A History of the Catholic Church in West Collingswood
The Church of the Transfiguration is built as the new buildings around it are built. It means to say that the Gospel, ever old is also ever new. "So said the Most Reverend Bartholomew J. Eustace. Bishop of Camden, at the laying of the cornerstone of the first contemporary church in the Camden Diocese. A church is the focal point of a parish, but it is the people who constitute a parish. So, on the sixtieth anniversary of Transfiguration Parish , this brief record of some of the people who built, served, worshiped, were baptized, married, buried, laughed, cried, argued and agreed in affirmation that the Gospel is ever new in West Collingswood.
In the days when cars were a luxury for a few and the churches in Collingswood and Fairview were a long walk from West Collingswood, attendance at even a Sunday Mass was an expedition undertaken only by the hardy. The residents of the growing section of South Jersey worked, prayed and constantly petitioned the Bishop for another church. With the construction of the Parkview Apartments, the need for a church became urgent.
In 1949, St. John's Parish in Collingswood purchased the property at White Horse Pike and Magill Avenue as a site for a church to be erected in the future. Pressure on the Bishop increased.
On February 1, 1950, the Most Reverend Bartholomew J. Eustace Bishop of Camden established a new parish in West Collingswood composed of part of the parishes of St. John's, Collingswood and St. Joan of Arc, Fairview. The Reverend Daniel J. McGill, longtime assistant at St. John's, was assigned as founding pastor. Hugh P. Mclntyre and Edward J. Fitzgerald, Sr. were named as lay trustees. Subsequent trustees would include Edward Brennan, Dr. Alex Introcaso, Marie Introcaso, Michael Brennan, Frank Law, John Lack, and Frances Casey Hansen. The trustees are presently, Brian KowTiacky and Frederick Tomaszewicz.
The Bishop's former residence at 500 Browning Road became the Rectory and center of the parish for Masses, meetings, planning sessions and other activities.
Ground was broken for the church on Sunday May 18.1950 by the Right Reverend Monsignor Augustine T. Mozier Vicar General of the Diocese. Construction commenced. As the building rose from the ground and started to take shape, it became an attraction. Visitors included not only locals and those who passed by on their way to Philadelphia or shore points, but also architects and builders from many States. This was a "modern church unlike anything of the past," intended to be "characteristic of the post World War II century" according to newspapers of the time. Many who visited the site were welcomed and invited to become part of the -
The church was designed by Paul C. Reily New York architect, who also designed Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden. The most outstanding feature of the building was considered to be the row of eleven windows, each consisting of sixty-four artistically placed colored panes, twenty-five feet high from floor to roof, along the McGill Avenue side. These windows were placed at angles so that the light shines directly upon the alter. Illuminating the main body of the Church as it passes over the shoulders of the congregation.The windows on the other side are the same except that they do not rise from the floor. The original plans provided for the Addition of an auditorium along the outer wall of the Narthex (vestibule) eliminating the possibility of windows along the lower side of the wall. Thus the windows were placed above the level of the future auditorium roof.
The main entrance to the Church was placed on the right side not in the center of the Church, so that it would become the entrance of both Church and auditorium, being in the center of the two buildings. (Construction of the school hall in 1963 did not confirm to the original architects plan).
When the Church was completed, it was described by writers at the time as "an edifice of unusual architecture," "a blend of beauty in cypress and glass,""in the modern architecture style and of striking appearance" and "one of the most modern and attractive churches in the area because of its unique design." Final cost of the Church, including furnishings, was $275,000.
On Sunday May 20, 1951, the cornerstone was laid by the Most Reverend Bartholomew J. Eustace at a ceremony attended by forty priests and approximately four hundred parishioners. The cornerstone, located under the "choir loft," includes four bricks from the Holy Year door.
The first Mass was celebrated in the incomplete Church, Sunday, July 15,1951. Actually Father McGill celebrated two Masses that day attended by more than 1,100 parishioners, as the Church could accommodate only 600 at a time. That day was also the occasion of the first of many social activities of the Men's Club as they "officially" welcomed Father McGill at a dinner attended by 325 club members and guest. The Church was dedicated formally on November 10,1951 by Reverend Monsignor Augustine T. Mozier . Air-conditioning was added in 1985 when Vincent Avellino donated the system in memory of his deceased wife Ann.
