The Beginning – A Mission Station at Ringwood
(1752-1786) A history of Saint Catherine of Bologna Parish would be incomplete without a look back at the importance of Ringwood during those early days of the Catholic Church in America. We travel back in time then, to June of 1752, twenty-four years before the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress. A Jesuit priest, Ferdinand Steinmeyer, arrived in America from Germany. Upon his arrival in Pennsylvania he anglicized his name to “Farmer”.

In 1759 Father Farmer, the “Apostle of New Jersey”, made his first visit to our State. In late April of 1765, he set out on horseback searching for Catholics isolated from the sacraments. Hearing of the iron works developing in northern New Jersey’s Ramapo mountains, and of the Ringwood Company attracting entrepreneurs from England, Germany and France, with German, Polish and Slovak laborers, on May 26, 1765 Father arrived in Ringwood. He set up a mission destined to become one of his largest and most frequently visited. The Sacramental Register provides evidence of the importance of the Ringwood Mission: of the 385 baptisms performed over twenty-one years, 141 were in Ringwood, with 89, in the Macopin-Greenwood Lake area.

The origin of Ringwood’s name is thought to have been selected because the location is “ringed” with wooded hills; or it might have been taken from our present sister city, Ringwood, Hampshire, England. Ringwood is located in the heart of the Ramapo Mountains at the eastern end of New Jersey. It is known as the Highlands and contains what geologists consider to be the oldest rock formations in the world.

Sometime around 1740, Cornelius Board, a Welsh miner who had erected a small furnace on Sterling Pond, New York, and the Ogdens of Newark, each purchased land in Ringwood. While the Boards’ operation was small, the Ogdens erected a furnace in 1742 and thus became the first volume producers of iron in this area, importing over 500 workers from Germany and England along with native whites, both free and slave blacks, and an occasional Indian.

In 1784 Father John Carroll of Maryland was named Prefect Apostolic of the American missions by Pope Pius VI. Carroll appointed Farmer his vicar general for northern New Jersey. Confirmation was first performed in northwestern New Jersey at the Ringwood mission, early November of 1785. Father Farmer recorded his last baptism July 30, 1786. Three days later he recorded a marriage between two “from the West Jersey mission” that had come to Philadelphia to be married by their spiritual father. No longer able to travel, Father Farmer died on August 17,1786.

The Work of the Missions Continues
(1787-1876) Fourteen months after his death, Father Lawrence Graessel arrived. Aged thirty-four, a holy/zealous missionary, he lost no time in visiting the scattered mission stations. On September 19, 1793 he performed a marriage ceremony at Charlottenburg, the last Mass in the ironworks country for some time. Returning to Philadelphia, the city was in the grip of a major yellow fever epidemic. Lawrence Graessel died in October. His missionary efforts lasted five years. They made a strong impression on his confreres. The Holy See, as coadjutor to Bishop Carroll of Baltimore, selected his name for nomination. He was named to that rank posthumously.

Various estimates regarding the number of Catholics in New Jersey at the end of the Revolutionary period ranged between eight and nine hundred. Only eight circuit riding missionary priests were able to serve them. In 1820, Father Richard Bulger was appointed by Bishop Cormoily of the New York Diocese to serve the missions of northern New Jersey, with residence in Paterson. Regrettably, Father Bulger died in November 1824.

The period preceding the Civil War was one of rapid growth throughout New Jersey. The bishops of the United States meeting for their First Plenary Council at Baltimore in May of 1852 petitioned the Holy See for new dioceses. Pope Plus IX joined the New Jersey region of the New York archdiocese to Southern New Jersey which had been part of the diocese of Philadelphia since 1808, and created the diocese of Newark. In October 1853 there were thirty priests serving thirty-three churches and missions in the state, with an estimated Catholic population of 40,000. In northwestern New Jersey there were but three priests – Father Dominic Senez at Paterson who also served the missions in Macopin and Lodi; Father Michael Madden at Madison who also served the missions at Morristown and Short Hills; and Father John Callan at Dover who also cared for the mission at Boonton.

