Church celebrates jubilee year

Celebratory Mass draws hundreds of worshipers

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  • Photos by Ginny Raue Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli greeted parishioners after Mass on Sunday. The Bishop concelebrated the opening Mass for St. Joseph Church 250th jubilee, the kick off for a year-long celebration of the oldest parish in New Jersey.

  • The pews were full and then some at the 250th Jubilee Mass at St. Joseph Church.

  • Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus participated in the celebration.

  • From left, Fr. Steven Shadwell, pastor of St. Joseph Church, Deacon Milt Smilek, Most Rev. Arthur J. Serratelli, Bishop of the Diocese of Paterson, Deacon Harry White and Bishop Emeritus Rev. Frank J. Rodimer celebrated Mass on Sunday.

  • Head chef for the day was Dave Buske.

  • Celebrating history can be sweet. Photo by Ginny Raue

  • There was a full house at the Parish Center for luncheon after the Mass.

  • The crowds and ceremony couldn't keep this little one awake.

The birth of a parish
The congregation of St. Joseph Church had its beginning in 1765, starting with the German Catholic workers brought to America to mine the natural resources of the West Milford area. These families were deterred from openly practicing their religion by the British law that forbade the “Papist” religion.
But they persevered. It would be 64 years before they would have a church to call their own, a little barn-like structure that may have had difficulty housing the vibrant faith and determination of these original Echo Lake settlers – the oldest Catholic congregation in New Jersey.
For an indepth history of St. Joseph Parish, go to for our two-part series documenting its humble beginnings to present day.

It’s great to be a part of history-in-the-making. Those who attended West Milford’s St. Joseph Church 250th Jubilee Solemn Opening Mass on Sunday, March 16, experienced just that; participating on the first day of an anniversary year that will go down in the annals of this church.

While celebrating the past, parishioners were pleasantly surprised by an announcement about their future as well.

A day, a year to celebrate
This past Sunday, sitting in the pews of the third St. Joseph Church building, were decedents of the original German Catholic workers who were brought to America back in 1765 to mine the natural resources of the area. There were others who can count back 100 years or more of being a part of this parish. But there were also newer families and guests, some who may just now be learning the rich history of the parish.

The opening Mass was concelebrated by the Bishop of Paterson, Rev. Arthur J. Serratelli, Rev. Frank J. Rodimer, former Bishop of Paterson, Rev. Steven Shadwell of St. Joseph’s Church and several visiting priests, including Rev. Sigmund Peplowski, former pastor of St. Joseph Church. Dignitaries, clergy, former and current parishioners and guests filled the church to capacity.

“The Lord is in our midst,” Serratelli said is his sermon. “Spanning two and a half centuries, you have faced challenges with the certainty of faith. You belong to Jesus and God is leading you through the trials and sufferings of this world to the glory of Heaven.”

A new beginning
At the conclusion of the Mass, Serratelli surprised the congregation by naming Shadwell, who has served as administrator for nearly five years, as pastor of the church. Those in attendance rose to their feet in support, giving Shadwell a heart-felt standing ovation.

Now, Pastor Shadwell and his flock will walk together into the future.

Shadwell shares some thoughts

The day after the opening ceremony and the packed-house luncheon in the Parish Center that followed, Shadwell shared his feelings about the Mass, the parish and the year-long celebratory events to come.

“I thought the Mass was a huge success. It was a very spiritual and beautiful moment,” he said. He looks forward to the year ahead and has one particular wish.

“I hope we can instill in newer parishioners the sense of what the long-time parishioners have – that this is our home, our place, our parish.”

He said he hopes that all will enjoy being a part of the parish and its activities and that together they will be aware of the blessings God has bestowed on St. Joseph Church.

“For one reason or another, He likes us,” Shadwell said.

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