Due to declining attendance and fewer and fewer new priest Bishop Joseph A. Galante began a speak-up session in all the parishes of the diocese. This was done to begin a merging process of parishes within the diocese. On April 13. 2008 Bishop Joseph A. Galante announced the closing of Transfiguration Church. Transfiguration would merge with St. John's parish of Collingswood and Holy Savior parish of Westmont to form one new parish. On April 8,2009 Bishop Galante reversed the decision. Due to building issues at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Woodlyn, Immaculate Heart of Mary would merge with Transfiguration to form a new parish. As we celebrate this the Sixtieth Anniversary of Transfiguration, let us look ahead to a bright future as a new parish.
The first of many groups of parishioners, the Men's Club was formed in January 1951 for social and find-raising purposes. The charter members included ninety-eight men. Temporary officers were Joseph Widua,president, Georger j. Morhauser, vice-president, C. Richard Smith, secretary, Joseph Taylor, treasurer. The Executive Committee consisted of Edward J. Fitzgerald, Sr., George Dooley,Sr., Francis J Lynchjr. and Frank Halbe. Of the charter members only Frank Law remains active in the parish today.
The men formed a second group in October 1951, the Holy Name Society, to promote the religious mission of the Church with the appointment of Edward J. Fitzgerald,Sr., as president, George Gerhard,vice -president, Joseph Ulascewicz,secretary and Frank Halbe treasurer. The Holy Name Society initiated the practice of receipt of communion by the men as a group at 9:15 Sunday Mass as an "inspiring sight and one of the strongest ways to support our Church" according to then president Glendin Kester.
By 1955, when they held their first Annual Communion breakfast at the Parkview Resturant, the society consisted of ninety-seven members. Officers then were Frank Law,president, Thomas Pacca, vice-president, leon Cybulski, treasurer, Christopher Reitze. secretary and Frank Castellani, marshall. Eventually, many of the Holy Name Society members became Knights of Columbus when the group left the Society to form the Father McGill Council.
The Father McGill Council still has a presence in the parish today. They meet every Second and Forth Tuesday of the month in the School. They are still active supporting the parish and community with fund raising, food baskets for the needy and spiritually. The Council officers are Raymond Czarkowski, Grand Knight, Richard Taormino Deputy Grand Knight and Recorder Bruce Caridi, Financial Secretary and William Stuhltrager, treasurer.
Starting in 1951, the women of the new parish conducted on-going fund-raising events. Card parties were held at St. John's Collingswood, and at private homes with the proceeds going to the "building fund." Altar linens were made by Joanne Lorine. Florence Purcell oversaw the upkeep of Church and altar, and regularly called upon the parishioners for flower donations from their gardens. In 1952, the women formed the Altar and Rosary Society under president Eva Halbe, for the purpose of promoting recitation of the rosary and care of the sanctuary and sacristy of the Church. They started their tradition of Annual Communion breakfasts and continued and increased their fund-raising activities. There were cake sales after each Mass, covered dish luncheons, and card parties ($2.00 donation). They met on the same days as the Holy Name Society for Benediction at 8PM followed by separate business meetings and joint social activities. Over the years they conducted retreats at Pius X Retreat House in Blackwood, trips to Washington D.C., Bucks County and Rockefeller Center Christmas Shows, string band concertsd Chinese New Year dinners at Lem's Tea House in Cherry Hill, and Dinner and Fashion Shows. Peg Brennan initiated and chaired lawn Fetes the first Saturdays of June. Starting in 1966, Florence Purcell introduced and for many years chaired Christmas Bazaars in December.
The financial goals of the Society remained the same and every event produced a profit to be used for the maintenance of the altar and sacristy. In 1977,the Society celebrated their 25th Anniversary with 215 members attending Mass followed by cocktails and dinner in the School hall. The Altar and Rosary Society are still active and still have a monthly Mass. Jan Leonetti has organized a pasta dinner and Chinese auction which has raised substantial money for the parish.