In 1870 Father Peter Dernis arrived in Ringwood. He came on horseback from Philadelphia through the Ramapo mountains. Mary and Harrison DeGraw made a room available for him. Upon his arrival, word spread throughout the community that confessions could be heard, children could be baptized and Mass celebrated, generally in the home of Anthony Nolan (located at Cupsaw beach). Prior to Father Peter’s appearance, Catholics of the area would walk to Paterson to “hear” Mass.

Father Bonaventure Jahn, O.F.M., was the first Friar in Ringwood. Six times a year, from 1876, he traveled from Paterson to celebrate Mass in the homes of the Nolans, the Welches, the Dugans, the Burkes and in a little red farmhouse located at the Cooper Engineering Camp. In 1880, the Ringwood mission was placed under the permanent care of the Franciscans of the Holy Name Province. They had established a chapel in Butler, Masses were offered in a variety of settings. “The Beneplacitum Apostolic urn”, promulgated 31 years later on August 6, 1911 confirmed that accord and served as a basis for entrusting the future Ringwood Parish to the Franciscans.

A Catholic Church for Ringwood
(1912-1944) In 1912 Father Fabian Lepich, O.F.M., became pastor in Ringwood. His assistant, the beloved Father Francis Koch, played a most significant role in the future of our Parish. A census taken by Father Fabian in 1916 revealed that there were 350 Catholics in Ringwood. Sunday Masses were offered in a community church provided by the Hewitt family. A permanent church in Ringwood was sought and Bishop John O’Connor of Newark decided to establish one.

At Christmas in 1916 the Ringwood Mining Company agreed to donate as much land as was needed for a permanent structure. Father Francis, with the help of his friends at the Church Extension Society, raised the funds necessary. Substantial aid came from a Paterson donor, Catherine Crew, who contributed $500 toward the Ringwood church. (It was in her honor that the name of the proposed new church was changed from Queen of the Rosary to Saint Catherine of Bologna, the fifteenth century Franciscan saint, her patron.) With these funds the Ringwood Mining Company donated a one hundred foot square building plot located at Margaret King Avenue on February 1, 1917. Construction began March 31, just before Palm Sunday. Father Francis turned the first shovel of ground and Father Fabian the second. The entire foundation, including a basement area, was dug out by Polish and Slovak parishioners who donated their time.

The Very Reverend Edward Blecke, O.F.M. Provincial came to Ringwood June 10, 1917 to bless and lay the cornerstone of the new church. Over one hundred people were present from the surrounding areas. A Polish band from Passaic provided music. Hymns were sung both in English and Polish. Joining Father Francis Koch were Marcellus Hollmar (who preached the English sermon) and Raymond Walsh. Father Fabian preached in Polish.

The first Saint Catherine of Bologna Church formally opened its doors on the second day of September 1917. Services were conducted each Sunday. Dedication services were held November 25. Father Joseph Stein of Paterson performed the ceremonies and the Franciscan Friars Fabian Lepich, Francis Koch, Honorious Frastacky, Marcellus Kollmar, Leonard Heckman were present. Among the principal donors and supporters of the new church were the Nolans, Welches and Droughtons.

Father Fabian served us for twelve years. Parishioners hearing that he was to be transferred in 1935, petitioned the Provincial to let him remain but the petition was denied. Other Friars who made entries into the church registry, and who served as pastors or as assistants between 1925 and 1944 were Fathers Anthanasius Hunfield, Theophane Leary, Alfred Martin, Thomas Cosgrove, Otho Spahn, Henry Curley, Bartholemew Timlin, Hyacinth Barnhardt, Benjamin Kuhn, Linus Verheist and Kieran McGrath.

Under the pastorship of Father Benjamin, the hall under the church was excavated. Parishioners Harrison DeGraw, Thomas Magee, Joseph Poncharik, Joseph MiklikJoseph Luba, Peter Gregorski, the Gibbons boys, Paul Usinnowicz, Serephin Kapichak and Stephen Padusnak all assisted. A confessional was built by Harrison DeGraw. Three altars were erected by Paul Usinowicz. Mr. Gibbons contributed two large sanctuary windows above the altar.

The Provincial Chapter of 1937 assigned Father Kinus Verhelst, O.F.M. to us. A heating plant was installed; linoleum was laid on the center aisle and sanctuary. Father Kieran McGrath succeeded him as pastor in 1942. Further improvements were made. In 1944 Thomas Summers painted the building and an annex was built to the sacristy with a bedroom and bathroom. It was his intention also to raise enough money for a friary.

