History of St. Gerard Majella RC Church
In 1959, the owner of Glen Rock Lumber Company, Mr. Esterino B. (“E.B.”) Leone asked Monsignor Carlo Cianci, the pastor of St. Michael’s RC Church, if he could use a plot of land which he owned for some public good. Since many people from the city of Paterson were moving to the outskirts, particularly to an area known as the “Hillcrest section” of Paterson, Monsignor Cianci saw the need for a new mission church. He was happy and grateful to tell E. B. Leone that with the blessing of Bishop Mc Nulty, the Paterson Diocese would accept the gift of this large plot of land.
On April 18, 1960 E.B. Leone turned over the deed for the land to St. Michael’s RC Church in Paterson with an official presentation of the title to the Most Reverend Bishop James Mc Nulty. It was decided that St. Gerard Majella RC Church would be established as a mission church of St. Michael’s to meet the spiritual needs of the many parishioners from St. Michaels who were moving into a different area of the city. It was decided that the church would have a seating capacity of 500 people.
Many parishioners from St. Michael’s through their fundraising efforts both by mailings and actually going door to door in the suburbs of Paterson, helped collect donations to build the beautiful St. Gerard’s church at 437 West Broadway in Paterson. Each pew was donated and for many years the name of the family who donated the pew was affixed to the pew with a bronze plate. All the marble used for the altar and pulpit was the result of donations as were the magnificent stained glass windows. All the efforts from the generous donation of E. B. Leone to Monsignor Cianci’s vision for St. Gerard, and the support of Bishop Mc Nulty to the many folks from St. Michael’s who donated their time, talent and treasure to help St. Gerard Majella’s come to life, were truly a labor of love.
In September 1961 the contract to build St. Gerard’s was signed and construction began. On October 7, 1962 St. Gerard Majella was dedicated and Fr. Eugene Romano began celebrating Mass at St. Gerard’s. The first choir was established in 1962 and enthusiastically supported by Fr. Romano. Father Romano was also instrumental in working with a fundraising committee to secure funding for a parish school which was built in 1964 and St. Gerard Majella school was dedicated on August 11, 1965 and officially opened on October 3, 1965.
St. Gerard’s school was staffed for many years by the Salesian Sisters. The first principal of St. Gerard’s was Sister Helen Mazyrek F.M.A.. who served from 1965 to 1971. The first school secretary was Mrs. Lucy Clark who served as secretary until July of 2003. After Sister Masyrek departed, St. Gerard’s was faithfully served by Sr. Mary Louise Aguire F.M.A., Sr. Theresa Kelly, F. M. A., Sr. Catherine Altamura, F. M.A., Sr. Theresa Sirone F.M.A., Sr. Louise Passaro,F.M.A., Sr. Ann Hottot, F.M.A. and Sr. Domenica Di Peri F.M.A who served as principal for many years. In 2000 when Sr. Domenica received another assignment, Sr. Jo Ann Pompa, M.P.F., joined St. Gerard’s as principal and with her hard work and enthusiasm, she continues to lead the parish school and St. Gerard’s “shining stars.”
St. Gerard Majella’s now with its own school and a growing number of parishioners was canonically established in 1965 as the Parish of St. Gerard Majella. Bishop Navagh decided that he wanted to revive the installation ceremony for new pastors and so on January 6, 1965 he officially installed Fr. Thomas Trapasso ( Monsignor deceased) as the first pastor of St. Gerard’s and directed that henceforth all new pastors in the diocese would be officially installed at a ceremony and Mass. Fr. Trapasso worked tirelessly at St. Gerard’s and under his caring and capable leadership in 1965 both St. Gerard’s rectory at 501 West Broadway and St. Gerard’s convent at 3 Alden Terrace were purchased. Assisting Fr. Tom were Fr. Frank Weber, Fr. Pat Erwin, Fr. Kevin Cronin and Fr. John O’ Connor.
