CONVENT STATION Next month, St. Joseph Parish here — which already has the honor as the first Catholic faith community in the Paterson Diocese and New Jersey — will mark another historic distinction: as the location of the first Catholic Mass within the boundaries of what later would become the Diocese of Paterson.
On April 26, St. Joseph’s will celebrate not only the Fourth Sunday of Easter, but also mark the 250th anniversary of the first Mass in the diocese celebrated on that day in 1765 by Jesuit Father Ferdinand Farmer. The priest also baptized an infant girl, Anna Mary Durst-Reider, in Ringwood — the original home of St. Joseph’s and a town over from the site of the current St. Joseph’s.
“The day [April 26] marks a quarter-millennium of Catholic worship, the sacramental system and evangelization in what is now the greatest diocese in the State of New Jersey,” said Bishop Serratelli.
The German-born priest conducted the first outreach to the then-remote northern New Jersey area by riding on horseback from his parish in Philadelphia as part of a regular missionary circuit that eventually would stretch from eastern Pennsylvania to Fishkill, N.Y.
“This [Father Farmer’s first Mass] marked the first time that formal evangelization took place in northern New Jersey with the first Eucharist and first Baptism and later the first Confirmation,” said Msgr. Raymond Kupke, diocesan archivist and pastor of St. Anthony Parish, Hawthorne.
The story of Catholicism in the diocese started, when German workers began to stream into Ringwood to work in a local mine in the autumn of 1764. The Irish seemed to have had a presence in Ringwood already, but it was not until the Germans arrived that Father Farmer either heard about these Catholics or they had contacted him. He arrived a few months after the German workers’ arrival, Msgr. Kupke writes in his 1987 book, “Living Stones,” that traces the history of the diocese.
“They and their families would become not only the backbone of the northern New Jersey iron industry, but also the seed of the Catholic Church in New Jersey,” writes Msgr. Kupke.
In April 1765, Father Farmer left his home parish, St. Joseph’s, in Philadelphia. On his missionary journey, he conducted baptisms in Haycock, Pa. and, as he wrote, “while traveling in New Jersey.” On April 26, he appeared in Ringwood — today the home of St. Catherine of Bologna Parish after St. Joseph’s had moved to West Milford — where he baptized Anna Mary Durst-Reider, the six-month-old daughter of Francis Joseph and Anna Reider, Msgr. Kupke writes.
“Presumably on the same day or thereabouts, he celebrated the first Mass within the present Paterson Diocese,” writes Msgr. Kupke, who told The Beacon that the first liturgy might have taken place at the iron mine in Ringwood, an area that was not under any diocese or archdiocese at that time. “This began a series of semi-annual visits to northwestern New Jersey each fall and spring for the next 21 years,” he said.
During his regular circuit, Father Farmer celebrated Masses in various locations in the area, including various ironworks scattered across the area and, as legend has it, the “little red farmhouse,” the oldest building at Ringwood Manor State Park. He established a mission at Ringwood in 1765, which became one of his “largest and most frequently visited stations,” writes Msgr. Kupke, who noted that names of those founding families “survive in the parish to this day.”
During his more than two decades as a missionary, Father Farmer performed 385 baptisms and 31 marriages in what would become the Paterson Diocese. Among them were 141 Baptisms performed in Ringwood — a far greater number than in any of his other mission stations. Other stations within the future Paterson Diocese included Mount Hope, Pompton, Charlottesburg, Sussex County and Morris County. He also performed the first Baptisms in Morris County in 1774 and in Sussex County in 1775. Father John Carroll, prefect apostolic of the American Missions, traveled from his home in Maryland to Ringwood to celebrate Confirmation for the first time in northern New Jersey in 1785, Msgr. Kupke said.
Late in his ministry, Father Farmer became aware of his increasing infirmities and made arrangements for another German priest, Father Lawrence Graessel, to come to the U.S. and assist him. Father Farmer died on Aug. 17, 1786.