THE PARISH COUNCIL
The first elected Parish Council was installed on April 24, 1970 with Bishop Schad presiding . The Chairpersons were: Edward A. Brennan, chairman, Glen Koster, vice-chairman, Josephine Bak, secretary. Anne Karper. senior citizens, Edward Morris, ways and means, Theresa Klausner, religious education, William Kelly, liturigical, Paul Wallace, maintenance, James Dolan, youth. Frank Law. school, James Noon, community and ecumenical, and Rod Reardon, finance.
The Council became dormant during the late seventies, was reactivated in 1992, and reformatted in 1999 to the Parish Advisory Committee. The Parish Council was reformed in 2003. The present officers are Davis Routzahn. president, Kenneth Figgs . vice-president, and Irene Paxson, secretary.
Sponsored by the holy Name Society, on February 27, 1955. the charter for Boy Scout Troop 86 was presented to Frank Halbe and 15 committee members. The first cub master was John Adams, first scout master. William Kelly, first Den mothers. Eleanore Toussaint, Elizabeth Shields, Catherine McGrath, and Gwenevere Pavulak. Initially there were eleven scouts and nineteen cubs in three dens. The scouts and their leaders met on the fourth Monday of each month, September through May, with an outdoor picnic for families and boys in June. The packs remained active for a number of years, participating in trips to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, airport, Bulletin newspaper plant and the Annual Klondike derbies at the Pine Hills scout reservation.
Father A. Robert Cairone started CYO and CCD programs in the late fifties, the latter of which continues to be active. Children were prepared for First Communion and Confirmation, from the beginning of the parish by the priest and parishioners. The first, First Communion service was conducted on November 4, 1951.
When the mortgage for the Church was paid off, the parishioners decided it was time to establish a Catholic school on the premises. Ground was broken for a school on June 29, 1962 during a heavy downpour of rain. A new architect was selected, Armand J. Nasuti. Work on the eight classroom building and auditorium/' social hall proceeded rapidly. The cornerstone was laid and the buildings dedicated on March 9, 1963, by Archbishop Celestine J. Damiano.
Classes commenced in September 1963 staffed by Sisters of St. Dominic from Blauvelt, NY and six full-time lay teachers. Sister Rosarita Duggan was the first principal and taught fourth grade. The first eighth grade graduation for twenty-one students was held on June 8, 1968. A PTA was introduced in 1970 by Father Aherne and then principal Sister Theresa Bernard Connolly.
By June 1972, the number of sisters was only four and these were withdrawn for other assignments. Two members of the Daughters of Our Lady of Sacred Heart transferred from Saint Francis de Sales, Barrington, in 1972 and together with seven full-time lay teachers taught two hundred and ten first to eigth graders. Sister Regina Lafferty became principal. 1974 saw the introduction of the first kindergarten class. Attendance by parish children declined over the years and the school closed in June 1994.
The CCD program is still in progress and is under the direction of Partie O'Brien. Under her Direction the CCD children has undergone many charitable endeavors including the Adopt-A-Family Program to aid needy families at Christmas, a Sweetheart Valentine Luncheon for parish seniors and participation in the national Souper Bowl Sunday Care Program to collect money for the Charity of their choice . The CCD program end each May with the May Crowning of the Blessed Mother Mary.
The founding Pastor was the Reverend Daniel J. McGill, well known and loved by parishioners during his years at St. John's Collingswood. He undertook the construction of the Church and the establishment of active groups of parishioners for spiritual and fund-raising purposes. His sudden death in 1955 left a large vacancy in the hearts of his flock. When the Knights of Columbus formed their own Council 5113, they dedicated it to Father McGill and named it for him. A memorial fund drive financed the purchase of an altar in memory of Father McGill- the altar on which Mass is now celebrated in the Church. There followed six pastors or administrators and twenty-nine priest.
The second pastor was the Reverend Edmund M Aheme who arrived at the rectory at 500 Browning Road on a Saturday evening in August 1955. With good -humored zeal, he took on the new Church and its "fat" mortgage. A reception to welcome him was held on December 4,1955 at the Embers in Pennsauken with a luncheon for more than 200 parishioners. He was officially "welcomed" by Frank J. Suttill on behalf of all parishioners, by Frank law for the Holy Name Society, and Florence Purcell for the Altar and Rosary Society. During his tenure in the parish he presided over the "mortgage burning" in 1959, the construction of the school and hall in 1962-63, and the completion of the Rectory in 1969. he was the founding member and founding chaplain of the Father McGill Council of the Knights of Columbus.
