History

Founding

On July 6, 1961, Most Reverend Thomas A. Boland founded Saint Raphael Parish. Reverend Richard D. Wall celebrated the first Mass on Sunday, July 7, 1961, with Kenneth Marion and Anthony Davis attending as altar boys in Mt. Pleasant School in West Orange.

 

Pastors

On October 8, 1961, Reverend Wall was transferred, and Reverend Francis Mulquinn was assigned.  He shepherded the parish with grace and humility for over four memorable years. Reverend Mulquinn was succeeded in 1965 by Reverend Martin Sherry. He guided the school and the parish until he retired in 1979. Reverend G. Thomas Burns became pastor of the church on August 15, 1979, and he brought renewal and an invitation to be part of the parish faintly. His welcoming spirit  touched all ages, and many groups were expanded or new ones begun. After twenty~two years of service, Father Burns retired in 2001. Monsignor Thomas Donato arrived in July 2001, and he continued to bring spiritual growth to the community. In 2003, he was transferred  to serve as spiritual director of Immaculate Conception Seminary. He became the twenty-third  Auxiliary Bishop of Newark. In July 2002, Monsignor Ronald Newland was appointed the sixth  pastor of Saint Raphael Parish. He brought to us his organizational skills, instituted computer technology for all staff and fostered personal spirituality. In August 2004, he was transferred to the  Corps of Chaplains in Washington, DC.

Reverend Gerald Greaves became the seventh pastor in  August 2004. Happily, Father Greaves returned to us after many years, having once lived in residence in the Blue House when he was Chaplain at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. He took  on the task of overseeing the much needed refurbishing of the church buildings and grounds. He was involved in creating community and fostering cultural diversity in the parish. Father Greaves retired in October 2015.  He was succeeded by Father Peter Aquino, formerly the Parochial Vicar, who took over the leadership of the parish as Parish Administrator.

On July 1, 2016, Reverend Jose Erlito Ebron (Father Lito) became the eighth pastor of St. Raphael parish.  He joined us from The Church of St. Theresa in Kenilworth, NJ.

Associates

Reverend John J. Madden joined the parish as an associate in Iune 1962. Father Robert Sheeran was  Associate Pastor under Father Burns, together with Fathers Paul Longua and Anthony Visocchi. In  1980, Father Robert Sheeran was appointed the Rector of the College Seminary of the Immaculate Conception at Seton Hall University. His place as Associate Pastor was filled by Father Stephen Pavlik.  Father Michael Hanly joined the parish in 1988 as Parochial Vicar and served for six years. In 1994,  Father Hanly left the parish and was appointed pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Verona, NJ.  He was succeeded by Father Thomas Wisniewski. In 1994, Father Wisniewski was appointed Pastor of St. ]oseph’s Parish in Maplewood, NJ, and Reverend Andrew Praehar became Parochial Vicar.   Father Prachar served six years at Saint Raphael. In 2003, he was appointed Pastor of Sacred Heart  Church in the Vailsburg section of Newark, NJ. He is currently pastor of Little Flower Parish,  Berkeley Heights. Father Thomas Cembor joined the parish in 2003 until 2005 and is now chaplain at  Mountainside Hospital. Father Eustace Edomobi joined the parish in 2006 and is now Pastor of Saint Joseph Parish in Maplewood. Father Ferdinan Wagner joined the parish as a summer adjunct clergy in 2006 and left in 2008 to become pastor at Holy Child Parish in Suirunerland, Canada. Father Peter Aquino filled the position of Parochial Vicar beginning in 2008.
The year 1988 marked the arrival of Father ]0hn E. O’Brien, a retired priest. It was an auspicious day  that Father O’Brien was invited to conduct a day of reflection for the staff. As he was reflecting on the events of his life, he casually mentioned that he had to vacate his residence since they needed his  room. Cathy Martin, Director of Religious Education, said, “Move here.” Father Burns welcomed him with open arms, and our good fortune was assured. Father O’Brien held two doctorate degrees.  He was a scholar, an Irish wit, teacher, and a friend. He remained with us until his formal retirement and upon which he generously donated his collection of books, over 800 volumes, now housed in the Raphael Room.

