In the latter part of the 19th century, Catholics in Westfield had no parish, no church, and no priest in residence to administer Sacraments and lead them in spiritual worship. Rather, they relied on occasional Sunday visits by a priest in Rahway, and they celebrated Sunday Mass either in private homes or in a shop, E. Miller & Sons, on East Broad Street. There were few Catholics in semi-rural Westfield at the time. While awaiting the priest, those who had such transportation hitched horses to buggies, or rode the Central Railroad of New Jersey to one of four places to take part in Sunday Mass: Plainfield, Elizabeth, Rahway, or Stony Hill (presently Watchung).
The Newark Diocese's Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley assigned a young Polish-born priest, Gregory Misdziol, to Westfield to establish a parish there in 1872. Thus, on September 2, 1872, the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity, Westfield, was incorporated under the laws of New Jersey. In addition to being the founding pastor for Westfield's Catholic community, Father Misdziol (his parishioners called him Father Mitchell), had the responsibility as spiritual leader of Catholics in Cranford, Stony Hill and Basking Ridge. The congregation at the time was composed mostly of those of Irish, German, and Italian descent. For many years, an Italian Mass was said every week at Holy Trinity for the many first, second, and third generation Italian Catholics who lived in the area.
Commissioning Our First Church
Father Misdziol's first mission was to commence plans for a church, which turned out to be a small, white frame structure on New York Avenue (now Trinity Place). Before that church was built, he celebrated Sunday Mass in a freight office of the Central Railroad station on South Avenue. On Saturday evenings, parishioners brought brooms and dusting brushes, and carefully prepared the station for Mass, erecting a temporary altar each week. When Father Misdziol took the first parish census, he counted seventy parishioners - thirty-five women, twenty men, and fifteen children.
Our Spiritual Leadership
Sept. 2, 1872: Rev. Gregory J. Misdziol
March 22, 1874: Rev. Peter S. Dagnault
May 2, 1875: Rev. Adolph Bergman
August 5, 1876: Rev. Augustine Eberhard
June 12, 1877: Rev. William J. Wiseman
March 8, 1891: Rev. James P. Smith, Acting Pastor
May, 1892: Rev. James P. Smith, Acting Pastor
Sept. 10, 1893: Rev. Peter E. Reilly
Oct. 5, 1905: Rev. Charles A. Smith
Sept., 1908: Rev. D. F. McCarthy
Dec. 2, 1909: Rev. R. J. Beyer
Feb. 14, 1913: Rev. Msgr. Henry J. Watterson
March 2, 1968: Rev. Msgr. Charles B. Murphy
July 15, 1976: Rev. Msgr. Robert T. Lennon
Nov. 22, 1987: Rev. Gerald P. Ruane
Sept. 23, 1989: Rev. Msgr. Francis J. Houghton
Dec. 12, 1995: Rev. Msgr. Joseph P. Masiello
October 1, 2016: Rev. Anthony J. Randazzo
Holy Trinity had nine pastors after Father Misdziol between 1874 and 1913. Except for Father W. J. Wiseman's thirteen years and Father Peter Reilly's twelve years, the stays were brief. Although the congregation increased, their tiny church was expanded only to add a sacristy, a vestibule, and a spire, none of which did anything to accommodate those who regularly packed the small building for services. The only other property in use was a frame house facing Westfield Avenue at the corner of First Street, which served as the rectory. The number of parishioners grew steadily, as did Westfield itself, from a rural community once known as the West Fields of Elizabethtown to a thriving suburban town.
In the 145 years of Holy Trinity Parish life, there are fifty-five golden years that stand out above all. This was under the guidance of Rev. Henry J. Watterson, who arrived on St. Valentine's Day in 1913, at the age of thirty-seven. He was a man of great determination and tenacity. When he decided to become a priest, he worked day and night to complete a thirteen-year course of study in ten years. He was ordained in 1901 and his first assignment was to St. Lucy's Catholic Church in Jersey City. After that, he went to St. Francis Church in Lodi, where he had the distinction of being the first parish priest in Bergen County to own a car. It is hard to image in this age of rapid change, that he was in residence at Holy Trinity for so many years, many of those either by himself, or with just one assistant priest. Msgr. Watterson retired in 1968 at the age of ninety-two and lived into his 101st year. He is buried alongside the church he built.
