North Jersey Parish Concludes 90th Anniversary Commemoration

Richard Mucowski, OFM Around the Province

Pastor Richard Mucowski greets parishioners after the liturgy celebrating Assumption Parish’s 90th anniversary. (Photo courtesy of Richard)

With a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the parish of Assumption of Our Blessed Lady in northern New Jersey closed its commemoration of the 90th anniversary of its founding. The pastor of the parish, located 10 miles west of New York City, wrote a description of how the commemorations evolved. The first 90th anniversary event was a Mass celebrated last October. 

WOOD-RIDGE, N.J. – Over a year and a half ago, when Assumption Parish realized that the 90th anniversary of its founding was approaching, I brought this reality to the attention of the pastoral council and members of the various parish organizations, such as the Rosary Society, the Knights of Columbus, the Secular Franciscans, and members of the parish staff. The staff, led by Jane Ryan and Rose LePore, laid out a calendar of special activities throughout the course of the year.

Plans began to take shape once a committee came together to focus on this celebration. Jack Nagle, a parishioner and a church usher, who had worked closely with James Czerwinski, OFM, in planning the 75th anniversary celebrations, guided us through the initial planning for the 90th anniversary. The staff, under the special care of Sal Caccamo and his associate James Schultz, together with members of the decorating committee – Rich and Mary Morihan, George and Sharon McNish, and Linda Mulkahey and her partner Gardienne – organized decorations for the various seasons of the liturgical year that enhanced the church’s appearance and made it festive.

Planning for a Special Celebration
Other parishioners were willing to volunteer and, with the help of Rose Lepore and Jane Ryan, they gathered photos for a pictorial history of the parish. Pete and Marie Gallo, who had many of the pictures, offered their advice and helped with some of the initial guidance in putting together the pictorial history since the 75th anniversary. Parishioners Sandy and Angelo Urato made sashes that were presented to prominent and long-term volunteers, whose lives tell the parish’s story. Loretta Devoursney, Dottie Dobeck and others who captured some of the parish’s history were recruited to share their insights.

Lorraine Fay and her mother, Carolyn Selley, shared their knowledge of the parish tricky tray fundraisers that helped support the church and school’s financial needs. As a committee, we realized that to pass the 90th anniversary without acknowledging these fundraisers was unacceptable. We were compelled to use the opportunity to celebrate a significant moment in the parishioners’ lives and the lives of the friars and staff who served them.

A number of our parishioners are in their 90s and several parishioners are 100 years old, or turned 100 during the jubilee year. They included two men – Anthony Giusseffi and John Havlicek – as well as a number of the women parishioners – the late Jean Zoch, a member of the Secular Franciscan Order; trustee Rosalie Cauceliglia; Madeline Spies; Helen Landells; Rose Marie Del’Neuve; and Lynn Schreiber, who headed the Rosary Society. These men and women have given much of their time, talent, and energy to supporting the parish, and they also needed to be acknowledged.

Over the months, we acknowledged some of these individuals at Masses to honor their hard work and dedication. A number of them were presented with sashes for their many years of service in various capacities. Tony Giuseffi – who we recognized with the HNP Francis Medal two years ago – passed away in August 2016, and his family received the sash that acknowledged his contributions to both to the Knights of Columbus and to the parish, where he served as a Eucharistic Minister for many years.

Donna Ryan, director of religious education, and her assistant, Patti Hone, prepared our children who would be celebrating the sacraments of first penance, First Communion and confirmation to make this year special, with family liturgy Sundays throughout the course of the year.

Cardinal Tobin greets parishioners after the liturgy celebrating the 90th anniversary of Assumption Parish. (Photo courtesy of Richard Mucowski)

The Festivities Begin
Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard Hebda had initially agreed to be with us for the Mass that would be offered in September. With his reassignment by the Vatican to his position as Archbishop of Minneapolis-St. Paul, we asked Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, to celebrate the Mass instead. We appreciated his kindness and generosity as he kicked off the jubilee year by celebrating the opening Mass on Sept. 11, 2016 and preaching the homily for the joyful occasion.

