minor presented the parish to the Diocese
of Paterson. Reverend Remigio Rocco began his pastorate in 1990
as the first diocesan priest to lead Saint Francis of Assisi
Parish. Father Rocco was joined in 1991 by Reverend William
Mooney, who served as associate pastor until 1994. During Father
Rocco’s tenure at St. Francis of Assisi Church, he was ordained
a monsignor. Father Vincent Klim served as associate pastor from
1995 to 2000. Parishioner Jose Rivera was ordained a deacon in
1999. Monsignor Rocco initiated the teen group Antioch for
parish youth and young adults, as well as the Emmaus group and
Emmaus retreats. The two organizations helped strengthen the
spiritual and communal bonds among the parishioners and were a
major focus of church life during his tenure. Monsignor Rocco
expanded the Religious Education and Formation (R.E.F.) program
for public school students.
He oversaw major interior renovations, as well as the creation
of a chapel and narthex at Saint Francis of Assisi Church; the
modernization of the school; and the building of a parish
center. Monsignor Rocco retired in June 2006; at that time the
Diocese of Paterson appointed Father Lancelot Reis as the second
diocesan pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi Parish.