History Saint Joseph Parish

The Founding of Our Parish

St. Joseph Parish was founded in 1913 through the efforts of 64 Catholics who lived in the Bogota and Teaneck area. In 1912, if you were a Catholic and lived in Bogota, the nearest parishes were St. Francis in Ridgefield Park and Holy Trinity in Hackensack. Neither was easy to reach due to poor roads. At the time, most people couldn’t afford an automobile, and walking to Sunday Mass meant slogging through farm fields and cabbage patches ankle deep with mud.

On December 20, 1912, Mr. C.B. Ryan, the first historian of the parish, wrote to Bishop O’Connor regarding the “urgent need of a Catholic Church in Bogota.” Mr. Ryan noted:
“There are possibly fifty Catholic families here … and we are not sure of which parish we are members of.”

Bishop O’Connor’s responded:
“The main difficulty is to find a priest. We are shorthanded throughout the Diocese.”

The Bishop added that if a census of the Catholic population were provided, he would refer the matter to the Carmelite Fathers in Englewood for help.

A meeting was held, and the 64 founders adopted a petition urging the establishment of a parish in Bogota. The petition was eventually signed by 197 Catholics, and sent to Bishop O’Connor. Bishop O’Connor told Mr. Ryan to contact Fr. Dion Best, the Carmelite Provincial in Englewood. On April 24, 1913, Fr. Best took charge of the parish and appointed Fr. Basil Kahler of the Englewood Priory as the first pastor of the new mission.

The first Mass of the Bogota Catholic Church was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. on June 1, 1913, at the Central Avenue Fire House. Thereafter Mass was held every Sunday. Because Catholics in the southern Teaneck area had been active in the campaign for a new parish, Bishop O’Connor directed Fr. Basil to procure land for a church near the border of the two towns. In 1915 Fr. Basil supervised the purchase of a parcel of land on the corner of Palisade Avenue and Fort Lee Road and the building of the “old school” along Fourth Place. The “old school” which had a chapel on the main floor, an auditorium in the basement, and room for six classrooms upstairs, was actually the first Catholic Church to be built in Bogota. “St. Joseph Church” was chosen for its name.

Soon after the opening of the new church, Fr. Basil was appointed Provincial. He appointed Fr. Berthold Lauzau to be pastor. Fr. Berthold continued to commute to Bogota from Englewood. In 1920 a house was purchased to serve as a rectory, and Fr. Berthold became the first resident pastor.

The Growth of Our Parish

Bogota grew rapidly after World War I. Under the guidance of Fr. Berthold, the chapel was decorated in the evening by parish volunteers. The basement was paved and a stage erected. St. Joseph’s auditorium became the largest hall in town and popular for all kinds of social events.

Fr. Berthold left St. Joseph Parish in 1921, and was replaced by Fr. Brocard Koehler, who founded the grammar school in 1925. He obtained the services of four Franciscan Sisters of Peekskill, NY to run the school, with the understanding that an additional teacher would be sent each year until the school had the full eight grades.

In September 1926 Fr. Brocard was replaced by Fr. Boniface O. Hund. Fr. Boniface was given instructions to build a new and much larger church, and it was largely through his efforts and vision that our beautiful Romanesque church came to be. At a meeting in October 1926, more than 100 parish men unanimously pledged their support. A mortgage was secured from the diocese, and a contract was signed for $131,000.00 to build the church. All the interior decorations were pledged by the parishioners. The architect was A.F. DePace of New York who also designed the rectory and the “new school” some twenty-five years later. The ground breaking took place on July 10, 1927, with former pastor Fr. Berthold present. On April 28, 1929, the church was formally dedicated. Bishop Thomas J. Walsh officiated at the first Mass. In 1929, a Kilgen pipe organ was also installed in the choir loft of the church. A year later, the Great Depression came, and many parishioners found themselves unable to pay off the pledges made for the stained-glass windows and inside statues. Yet, somehow Fr. Boniface stretched Depression-era collections and paid off the church debt in 15 years.

In 1930, the first eighth grade class graduated from St. Joseph School. There has been a graduating class every year since. Robert A. Baron (class of 1936 and former parish historian) noted that at the time, Saint Joseph School had no kindergarten, so all the children went to the public school for a year and then transferred to over for the first grade.

During World War II, 360 members of our parish served in the Armed Forces, and 11 of them died in action. In July 1943, Fr. Boniface died. Fr. Mark Gardner, his assistant since 1932, became the new pastor. In 1949, construction began on a “new school” and rectory, to be located on the site of the original rectory, convent, and playground. Fr. Clarence Maguire, a member of the first graduating class in 1930, became assistant pastor after World War II, and directed construction of a basement chapel in the “old school” to handle overflow crowds from the church. When the “new school” opened in 1952, it was lauded as the most modern parochial school in the Newark Archdiocese. A contemporary newspaper account:

“… the large modern, well-lighted classrooms with special hard surfaced fabric wainscot on all walls … The wardrobes and supply closets have modern space saving automatic folding doors. The blackboards have aluminum frames and cork-tack and bulletin boards and aluminum map rails, together with metal storage shelving, flanking the modern individual air and heat control units. Each classroom will be supplied with visual aid lighting and violet ray Germicidal fixtures with a modern system of radio reception, loud speakers, and automatic clock system. All floors in the classes are of marbleized colored asphalt tile …”

Throughout the 1950’s and early 1960’s, support for parish activities reached an all-time high. The school had more than 800 children. Two classes were needed for every grade. Both the old and new schools were in constant use, and families were only required to pay $15.00 a year to the school fund.