Thomas Stasiask and Frank Fabiano were appointed as the first Trustees of St. Gerard’s and served faithfully for many years. Frank Fabiano was replaced by Joseph Cioffi. Later Michael Garofalo was appointed as a Trustee with Thomas Stasiask. Upon Tom Stasiak’s death, Ondrea Di Micco was appointed and she became the first female trustee at St. Gerard’s. When the rules governing the number of years a Trustee could serve changed, Mike Garofalo had to step down after many years of devoted service and Thomas Maselli was appointed. A year later Ondrea stepped down and Geraldine Raineri was appointed Trustee. In 2010 when Thomas Maselli and Geraldine Raineri’s terms were completed, Christine Zisa and Joseph Caiola became Trustees.
In 1969 Father Armand Conte (now deceased) was assigned by Bishop Lawrence Casey as the second pastor and he served until 1974. Associates with Fr. Conte were Fr. David McCloud, Fr. Bob Mikol, Fr. Thomas Esposito and Fr. Mark J. Giordani. During his pastorship, on June 27, 1971, the first large fundraising bazaar was held at St. Gerard’s with many rides and games and food booths. Under Fr. Conte’s leadership the parish began to implement some of the changes initiated by the Second Vatican Council with the removal of the marble altar railing and the altar placement in the middle of the sanctuary and Mass was now said facing the congregation.
Father Mark Giordani (now Monsignor) was assigned to St. Gerard’s in 1973 as an associate. In January 1974, Bishop Lawrence Casey implemented a Team Ministry and appointed Fr. Mark and Fr. Bob Carroll as co-pastors. Fr. Bob (now Monsignor) served on weekends until June of 1974 when he began his full-time team ministry. Together both pastors lived by their team ministry motto: “To work towards building a better Christian community and to serve the needs of the people in the best possible way.” They did.
Under their dynamic leadership, four Action Committees were established: Spiritual and Liturgical Life Committee; Family Life Committee; Education Committee and Fund Raising Committee. As a by-product of these committees twenty-six different organizations emerged and many are still in existence today at St. Gerard’s including Lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, Ushers, Rosary Altar Society, Parent Teachers Organization and R.C.I.A..
In 1976, Father John Weiss joined St. Gerard’s to assist with the weekend Masses until he became a Navy Chaplain. In 1980 Fr. Clement Cardillo, S.D.B., Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and marriage counselor, became a major addition to our parish team. Fr. Clem loyally served at the weekend Masses when needed and faithfully served each week at the 10:30am Italian mass until 2011 when he retired. For many years Fr. Clem was the Director of the Diocesan Consultation Services Center and was on the Provincial Council of the Salesian Order. On June 12, 2011, St. Gerard’s honored Fr. Clem for his years of service with an Appreciation Dinner at The Brownstone. Fr. Clem went home to the Lord on November 22, 2011.
In 1980 St. Gerard’s had a mortgage burning ceremony when the church mortgage was paid in full. On September 25, 1980 one of Fr. Mark’s dreams was realized when ground breaking and construction began for St. Joseph’s Community Center and on June 21, 1980, Monsignor Joseph Brestel concelebrated a Mass of dedication and by 1983 St. Gerard’s had a mortgage burning ceremony for St. Joseph’s Community Center which continues to be an integral part of our parish family and its multifarious celebrations. It also serves the diverse needs of the community through social and cultural events, senior meetings and Bingo, as well as ethnic celebrations and sports tournaments.
In so many worthwhile endeavors there is usually a “man behind the scenes” and at St. Gerard’s that man was Joseph Giresi. Joe was in charge of any and all church renovations and whether it was spearheading a fundraising event or helping the first choir at St. Gerard’s and the first organist, Lawrence Iozzio, (deceased) to produce their first Christmas album, Joe was always there to help.
Joe worked closely with Joseph Cioffi, who in addition to being a trustee, was the Chairman of the Fundraising Committee and of the project to build St. Joseph’s Community Center. Joseph Cioffi, with the assistance of many good and dedicated parishioners, helped Fr. Mark to realize his dream of building St. Joseph’s Community Center. Both Joe Cioffi and Joe Giresi were forces for good during St. Gerard’s formative years and they were generous stewards.