Kevin had been an associate at Assumption Church as his first assignment after ordination to the priesthood. He was a natural for the occasion and someone who captured the joyful sense of this important experience in the life of Assumption of Our Blessed Lady Parish. By explaining its Franciscan roots as a mission church that grew out of St. Joseph’s Parish in East Rutherford, N.J., he tied together the work of the early founders with Holy Name Province’s current commitment to Assumption Church and the Archdiocese of Newark.

In October, as part of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Irene Millatz, a parishioner and a former teacher at Assumption School, shared her lived experience of the friars’ mission. She highlighted moments in the parish’s history that tied together significant moments, including the founding of the school and the service of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, N.Y. The sisters sent a representative, Sr. Patricia Klemm, OSF, a native vocation of the parish and an important figure because of her willingness to reflect on the Gospel and the application of its expression in the lives of many generations of children, now adults, who had been touched by the Franciscan charism as it was expressed in the lives of those who served in the broader context of Franciscan mission.

Christopher Keenan, OFM, Todd Carpenter,
OFM, and Fr. Matthew Janeczko, OFM Cap., are friars whose vocations were nurtured by Assumption’s faith community. Four deacons – Arthur Caceuglia, Nicholas Valdez, Anthony Liguori, and Frank Materia – came to understand their call to service through the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and they served the parish at different points in history.

Gratitude to Cardinal
With the retirement of Archbishop John Joseph Myers in July 2016, clergy and parishioners awaited word from the Vatican regarding his replacement. Early in the new year, our Holy Father Pope Francis gifted the archdiocese with the appointment of Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, CssR, as our new archbishop. It is clear to us that the Holy Spirit was at work in sending us a true shepherd who would lead us on our continuing journey into the future.

We were able to secure on Cardinal Tobin’s calendar the celebration of the closing of the 90th anniversary year with a June 11 Mass and parish reception in the newly renovated Fr. Patrick Morris Hall. Cardinal Tobin came with Monsignor Michael Andreano to greet parishioners and spend some time with his new flock. Music was provided by music director Gabriel Vallee, the adult and children’s choirs, and cantor Kathryn Herman and her son, Charles. Special pieces and instruments – including trumpets and timpani – added an extra dimension to the Mass.

Others key participants were the Knights of Columbus honor guard, including parishioners Russ Petrocelli, Gary Lepore, Ed Sullivan, and our ushers, led by Joseph Mastbeth, chair of the parish’s finance committee. Members of the Rosary Society, under the careful organization of Rose Lepore and Jane Ryan, organized a fitting post-Mass celebration for hungry parishioners. Paul Keenan, OFM, associate pastor, and I, assisted by Deacon Frank Materia, helped Archbishop Tobin. Christopher Keenan, Claude Lenehan, OFM, Gary Maciag, OFM, Gerald Mudd, OFM, and John Pierce, OFM, joyfully added to the Mass, during which the cardinal reminded us of the importance of our Franciscan vocation and his gratitude for the friars’ service to the parish and the Archdiocese of Newark. The cardinal was presented with a gift of a sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi enjoying creation, as depicted by the artist Paul Schmolz who was able to capture in clay the joyful celebration of Francis’s Canticle of the Creatures.

Cardinal Tobin, CssR, left a positive impression with all parishioners who attended this special Mass. God indeed blessed the Archdiocese of Newark, our parish, and our friar community with the true sense that we were in the presence of a shepherd who would bless and care for his flock.

We give thanks to almighty God for this year, during which we welcomed new parishioners and said goodbye to a number of our parishioners who were called home to our heavenly father’s house where there are “many dwelling places.” This was a year worth remembering in the lives and hearts of all who participated in the moment.

Information about the history of the parish can be found on the parish website. Photos can be found there as well as on the parish Facebook page.

Fr. Richard has served as pastor of Assumption Parish and guardian of its friary since 2011. In January, he attended the installation Mass of Cardinal Tobin. 

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