On a Sunday morning in February 1919, a group of former parishioners (four benches of them) from St. Teresa’s in Summit and St. Mary’s in Stony Hill gathered in the old Council Chamber of New Providence Borough Hall for the first Mass of the new mission in the Borough. World War I had recently ended, so a request was made to the bishop that this new mission be known as Our Lady of Peace. Until a little church could be built, the parishioners asked to rent the New Providence Council Chambers. The Mayor and Council not only let the group use the facility, but also offered it rent-free.
Within a year, with wood obtained from a ball field no longer used, a little church was built on Springfield Avenue. On December 21, 1919, the first Mass in the new church was offered. The priests of St. Teresa’s served the mission by saying Sunday Mass and the Trinitarian Sisters from Summit came to prepare the children for First Communion and Confirmation, first in local homes and then in the church. The original tiny church stood until it was sold and demolished in 1955.
From Mission to Parish
Until 1942, Our Lady of Peace remained a mission assigned to other churches in the Stirling and Summit areas. On June 5, 1942, the Archbishop of Newark proclaimed the following:
“We hereby on this fifth day of June A.D. 1942, constitute and erect the Mission of Our Lady of Peace, New Providence, hither-to-served by the pastor of St. Teresa’s, Summit, Union County, New Jersey, into a new, separate and distinct parish, to be known as the Parish of Our Lady of Peace, New Providence, New Jersey.”
On June 18, 1942, the first pastor, Reverend Joseph Fallon, arrived in New Providence . The parishioners warmly welcomed him and, since there was no rectory, they quickly made arrangements for temporary living quarters for him. In a little over a year, an eight-room house on Springfield Avenue was purchased and renovated as a rectory. During the next several years, parish activities flourished. Religious instructions for First Communion and Confirmation were firmly organized. Parishioner numbers grew and it became obvious that an expanded church facility was necessary. Father Fallon and his parishioners began plans to buy property for a larger church, but the Good Lord had other plans for Father Fallon. On the morning of June 19, 1950, he was suddenly and unexpectedly called to heaven.
Father Peter J. Doherty was appointed pastor and served until his death in 1963. Father Doherty guided the parish in the design and construction of a new church complex. In 1952, the present site on South Street was purchased. A school and basement church of dual-use design was ready for its first Mass in October of 1954. During the 1950s, New Providence was growing faster than the parish planners had envisioned. The plans for the permanent church complex were enlarged and work began on more classrooms over the basement church and on construction of a new multi-purpose room to serve as interim church, auditorium, cafeteria and gymnasium. Father Doherty signed the contracts for the new construction in September of 1960 and the first Mass in the interim church was celebrated October 9, 1961. The parish’s attention now focused on the planning for a permanent church.
Reverend Gerard P. Kelly became the third resident pastor of the Parish of Our Lady of Peace on February 29, 1964. Father Kelly led the parish in the planning of the permanent church. He had two basic obligations in the design of Our Lady’s Church; first, it must be modern, up-to-date and fully adaptable for the future liturgical changes that had not yet been fully promulgated by Vatican II; and second, that it must be substantial and durable so that it would remain long after the construction mortgage incurred by the parish was paid off. Our Lady of Peace’s church in-the-round was first used at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, 1966. Father Kelly continued a busy schedule in the fast-paced, growing parish until his death on Christmas morning, 1974.
Monsignor Paul J. Hayes was appointed pastor of the Parish of Our Lady of Peace in April 1975. In the years that followed, the parish continued to grow in activities and population. Under his leadership, an administrative office attached to the rectory living quarters and an all-purpose facility attached to the gymnasium were constructed. Monsignor Hayes retired in 1995, having shepherded the parish for 20 years. During that period, the school flourished as well. Sister Rose Marie, O.P. had been appointed the seventh principal in 1973. Principals who served between the terms of Sisters Margaret and Rose Marie were Dominican Sisters Catherine Bernadette, Elizabeth Francis, Marita, Maureen Murnane and DeLima.
Monsignor Joseph P. Plunkett, appointed pastor in July 1995, succeeded Monsignor Hayes. During Monsignor Plunkett’s tenure, Sister Christine Iacobacci, S.S.J. was appointed successor to Sister Rose Marie who retired in 1996. When Monsignor Plunkett returned to his work in the inner city in 1997, Father Sean Cunneen was appointed pastor of the Parish of Our Lady of Peace—a parish that had grown from a tiny mission with some 20 families to a congregation of about 1900 families. The school also was growing, and Mrs. Diane Pollak was appointed its ninth principal in 1999.