Saint Catherine’s Mission Elevated to a Parish
(1944-1967) On November 27, 1944 under Father Kieran McGrath’s pastorate the status of Saint Catherine of Bologna was raised to a parish through a decree issued by Bishop McLaughlin. That same decree entrusted the new parish to the Friars of the Holy Name Province. The boundary lines of the new canonical territorial parish were to be co¬extensive with those of Ringwood Borough. The decree was effective November 27, 1944, and promulgated on Sunday, December 24.

After Father Kieran’s death in 1947, Father Urban Scanlon administered the parish until Father John Berchmans Chouinard, O.F.M. was appointed on September 3. Father John is still fondly remembered among our older parishioners. He spurred himself on ceaselessly developing the material beautification of our church, to make it worthy of the title “parish”. A liturgical altar was erected to replace three smaller altars. It had a beldechinum resembling that of St. Anthony’s church in Butler. The Liturgical Arts Company in New York City made a new tabernacle and crucifix. Two Masses were celebrated on Sundays and evening devotions were held on Tuesdays.

Until his arrival the children were transported to the parochial school in Wanaque. Early in 1948 Father William Hays, the pastor of St. Francis, told Father John, that with transportation problems, it was no longer possible. Attempts were made for them at St. Anthony’s in Butler. Father John then took his problem directly to Bishop Thomas Boland. The Bishop’s decision came with the provision that the task of opening a school in Ringwood be accomplished within three weeks.

The Very Reverend Mother Vernonica, Superior General of the Capuchin Sisters of Mount St. Francis, (now the Franciscan Sisters of Ringwood) provided a guesthouse located near the Motherhouse, for that purpose. Father John assisted with the teaching. The guesthouse which became known as “the little red schoolhouse”, still stands to the right of the entrance road leading to the New Jersey Botanical Gardens at Skylands. It was divided into four classrooms, with Sr. Gesuina as principal teaching seventh and eighth grades, Sr. Gabriel fifth and sixth, Sr. Elizabeth third and fourth, and Sr. Berard first and second grades. Classes began September 12, 1948.

Those who served as principals during these 45 years were – Sr. Gesuina, Sr. Gabriel, Sr. Maria Goretti, Sr. Clare, Sr. Berard, Sr. Appolonia, Sr. Margaret Mary, Sr. Michele, Sr. Rita, Sr. Annete Marie, Sr. Linda Marie, and Sr. Theresa Marie in the fall of 1993.

It was soon clear that the temporary building was too small to accommodate the growing needs of the parish. Father John again approached Bishop Boland. Impressed with what had been accomplished, and with the full agreement of the Provincial of the Holy Name Province, plans for building a school capable of accommodating one hundred and twenty pupils were made. This effort resulted in the erection of a new structure adjacent to the church on Margaret King Avenue. It consisted of four classrooms, a faculty room and a small kitchen. It was also necessary to use the excavated basement. David Stoken, a non-catholic (later a convert) provided assistance in this work. Father John and other parishioners helped.

Sixty-nine pupils entered the new school in February 1949. By 1951 one hundred and thirty-three children attended the school. The quarters were again found to be inadequate. To transport those children living at a distance, Father John at first acquired an old bus that he found lying about at the Mount St. Francis Convent. Its motor needed rebuilding; it needed new tires, and was badly in need of repainting and other repairs. He did the work. A year later a new bus, was made possible by the contributions of the congregation.

With the rapid growth of the parish it became evident that the small church building and school were not adequate. It had been Father John’s dream to build a permanent school and a new church for his flock. The day he had worked toward unceasingly came to realization on Sunday September 6, 1953 when Archbishop Boland of Newark arrived in Ringwood to bless the newly built red brick building which now stands on the rise at Skyline Drive and Erskine Road. The 210 foot long structure was the new school and temporary church. Catholic families had grown to 225. The Western half of the building was completed first to form four classrooms; the remaining un-partitioned space was used for church services.

The year after the dedication, the construction of a parish hall on adjacent property began. The parishioners provided much of the labor. In 1955 church services were moved from the chapel in the school to the parish hall. Father John’s pastorate ended in mid 1955. In July, Father Donatus Walsh, O.F.M. was appointed pastor. He served until the summer of 1967. Those years were a period of quiet and continued growth.