Historical Account by a Founding Member

Elmer (Sonny) Ciamillo notes that the first Mass was celebrated on Iuly 7, 1961 at Mt. Pleasant School in West Orange with a handful of parishioners. The first pastor was Father Wall. He was sent to the church at a time when there was no bed, so Sonny and Ruth Ciamillo helped to set him up at the Blue House. Eleanor Manger donated a stage to be used for Eucharistic sacrifice. The altar was stored at the Blue House. It was transported weekly to West Orange for Sunday Mass. There were about 100 parishioners. The altar was carried from the Blue House to the school every Sunday. Weekday Mass was held at the Blue House. Though things were tough in the beginning, the parishioners were able to maintain a good sense of humor in serving the Lord. At the first Christmas there were about 200 chairs and a heat lantern. It was snowy and very cold. Father Mulquinn who was presiding turned to all and said ”we must be in Bethlehem.” Everyone laughed.
The parishioners had their first fund raising event, a show titled ‘Hello Dolly’ which was showcased by the women of the parish. It successfully ran for three nights. It was well attended and fun. Other fund raising events followed, the New Year’s Dance and St. Patrick’s Day. Membership quickly grew to about 200, and continued to grow in good fellowship as a faith sharing church. Father
Mulquinn was transferred. Then Father Thomas Burns came and stayed for 20 years.
Of all the many “firsts” recorded during those early years, pernaps the one deserving of mention was the First Holy Communion that was celebrated by 17 children on May 5, 1962. They were prepared under the tutelage of Mrs. David Dowd and Mrs. Frank Santoro. During that time the Rosary Altar Society was formed. The first meeting was held on October 2, 1961. The officers were:
President: Ann Dignan
Vice Presidents: Ruth Ciamillo and Mary Mischele
Treasurer: Broni Sallete
Secretary: Hazel Fitzsimmons

The Holy Name Society was also formed. The first meeting was held on October 9, 1961. The officers were:
President: Frank Powell
Vice Presidents: Hugh Sweeny and Bernard Degnari
Treasurer: John Maxwell
Secretary: Adam Aloia

Father Mulquinn was a catalyst for the construction of the church and school building. Ground was  broken on June 10, 1962. Construction was completed in 1963. In September, Saint Raphael school opened for the first class.
In search for additional revenue, Father Mulquinn introduced Bingo to Saint Raphael. The games held on Monday night were run by the men of the parish under the chairmanship of John Vreeland.  Besides providing needed parish revenue, the games were a social night out for both workers and players from the parish, as well as patrons from the surrounding area. John Vreeland was followed over the years by other dedicated chairmen, among them were Vincent Moorhead, Tom Mc Manus, Chet Wisolmerski, and Jerry Mutone.

Saint Raphael held the dedication ceremony on January 30, 1965, with Archbishop Boland officiating.  The building had been completed in 1963, but the dedication was delayed due to the Archbishop’s attendance at the Vatican Council. It was this Council, convened by Pope John XXIII and closed by Pope Paul VI, whose directives would soon change the way the parishioners of Saint Raphael would celebrate the Sacred Liturgy. In addition, the Council Fathers encouraged Catholics to be open to new avenues of spiritual growth.
It was during the pastorate of Father Sherry that the new norms for liturgical worship went into effect. Most striking, the altar was moved to the center of the sanctuary so that the priest celebrated Mass facing the congregation. Gradually the use of English replaced Latin in the Liturgy.  The congregation was drawn into a more active role in the new form of worship. In fact, the Lector, a new lay ministry, served as a reader of the Word of God, as well as a prompter in the form of ”please rise”, “please kneel”, and “please sit” until the congregation became familiar with the new Liturgy.  While the introduction of the Lector into the Liturgy did not create much of a stir, the same could not be said of the introduction of Eucharistic Ministers into the Liturgy. Many found it difficult to receive Communion from anyone other than a priest. Other changes followed that overturned generations, if not centuries of behavior. The obligation to abstain from meat on Fridays was ended, and for those old enough to remember, women were no longer required to cover their heads in church. This was not your grandmother’ s Church anymore!
In November 1980, the first issue of the Communique, the parish newsletter, was mailed to all registered parishioners. In that issue, Father Burns wrote the following: ”It is indeed a pleasure for me to see our dream of a parish newsletter become a reality. I believe very strongly that communication is one of the keys to unity in our parish. I commend the Communications Committee of the Parish Council for their untiring efforts in the creation of the Parish Newsletter.” The Staff of the first edition of the Communique was as follows:
Editor: Fred E. Kirsch Ir.
Production Manager: Harold Ferguson
Editorial Board: William Bellott Sr., Alphonse Faiella, Raymond Palmere