Between 1982 and 1986 many changes took place in St. Gerard’s with the replacement of the old tile and installation of a new and beautiful marble floor (1982-83). In 1984 four rooms were added to the convent and in 1985 several renovations took place inside the church with the moving of the organ from the choir loft to the front of the church, a remodeled sanctuary and a Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Also, in 1986 fund raising began for the St. Gerard’s Senior Citizen Housing Project which is on West Broadway today and houses families on fixed incomes.
In June 1986 the co-pastor team ministry ended when Fr. Bob Carroll was appointed pastor of St. Nicholas in Passaic and Fr. Paul Duggan was appointed an associate pastor. In 1987 Fr. Louis Bihr (now Monsignor) became pastor when Fr. Mark was made pastor of St. John’s Cathedral in Paterson. Fr. Lou and Fr. Paul worked together to bring more young people into church service and a dedicated and enthusiastic team of young people were trained as altar servers and lectors. Girls were allowed to become altar servers as well. Some of the young people went on to become Youth Ministers and Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. In 1993 Fr. Phil Lebeau became an associate pastor at St. Gerard’s when Fr. Paul was reassigned to another parish.
In 1995 Fr. Lou was assigned to Immaculate Heart of Mary in Wayne and in May 1995 Fr. George F. Hundt (now Monsignor) was appointed as the pastor of St. Gerard’s by Bishop Frank Rodimer. Under Fr. George’s enthusiastic leadership the parish grew considerably in number. St. Gerard’s youth ministry and Antioch weekends became popular among the young people in the parish. Fr. George’s pastoral presence was evident in the church and at St. Gerard’s school where the children always looked forward to his frequent visits and participation at school activities. He always played an active role in assisting to decorate the church for every holiday.
Fr. George was assisted by Fr. Phil LeBeau and when Fr. Phil left in June 1997 for another assignment, Fr. Jack Hanley became the associate pastor and he remained at St. Gerard’s until December 2004. Fr. Jack is currently the administrator of St. Casimir’s. Fr. Jack continues to assist at St. Gerard’s at the Sunday 7:30AM Mass and whenever called upon to lend a hand. St. Gerard’s feels blessed to have Fr. Jack.
On August 23, 1996 Fr. George welcomed the Padre Pio Prayer Group to St. Gerard’s under the spiritual guidance of Fr. Clem Cardillo. The Padre Pio Prayer Group remains an active part of St. Gerard’s parish.
On September 7, 1997 Bishop Rodimer dedicated St. Gerard’s new Prayer Garden and all the former pastors of St. Gerard’s were invited to attend the inspirational ceremony. On June 6, 1998, in tribute to Fr. George’s beloved mom, Rose, the parish installed the beautiful carillons and also dedicated a flower garden in her memory.
In June 2002, Fr. George became pastor of St. Anthony’s in Hawthorne and in July 2002 Fr. Charles Waller was appointed the pastor. Fr. Charles especially enjoyed working with St. Gerard’s Seniors and visiting the sick of the parish. He was always available to anyone in need. During his pastorship, St. Gerard’s contracted to rent out the church basement to B.J. Wilkerson Child Day Care Development Center and this rental continues to be a steady source of income for our parish.
On June 28, 2008 St. Gerard’s honored Fr. Charles on the 35th Anniversary of his ordination. In August 2008 it was announced that Fr. Charles would be leaving to further his studies and that Bishop Serratelli had made the decision to turn the administration of St. Gerard’s church and school over to the Vocationist Fathers who would also be responsible for St. Michael’s parish. On August 9, 2008, Fr. Ezio Antunes S.D.V., was installed as the pastor of both St. Gerard’s and St. Michael’s churches. The Vocationist Sisters were hired to become the weekend Music Ministry. Marlene O’Connell has continued her beautiful Saturday evening 5:30PM Mass music ministry which she began 22 years ago.
Parochial Vicars assigned to St. Gerard’s and St. Michael’s are Fr. Lorenzo Gomez S.D.V., and Fr. Robert Vass, S.D.V.. In December, 2008 Fr. Frank Hreno, S.D.V. came to St. Gerard’s to assist Fr. Ezio at St. Gerard’s. Fr. Frank helped kindle much enthusiasm among the parishioners and was a constant and welcome presence at St. Gerard’s until he left in July 2009 for another assignment.