When he first arrived Monsignor inherited a little church and a rectory. Holy Trinity's other assets consisted of two lots on First Street known as the Dorsch and Michaels properties, as well as an additional lot on First Street donated during the pastorate of Rev. Peter E. Reilly (1983-1905). He had a parish debt of $9,500, which he quickly erased, and then acquired additional property on First Street and New York Avenue (Trinity Place).
This was his vision...an enormous building project that would, upon completion, include a new church, a three-story brick school building, an extension to that structure to house a high school, a convent to house the Sisters of Charity, and finally a new and separate high school building.
The elementary school was built in 1916, at First Street and New York Avenue. In 1922, the centerpiece of Father Watterson's dream, a new church, was built at Westfield Avenue and First Street. The church is sixty-five feet wide and one hundred twenty-five feet long, and the cost of it was $145,000. While the past twenty-five years have seen major renovations to change the interior of the church, the exterior looks the same as it did when it went up 90 years ago.
In 1926, Msgr. Watterson ended the initial phas of his project by building a parish high school with a gymnasium/auditorium. Over the years, Masses were celebrated there when the church was closed for major repairs and renovations. Twenty-five years elapsed before Monsignor began his final effort to broaden educational facilities at Holy Trinity by building a new high school. At the beginning of the "Baby Boom", grammar school enrollment escalated, so a new high school was needed for the older children. That structure was completed in 1953 when Monsignor was seventy-seven years old.
The Fire of 1959
In 1959, there was a fire in the Church basement storage and boiler room area, which spread up a stairwell into the altar boys' sacristy. That sacristy, along with all the boys' vestments, was destroyed. Also, the rear of the altar and the artwork on the wall was scorched. This occurred shortly after a redecoration of the church. The morning of the fire, an ancient religious drama was re-enacted as Father John Flanagan, a curate, donned a smoke mask and entered the building at the height of the fire to carry the Blessed Sacrament to safety. Msgr. Watterson immediately commenced work to refurbish the church. In the meantime, Masses were celebrated in the school auditorium.
During his retirement, Msgr. Watterson lived in Somerset, N.J., and then moved to the Ashbrook Nursing Home in Scotch Plains, where he died in 1976. He was the only priest in the Archdiocese of Newark to reach 100 years of age and 75 years in the priesthood. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living alumnus of Seton Hall University. Some fifty-one curates passed through the doors of Holy Trinity rectory during his pastorate.
Msgr. Watterson's successor was Msgr. Charles B. Murphy, for many years the librarian at Seton Hall University and later, pastor of St. Bernard's Parish in Plainfield. Not long after his arrival, a major renovation and re-design of the chruch's interior took place, partly to accommodate liturgical changes emanating from the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s. Also, in preparation for the 100th Anniversary of the parish, the church heating and electrical systems were updated, and the interior redecorated. The hundredth anniversary was a yearlong celebration, including a parade and fair, an Alumni dance, a Centennial Field Mass presided over and celebrated by Archbishop Boland, and a Centennial reception. At this time, there were about 6500 parishioners.
In 1968, the Archdiocese decided to create another parish on the south side of Westfield, called St. Helen's. Both churches are important parts of the community of Westfield today, and these years have brought us opportunities to participate in many ecumenical services and festivities with the various churches and the Temple Emanu-El in Westfield.
Changes in the Schools
1976 was a year of change in the schools. Holy Trinity High School was closed, and the sixty-year old elementary school building vacated. The high school building was converted to an elementary school, the present Holy Trinity School. Later, the old high school and convent buildings were sold to the State of New Jersey, who subsequently sold them to a developer. They are now condominiums, known as "Trinity Gardens".
Holy Trinity High School had drawn students from twenty-two different communities. Since its inception in 1922 until the early 1960s, it was one of the only Catholic high schools in the area and was administered by the Sisters of Charity. Then, in the late 1950's and early 1960's the idea of the regional Catholic High School took root. Roselle Catholic Boys High School, Union Catholic, Mother Seton, and the Girl's Catholic Parish High School at St. Joseph the Carpenter were established by the Archdiocese. Our high school could not compete with those large modern facilities, expanded curricula, and sports fields.
Msgr. Murphy retired from active ministry after forty-two years in the priesthoold, and remained in residence at Holy Trinity Rectory until his death.
Father (soon to be Monsignor) Robert T. Lennon, who had been an assistant pastor of Our Lady of Victories Parish in Jersey City, became the thirteenth pastor of Holy Trinity in July, 1976. He was formerly a military chaplain. Msgr. Lennon's pastorate at Holy Trinity, lasting eleven years, was marked by the increased participation of the laity in both the Parish and the Finance Councils, acting as advisory bodies to the Pastor. Also, tithing was introduced to increase parishioners' support of the parish.