The Parish Council which had been formed under Father Sherry several years before was revitalized as an elected body. The council members, over forty in all, were formed into seven standing committees: Spiritual Life, Social Concerns, Parish Life, Education, Communications, Finance, and Building and Maintenance. By the spring of 1985, the need for a more streamlined working council was recognized. The Council was reorganized as a 21 member body. Working by the process of consensus the Council sought to serve the Parish in planning, setting and evaluating parish policies and acting in an advisory capacity to the professional staff. Subsequently, the membership was further streamlined to six parish members and renamed the Parish Leadership Council. This group was tasked with identifying specific goals for parish growth.
Although the Saint Raphael Parochial School closed in June 1973, the religious education effort was continued by several Sisters of Charity with Julia Maute as Religious Principal. Subsequently, Sister Lois Kikkert, O.P. was appointed as the first full-time Director of Religious Formation in 1980. Loretta Connell took the duties of principal aided by members of the parish serving as lay catechists for the new CCD Program. In 1982, Sister Lois was succeeded by Dr. Catherine Martin who established a number of religious formation programs at Saint Raphael, including pre~school through eighth grade, Adult Education and RCIA. In addition, the programs for the preparation of the sacraments of Reconciliation, First Eucharist, and Confirmation were expanded and separated from the Sunday religious education curriculum.
Along with the many changes in parish activities, the church building itself was being updated. ln researching parish records the only mention of the renovation that could be found was in the February 1982 edition of the Communique in which Father Tom Burns commented, “As I write this letter we’ve been under construction for seven working days and l can’t believe the progress that has been made”. The interior of the church was in for a major face-lift. Most importantly, the Sanctuary with a new stone altar at its center was moved forward, closer to the congregation. A skylight was installed over the altar allowing daylight to brighten the Sanctuary. The relocation of the rear wall of the sanctuary resulted in the creation of a meeting room behind the altar area. ln time it received its name. Monsignor Thomas Donato dubbed it “The Raphael Room.” At present, besides serving as a meeting room, it houses the book collection and other memorabilia of Father Iohn O’Brien. In keeping with the reawaking of the pivotal significance of the sacrament of Baptism, the Baptismal font (donated in memory of Diane Warner )was moved to a central location in the church. Originally, it was in an enclosed Baptistery at the rear of the church. In time, the open entry area was enclosed thus providing a comfortable gathering area.
1985 saw the beginning of the events celebrating the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the founding of Saint Raphael Parish. On September 29, 1985, a special Mass was celebrated. A covered dish followed the Mass in the all-purpose room, Tobias Hall. Anniversary festivities were concluded by a dinner / dance held at the Mayfair Farms on April 29, 1986. The following paragraphs are excerpts of the beginning history from our Twenty-fifth Anniversary Book of Saint Raphael Parish.
“It was sharply cold on Christmas Eve, 1962; sharply cold and so clear you could almost reach up and pick a star right out of the blue black midnight sky. The people and pastor of Saint Raphael’s were determined—tonight they would celebrate together in their own church. They had come from three separate and often dissimilar conununities (St. Philomena’s in Livingston, St. ]oseph’s in West Orange and Our Lady of the Lake in Verona), chosen by accident of residence and diocesan policy to build a new parish. For more than a year now, they had been an openhearted but peripatetic band of worshipers fired by the shared adventure of making a new beginning, moving weekly in their own liturgical caravan complete with a portable altar from West Orange to Livingston and back again. Tonight would be different.”
“The new structure was hardly completed, a fitting symbol for the forming community. Concrete flooring had been poured during the hectic days before Christmas, and huge hot air blowers were still roaring away in the winter damp in an effort to speed its drying. Excitement and happy spirits in keeping with the Season ran high. As the people gathered and the sights and sounds of the ancient, beautiful liturgy for Christinas Mass at midnight began to fill the church, a ring of warmth, not due merely to the action of the trusty blowers, spread out to encircle the worshipers riding the crest of a soft-toned Latin chant, private thoughts and prayers were almost tangible in their presence.”
“One by one, each person present was granted a vision of What could be in community. Each in his or her own way slipped into the loving circle. Bonds were forged that night which would grow stronger over the years even in times of great testing and change.”
“The portable altar bedecked now with evergreens, the symbol of hope, had found a home. The people were wanderers no longer— they were, each one and together, the Parish Community of Saint Raphael.”