Vatican II and its Aftermath
(1967-1979) The stability under Father Walsh came to a gradual and decided end upon the arrival of Father Angelus DeMarco, O.F.M., the new pastor in June 1967. Father Angelus was a man of letters (five academic degrees and a doctorate in theology). The author of four books on liturgy, he had lectured abroad and in the United States. He had also assisted in the preparatory work for Vatican II.

Father Angelus looked upon his mission as one of community and parish renewal. He believed the real problems of renewal were human and not theological. An innovator, he held Masses in the homes of the volunteer workers from the Skyline Lakes area. One of Father Angelus’ early acts was the founding of a Lay Advisory Council, composed of members with special talents. Once organized, the Lay Committee assumed much of the workload normally assigned to the friars. He added a library and small auditorium to the school, using volunteer labor whenever possible. He also saw a need for more space for parish activities and living quarters for the friars. That nothing was being done to reduce the parish debt, troubled him. At the end of his first year, however, the debt was reduced, and ground was broken in mid-April for a new friary, completed before year’s end.

In 1972, the parish hall was converted into a permanent church. The service began with the dedication of a newly decorated sanctuary and concluded with the blessing of the church’s new steeple and bells. A focal point was the stained glass windows, ten feet high, which highlighted the tabernacle and honored the Franciscan missionaries who assisted in evangelizing America. In early 1973 Father DeMarco initiated plans for a new and larger parish center. Architects drawings were readied and ground was broken by mid-May.

At the time of Father DeMarco’s arrival, the impact of Vatican li was beginning to be felt. Most welcomed its outcome. However, many in Ringwood did not. Father Angelus left no doubt regarding his views. He sided with the traditional elements in a parish that was beginning to split between conservative and liberal factions. This division deepened with time and ultimately led to difficulties between him and his assistants (during his six year pastorate, ten friars came and left). Finally, Holy Name Province refused to appoint anyone else. Father Angelus had wanted to remain at Saint Catherine’s beyond his six-year term. His request was denied.

In June 1973, Father Theodore Lehr, O.F.M. was appointed the new pastor. An ex-Navy chaplain and an official of the New York Archdiocesan Chancery, he was a firm supporter of Vatican II. He attempted to end the controversy between the factions; He made some minor changes in the liturgy and established a ten member appointed parish council. He also appointed the first permanent deacon and the first Eucharistic ministers. Two friars in serving the ever-growing number of Catholics in Ringwood assisted him.

With the deep-seated convictions of those on the parish council, who opposed every change he attempted, Father Lehr’s efforts to heal the rifts between the conservative and liberal elements in the parish were in vain. Another difficulty was the problem with the construction of the new parish center. Started in November 1974, by the time the building was dedicated on August 8, 1975, the original estimated costs had doubled. It was necessary to float two large loans at high interest. Both loans were for twenty years. Father Lehr also found himself overwhelmed by the continued opposition in his efforts at bringing the parish through the transition of Vatican II. He resigned in April of 1975.

With Father Lehr’s resignation the Franciscans sent Father Matthew Gaskin. Father Gaskin was a gifted speaker who had completed post-graduate studies in Rome. He had also traveled extensively throughout the United States and Canada, lecturing and leading parish renewals. A conservative by nature, he accepted the principles of Vatican II and was determined to implement them. It appeared that he was the ideal choice as pastor. During his first year, he inaugurated a freely elected parish council, appointed Richard Michalski deacon for spiritual development and James Elliott deacon for family life. He attempted to use the talent within the parish in confronting its financial and managerial problems. With this help, he was able to put the parish debt in order, and develop a constitution for the parish council.

Father Matthew added to the friar’s staff, increased the permanent deacon staff by two and established a Franciscan Sister as Director of Religious Education. He placed a sign at the foot of Skyline Drive and Greenwood Lake Turnpike proclaiming “Saint Catherine’s Parish – A Family of Families”. It is there today, twenty years later. Within a year after the sign went up, Father Gaskin was removed as pastor and the three assistant friars were transferred. The difficulties between the conservative and liberal elements in the parish continued.