On April 8, 1956, Fr. Mark Gardner retired as pastor. He died at the rectory in August 1959. His successor, Fr. Hugh Austin retired in 1966 due to ill health, and died on December 27, 1966. Fr. Brendon Gilmore became pastor in 1966. The Second Vatican Council occurred during his time as pastor. On the first Sunday in Advent of 1966, a lector and song leader appeared at Mass for the first time. The “folk” Mass had its debut in 1968 downstairs in the cafeteria. Special Eucharistic Ministers were commissioned to distribute Holy Communion in church and to visit the sick.

In 1972, it was determined that the cost of rehabilitating the “old school” was too expensive, and it was torn down. The land was converted into a playground and outdoor recreation area.

Fr. Herbert Jones became pastor in 1975. He organized St. Joseph’s first Parish Council. In accordance with Vatican II requirements, the interior of the church was remodeled, so that the priests could say Mass facing the congregation. In 1979 Bishop Garner presided at the solemn high Mass for the 50th anniversary of St. Joseph Parish. After fifty years, the church still continued to play an important role in the lives of its parishioners, and would continue to do so for years to come.

In June 1984, Fr. Herbert Jones left Bogota to serve the missions in Peru. Fr. Morris Wells was installed as pastor on June 30, 1984. In 1987 Fr. Morris was installed as Provincial of the Carmelite Order. Fr. Joseph O’Brien, a Teaneck native, was appointed pastor. In 1988 Fr. Joseph was transferred to St. Cecilia’s in Englewood and Fr. Anthony Palo was assigned pastor of St. Joseph Parish. In 1990, Fr. Paul Schweizer was installed as pastor. Sister Regina Miriam was the school principal at the time, and she presided over a staff of hard working lay teachers. Two permanent deacons from the parish, Deacon Michael Fitzgerald and Deacon Walter Lynn, were ordained and many outreach programs were organized and administered by a pastoral minister. The generosity of parishioners throughout the years had enabled St. Joseph Parish to keep the church and school buildings in good working order.

Fr. Paul served the parish for many years, and during his tenure, he oversaw the restoration of the magnificent organ in the church, which took countless hours of hard work and sacrifice. Fr. Paul remained pastor until 2002 when he moved to the Carmelite Retreat House in Mahwah, NJ. We were then honored to have Fr. Terrance Cyr as our new pastor. He decided to follow the call to go to France, and Fr. Richard Supple became pastor in 2005.

In the new millennium, the school saw a growth in enrollment and now serves 300 students, in the 3-year-old preschool through eighth grade. In 2009, though the generosity of parishioners, parents, and alumni, the school underwent revitalization with the addition of a new media center, a refurbished gymnasium, air conditioned classrooms, and a new state of the art science lab. After going through many course enhancements and meeting rigorous standards, the school was honored with the title of an “Academy” by the Archdiocese. Fr. Richard and the principal of the newly named Saint Joseph Academy were instrumental in working together to achieve this growth in our school system.

In 2013, due to the decrease in vocations, the Carmelites left the parish and Saint Joseph Parish officially became an Archdiocesan Parish. That year, our first Archdiocesan Pastor was Fr. Timothy G. Graff, who continues to lead the parish today.

The restoration of the bell tower began July 2014. Subsequently, there was a small fire late August of 2014, but it was contained to the bell tower and work restoration work quickly resumed. We are now enjoying a restored bell tower with chimes that welcome our community.

The Saint Joseph Parish Organ

Vatican II had changed the language of the Mass and the direction of the altar, and also changed dramatically what the parish organ was called to do. The first pipe organ for St. Joseph Church was built and installed in 1929 by the Kilgen Organ Company. Problems with the organ began to surface in the late 1960’s and for decades following. Attempts at maintaining and repairing the organ were fruitless. In 1996, Fr. Paul Schweizer, pastor, was convinced that something needed to be done. An Organ Committee was formed to explore all the possibilities or either rebuilding or replacing the Kilgen Organ. With a decision that something would be done sooner rather than later, Fr. Paul was able to hire a new full-time Music Minister, who joined the staff in the fall of 1996.

A generous gift by a member of the parish in the amount of $60,000 helped the Organ Committee to choose an acoustic pipe organ that would last a hundred years instead of an electronic one. In March 1997, the Peragallo Organ Company of Paterson, New Jersey was awarded the contract to build a new organ for St. Joseph Church. Many generous people contributed to the organ fund. On November 22, 1998, the organ was formally dedicated by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Beautiful music filled our church.

Saint Joseph Parish Today

Saint Joseph Parish, founded many years ago in order to meet the needs of the surrounding Catholic Community, continues to this day to serve its many parishioners not only through prayer and worship, but also through catechesis, evangelization, justice and charity, community building, communidad hispana, and through numerous stewardship opportunities.

We certainly have come a long way since June 1, 1913 when Fr. Basil celebrated that first Mass at the Central Avenue fire house. Let us reflect on all the people; pastors, priests, nuns and laypeople who worshipped here, who gave of themselves,who have gone to their eternal reward, who will always be the spirit of our parish. It is the people who are the real St. Joseph Parish.