On May 30, 2010 Fr. Rijo Johnson was installed as a co-pastor with Fr. Ezio. On December 27, 2010, Fr. Ezio left St. Gerard’s and Fr. Rijo was appointed as pastor by Bishop Arthur Serratelli. Fr. Rijo is the youngest pastor in the history of St. Gerard’s church. Fr. Rijo has worked to incorporate the latest technology and software to streamline and facilitate administrative duties in the rectory office. He also welcomed a youth group L.E.A.D. and hopes to attract more young people to the parish. He worked diligently to try to ensure a smooth transition with St. Michael’s and St. Gerard’s parishes.
October 2011, Fr. Jimson Varghhese S.D.V. came to Paterson to assist Fr. Rijo at both St. Gerard’s and St. Michael’s. Fr. Jimson’s fluent Italian was appreciated at the 10:30AM Italian Mass at St. Gerard’s and while his assignment was not permanent he was a welcome addition to both churches. Fr. Jimson left St. Gerard’s on February 14, 2011 for a new assignment.
On April 16, 2012 Fr. Vernon Kohlman, S. D.V. was assigned as a parochial vicar at both St. Gerard’s and St. Michael’s. Fr. Vernon is well known at St. Gerard’s as he often would come to say Mass and assist at holiday Masses as well.
There have been many changes the past several years at St. Gerard’s. In 2009 the rectory offices were renovated and the meeting room and the pastor’s office were enlarged. In 2010 a bathroom was installed in the back of the church for easy access for the parishioners.
In 2010 Sr. Jo-Ann Pompa, M.P.F., was made the Director of Religious Education and works with many devoted volunteers to instruct the young people in preparation for the Sacraments.
On September 11, 2011 Bishop Serratelli blessed and dedicated a statue of Padre Pio which was donated by the Padre Pio Society and placed in the prayer garden.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes at St. Gerard’s was the welcoming of the parishioners of St. Michael’s to St. Gerard’s. On February 20th, 2011 St. Michael’s held their last weekend Masses. Due to serious structural problems, it was necessary for Bishop Serratelli to close St. Michael’s until the Diocese assessed the feasibility of repairs necessary to deem the church safe. Many of the parishioners of St. Michael’s began attending services at St. Gerard’s. A Saturday evening 7pm Mass in Spanish was added to the Mass schedule as well as a 1:30pm Sunday Mass in Spanish. St. Gerard’s also continued to have a Sunday 10:30am Mass in Italian. The Easter Vigil became a beautiful combination of English, Italian and Spanish.
On February 4. 2012 for the first time in the history of St. Gerard’s the Mass for an ordination of a priest was held. His Excellency, The Most Reverend Edgar da Cunha, S.D. V., D.D. celebrated the ordination of Emeka Christopher Okwuosa of West Africa as a priest of the Society of Divine Vocations. After the ordination, a reception was held at St. Joseph’s Community Center and all were invited to celebrate with and congratulate Fr. Christopher. It was a joyous occasion for all.
It is doubtful whether E.B. Leone, who donated the land to the Paterson Diocese, or Monsignor Cianci, who had the vision for the mission church of St. Michael’s which became St. Gerard Majella’s, or Bishop Mc Nulty who approved the use of the land to build St. Gerard’s, would have imagined that one day, St. Gerard’s would become the spiritual home to St. Michael’s parish. It seems fitting and divinely ordained that the two churches would come together once again out of a need and blend their cultures and voices to praise their God.
So many devoted people, too many to mention by name lest someone inadvertently be omitted, have helped through the years to make St. Gerard’s the spiritual home it is today: God knows each of them and no doubt delights in their contributions of time, talent and treasure. St. Gerard Majella’s remains a warm and welcoming parish dedicated to seeing the Christ in others. It is the hope and prayer of the parish of St. Gerard Majella’s that as we hold our hands in the Lord’s, all who hold ours might find Him there.
May our dear Lord continue to bless and guide St. Gerard’s through the next fifty years.