Facing the need for replacement of roofs on parish buildings and the increasing needs of our Catholic community, Father Sean undertook the Vision 2000 Campaign, a major initiative to provide funds for plant maintenance and improvement, to enhance parish fiscal flexibility and to establish a youth ministry. The Junior/Middle School Youth Club and the High School Youth Group programs were in place shortly thereafter. A Pastoral Council was established to increase parishioner participation in parish leadership and an increasing number of ministries were formed to serve the needs of the parish, its parishioners, and the community. During that same period, the parish’s first Web Site—a major communication vehicle for parish information and activities—went online.
In July 2000, the parish launched the Archdiocesan Stewardship Initiative, a program designed to encourage the faithful to recognize their gifts from God of Time, Talent and Treasure and to reflect on their call, as stewards of these gifts, to generously share them with others. In response to Pope John Paul II’s call for evangelization through gatherings of small faith sharing groups, Parish participation in Renew 2000—predecessor of today’s Disciples in Mission Program—commenced. In 2004, Our Lady of Peace began offering parish-based Cornerstone Retreats for women and for men.
In 2004, our parish elementary school celebrated 50 years of teaching excellence. The following year, the school was accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Shortly thereafter, a School Advisory Council, consultative to the pastor and principal on financial and policy matters, was formed.
The work of the parish’s Faith Formation Task Force in 2005 resulted in significant steps to energize and expand the Religious Education Program—traditionally focused on religious education and sacrament preparation of children and teens in a classroom setting—to a family-based program supported with classroom instruction. Mrs. Mary Clinton was appointed the first Pastoral Associate for Catechetical Ministries under the newly expanded program. The strong commitment of parish leaders to assist parents in meeting their responsibilities as the primary religious educators of their children remains a program strength. Religious education activities for teens, young adults, adults and seniors were added as well, enabling these groups to better respond to their baptismal call to life long faith formation.
In 2006, Our Lady of Peace joined other parishes as participants in the Archdiocese of Newark’s New Energies Initiative—a major, diocese-wide project focused on improving the quality of parish life throughout the diocese. Among the positive outcomes of this initiative was Archdiocesan approval for the parishes of Our Lady of Peace, St. Teresa of Avila in Summit and the Church of the Little Flower in Berkeley Heights to work as partners on activities in which the parishes have a common interest or an opportunity to better use resources.
Our Church Today
On the occasion of celebrating his fortieth anniversary of ordination, Father Sean was granted a six-month sabbatical for reflection and study at the North American College in Rome . On July 1, 2007, Father William A. Mahon was appointed the seventh pastor of the Parish of Our Lady of Peace. Father Mahon, and Father Philip Sanders, Parochial Vicar, currently shepherd those who worship, study, and visit our parish.
Shortly after his arrival, Father Mahon commenced the renovation of the church’s sanctuary to bring it into compliance with Vatican II guidelines. With the sanctuary renovation underway, Father authorized needed repairs and capital improvements for the church, school and rectory so that these facilities might better meet the needs of parishioners, staff, and visitors in the years ahead.
In early 2008, our parish school was designated an Academy by the Archdiocese. Curriculum and instructional excellence, combined with sustained outstanding student performance on standardized tests—nationally and within the Archdiocese of Newark—were among the many academic and environmental factors sighted in recognizing Our Lady of Peace with Academy status. In June 2008, Mr. Thomas Berrios was appointed the tenth principal of the parish’s elementary school.
Truly a Part of the Community
It is with great pride that we recall the contribution that the Parish of Our Lady of Peace has made over the years, not only to our Catholic community, but also to the larger community of New Providence . On the occasion of the installation of Father Sean Cunneen as pastor, the parishioners and former pastors of the Parish of Our Lady of Peace were commended by the Mayor and Borough Council of New Providence for their close cooperation with local officials in the joint effort to enhance the quality of life in New Providence; and for their cooperation with members of the “local clergy in working to provide the high moral standards so essential for a family oriented community.”
The members of the Parish of Our Lady of Peace are truly fortunate. Our parish continues to be a place where people come to know God and each other better through worship, reflection and service.