Enter the Pastoral Teams
(1979-1990) The Provincial suggested that the four friars staffing Christ House serve as a pastoral team here. The friar retreat team, consisted of Father Boniface Hanley, the team coordinator, Fathers Alvin Faddish, Charles Miller and Brother Robert Cunniff. They had worked well together at Christ House and they assumed responsibilities on September 1, 1979.

Unfortunately, the “team concept” had not been explained to the parish. This proved an obstacle to a smooth transition. All general meetings of the parish council were suspended. It resulted, ultimately, in bringing peace to the parish.

In February of 1980, Father Charles Miller took a leave of absence from the priesthood. Two weeks later Brother Robert left. The Franciscan authorities promised to replace Father Charles later in the year. They did not replace Brother Robert. Father Alvin remained with Father Boniface until both were replaced by Father Edward Flanagan, O.F.M. as coordinator of the next team of friars to come to Saint Catherine’s.

Father Flanagan arrived in early 1982, followed shortly by Fathers Eric Kyle, O.F.M. and Robert O’Keefe, O.F.M. Father Emmet Murphy, O.F.M. then arrived in mid-July 1987 and was acting pastor until the arrival of Father Robert Nee, O.F.M. Both served with Brother William Mann, O.F.M., who as “parish administrator”, set in motion the improvement project of the church’s physical condition during Father Nee’s pastorate.

Having received little attention, since its conversion from the parish center in 1972, the church was in dire need of renovation, which Bishop Rodimer recognized. He insisted that necessary steps be taken “to clean it up”. Work began on October 31, 1988 and was completed in time for Christmas services, two months later. The work included a simple but beautifully remodeled sanctuary. New pews, kneelers, and new carpeting were installed and much needed repairs were made to the roof structure.

The End of the Franciscan Presence in Ringwood
(1990-1993) The Franciscan friars were withdrawn from Saint Catherine of Bologna on June 14, 1990. After more than a century of service in Ringwood, the parish was transferred directly to the Diocese. In their joint announcement, both Bishop Rodimer and father Anthony Carrizzo, O.F.M. Provincial, said: “In the light of the Franciscan Province’s future initiatives and its decreasing personnel pool, it is impossible for them to staff as many parishes as they have in the past”. Bishop Rodimer expressed “deep appreciation for the years of service which the Franciscan priests and brothers have given to the parishioners of Ringwood”; and also, his “deep appreciation for the service which the Franciscan Sisters have given to its school”. He indicated that staffing would continue as in the past.

In mid-April of 1990 the Bishop announced the appointment of Father Patrick G. Panos, pastor of Saint Jude’s parish in Hopatcong, as the new pastor of Saint Catherine’s. He arrived Friday evening, June 15,1990. Two weeks later Father Thomas G. Rainforth, then serving as Associate Pastor at St. Paul’s parish in Prospect Park, was appointed as associate pastor. A new and promise filled chapter in the history of Saint Catherine of Bologna began.

“Living Stones”, A History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Paterson – Fr. Raymond J. Kupke
“The History of St. Catherine of Bologna Parish, Ringwood, N.J.” – Fr. Vianney
The M. Devlin, O.F.M.
“The Problems at St. Catherine of Bologna, Ringwood” -
“The Beacon” – News of the Diocese of Paterson
“The Citizen” – Local Newspaper
“The Newark Sunday News” – May 14, 1950
Fr. Boniface Hanley, O.F.M.

Assistance of all who helped so willingly during numerous interviews in connection with the research for this history of Saint Catherine’s Parish is greatly appreciated.
Special thanks must go to Monsignor Panos, Father Rainforth, the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Name Province: Frs. Lawrence Burke, Boniface Hanley, Emmet Murphy, Robert Nee, Flavian Walsh and Br. Bill Mann. Thanks must also go to Sister Clare Agnes, Archivist for the Franciscan Sisters of Ringwood; to Mr. Ron Donnelly, Mr. Richard Sokerka, Editorial Director of ‘the Beacon’, Mr. Edward Kunert and Mrs. Maryann Stolarz, Parish Secretary.
We wish also to extend our gratitude to Mr. Greg Bissell for reviewing the first draft, and for suggesting ways to abridge the original for use in the 50th Anniversary Parish Photo Directory.