EARLY CATHOLICS
IN THE
PASSAIC COUNTY AREA

Fr. Raymond Kupke, Diocesan Historian

The earliest Catholics in what is today the Paterson Diocese were the Barvarians imported from Germany to work in the northern New Jersey ironworks in 1724. They made contact with Father Ferdinand FARMER, a Jesuit priest in Philadelphia.

Over the next two decades, Farmer made an ever widening biannual circuit of northwestern New Jersey ministering to the scattered Catholics in the iron country. The Mount Hope Ironworks in Rockaway Township, which supplied the Continental Army, was a frequent stop of Father Farmer. (The Ironworks manor house was the residence of John Jacob FAESCH, director of the mining operation.) Between his first visit to Ringwood in April 1765 and his death in August 1786, Farmer officiated at 385 baptisms and 31 marriages in Morris, Passaic, and Sussex counties. The descendants of these early pioneers continue to form part of St. Joseph’s parish, West Milford.

In the early 19th Century, circuit riding missionaries and determined laity began the establishment of modern parishes. Refugees from the French Revolution began Morris County’s first parish, St. Vincent’s at Madison in 1805.

The first priest to be assigned permanently in New Jersey established St. John the Baptist Parish in Paterson (today the cathedral parish) in 1820. St. John’s School opened in 1835, is the oldest Catholic school in the state. New Jersey’s first bishop, James Roosevelt BAYLEY, established Sussex County’s first parish, St. Joseph’s of Newton in 1854.

The tide of European immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries swelled the ranks of New Jersey’s Catholics. Germans founded St. Boniface, Paterson, in 1859. Parishes were founded in Paterson in 1882 for the French at Our Lady of Victories and the Belgians at Our Lady of Lourdes. St. Michael’s parish was founded by Byzantine Catholics in Passaic in 1890.

Passaic also saw the foundation of parishes for two other ethnic groups in 1892, St. Joseph’s for Poles and St. Mary’s for Slovaks. The oldest Italian parish is Sacred Heart, Clifton, founded in 1897. Hungarians founded St. Stephen’s, Passaic, in 1902. Lithuanians established St. Casimir’s Paterson in 1911, and Syrians began St. Ann’s Paterson in 1919.

Because of the growth of the Roman Catholic church in New Jersey, Pope Pius XI restructured the church in New Jersey and on December 9, 1937, the Paterson Diocese was established.