Father Aherne fostered and supported fund-raisers and parties always a dance and a dispensation to eat meat on St. Patricks's Day (mid-Lent) and a party on New Year's eve with over-flowing attendance-as well as "country fairs" and Christmas Bazaars. He celebrated his Silver jubilee (25th) anniversary as a priest on April 21, 1968 with a Solemn High Mass at 12:30, a reception in the school hall and dinner at Kenny's Suburban House together with his parents and 400 parishioners. When sisters arrived to staff the school, he turned the Rectory at 500 Browning Road into a Convent and moved into the Parkview Apartments for a year. Then he lived for six years in a converted classroom until the present Rectory was completed in 1969. In 1975 he transferred to Immaculate Heart of Mary, Woodlynne. That too was celebrated with a dinner and reception in the school hall over the course of two days.
Monsignor Edward J. Kennedy arrived in February 1975 to lead this large parish and school and direct the spiritual life of the parish. He too inherited a "fat mortgage" and what would gradually become a group of buildings "showing their age." His good management skills gave the parish seventeen years of peaceful continuity during a time when much in the world was changing drastically. He celebrated his Silver Jubilee (25th) anniversary as a priest on September 23, 1984 with a dinner at the Woodbine Inn attended by 348 parishioners and guests. His transfer to St. Patrick's, Woodbury was marked by a Farewell Dinner at Tavistock Country Club on February 23, 1992.
Reverend Donald Trinkle's tenure was brief due to failing health. He did complete changes inside the Church as mandated by Vatican II and brought a "new look" with plants, flowers and even balloons. He revived the Parish Council and made tough financial decisions that resulted in the closing of the school.
Monsignor Thomas a Guenther took over as Administrator in October, 1996 until Reverend Richard J. Lodge became Pastor on January 14, 1997. Father Lodge inherited the task of fixing all the buildings: pointing, new roofs, drainage problems, new gym floor, repaying rectory lot, replacing sidewalks between the church and the rectory and making the rectory handicap-accessible, amassing a $750,000. debt. Father Lodge, being a handyman saved the parish by doing a lot of the smaller day-to-day repairs himself. Father James Barry arrived in September,2000 as a priest in residence. The parishioners adopted his black lab "Brenna." The Parish celebrated the 50th Anniversary on October 22, 2000 with a 1:00 PM Mass and a dinner at Lucien's Manor, Berlin, attended by many present and former parishioners. Father Brian O'Neill arrived on June, 2001. The parishioners of Transfiguration welcomed him and the deaf community, which celebrated Mass here until Father O'Neill was transferred in June, 2002.
The sound fiscal responsibility of Father Lodge, along with the generosity of the parishioners in the second collection , income from the rental of the School building and fund raisers such as the Valentine's Day dance, organized Roxanne and Mike Caputo, flea markets, organized by Pattie O'Brien and pancake breakfast and other fund-raisers the parish paid off the debt in December,.2007. The Parish celebrated being debt-free with a Debt Flambe Brunch.
Bishop Galante began speak-up sessions in all the parishes in the diocese. On April 3, 2008 he announced that Transfiguration would close and merge with St. John's, Collingswood and Holy Savior, Westmont. On April 8, 2009 Bishop Galante reversed his decision. Due to building issues at Immaculate Heart of Mary, Woodlynne, the two Parishes will now merge.
Father Lodge celebrated his 40th Anniversary on May 31, 2009 with a special Mass celebrated by the parishioners and friends at 2:00 PM. Followed by cocktails and dinner at Aleutto's, Almonesson. The stories of the many priest, the two administrators, and the current pastor, Reverend Richard J. Lodge, who contributed to the spiritual and temporal life of the Parish would fill more space than we could fit into this brief "history". Their names are recorded on a separate page as well as in the hearts of past and current parishioners on this the sixtieth anniversary of Transfiguration Parish.