A major renovation of the rectory was undertaken, and all parish debt was erased. As an outgrowth of the tithing program, Msgr. Lennon was able to give some $10,000 a year to local charities recommended by the Social Concerns Committee. In November of 1987, Msgr. Lennon was reassigned as pastor of St. Gabriel's Parish in Saddle River.
Rev. Gerald P. Ruane, directory of the Sacred Heart Institute for Healing at Caldwell College, became the fourteen pastor of Holy Trinity. Twenty months later, Father Ruane, for health reasons, returned to the Institute where his ministry would not be as arduous as that of a pastor of a large parish. He is remembered for his "Healing Masses", which he celebrated each month for all the parishioners of the Catholic Church of Holy Trinity.
The fifteenth pastor of Holy Trinity, Msgr. Francis J. Houghton, was no stranger to Westfield. Ordained a priest in 1951, his first assignment was to Holy Trinity.
Msgr. Houghton served at Holy Trinity for the next ten years, and for the first time, Msgr. Watterson had two assistant priests. Following that, Monsignor Houghton transferred to the Archdiocesan Chancery Office as an Assistant Chancellor. However, for the ensuing fifteen years, he continued his association as a weekend assistant. In 1976, his continuous twenty-five years of service to Catholics in Westfield ended with his appointment as pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Ridgewood. Monsignor Houghton returned to Holy Trinity Parish in 1989, and was Pastor until his retirement from active ministry in 1995.
During Msgr. Houghton's time, Holy Trinity's elementary school became part of an interparochial school jointly sponsored by the parishes of Holy Trinity, St. Helen's and Our Lady of Lourdes in Mountainside. Today, some 400 students attend Holy Trinity Interparochial School, from pre-kindergarten to the eighth grade, under the guidance of Sr. Maureen Fichner and the faculty and staff. Mrs. Szot taught the eighth grade and until her retirement served the school community for more than thirty years.
Msgr. Joseph P. Masiello, came to Holy Trinity in 1995. He was ordained in 1969, completed his theological studies in Rome and was an assistant pastor in the parishes of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jersey City and St. Peter's in Belleville before several years on the staff of Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington. Following a brief assignment at St. Vincent's Parish in Bayonne, Msgr. Masiello was appointed pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Jersey City. He was there for 9 1/2 years before his appointment as pastor of Holy Trinity. In 1997, the Holy Father bestowed upon him the title of Prelate of Honor, and he was made a Monsignor.
During his pastorate many improvements to the physical plant have been made including a new parish center attached to the church; renovation and redecorating of the church interior; and restoration of our bell tower and bell which had been silent for years.
Our Parish Staff
At its founding, Holy Trinity was established with a staff of one, who was the priest/pastor. Today, the present staff numbers seven persons: Fr. Anthony Randazzo; two deacons, Thomas A. Pluta and Keith T. Gibbons; a director of religious education, Michelle Angelo; youth minister, Patricia Martin; music director, Roxanne McAlvany;principal of the parochial school, Sr. Maureen Fichner, S.S.J. In addition, the parish has two weekend assistants, Msgr. Gerard H. McCarren, who is on the staff of the archdiocesan seminary and Fr. Alex Pinto in residence..
A Mass celebrated by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick in October 1997 kicked off the celebration of our 125th Anniversary. Following that has been a series of concerts offered by Mr. Rives Cassel and the various music groups in the parish, the publication of the parish directory, a golf outing, a parish Communion breakfast, a Lenten fish-fry, and a dinner-dance, which marked the end of the anniversary year.
From such humble beginnings has risen a thriving parish community, with many ministries and outreach programs. Many of our older parishioners will remember the Church of the Latin Mass with the priest's back to the people, novenas, and the Forty Hours Devotion. They remember making a Sign of the Cross as they passed the church, the Angelus, J.M.J. written at the top of homework papers, and fasting after midnight.
Baby Boomers recall different things, as that group straddles the pre- and the post-Vatican II Catholic worlds: Mass in English, the Priest facing the congregation, the Sign of Peace, holding hands at Mass, guitars and tambourines, folk masses, and lay people distributing Communion. Now, we have RCIA, Cornerstone, Children's Liturgy of the Word, and Renew 2000. But what unifies us all is the essential truth of the Church told in the Creed we recite together each week at Mass. We marvel at the mystery and beauty of the Trinity, whose name we are honored to bear. We work together and we thank God for all our blessings.