Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel – Bridging the 21st Century

I would like to thank Mark S. Auerbach, City Historian of Passaic, NJ for the time he has spent detailing stories of early Passaic and for the images which he has so kindly given me permission to include in my posts about early Passaic and St. Michael’s Church.

The elevation of St. Michael’s Church to that of a cathedral gave St. Michael’s a new purpose and direction. While it still had a congregation of staunch supporting parishioners, the church founders had all passed away. Even the children of the founding families were in their senior years by 1965, when the church celebrated its 75th Anniversary.

Msgr. Stim oversaw the cleaning and painting of the inside and outside of the church. The inside was also redecorated, but the most noticeable change was the removal of the tall steeples of the church. Even in the early days, when the church was first being built in 1903, a building inspector reported that they were unstable and needed to be reinforced, which they were. However, time and weather had taken their toll on the towers and they came down. Domes with less height replaced them.

About one year after becoming a cathedral, Msgr. George Durisin became the new pastor of St. Michael’s.

Monsignior George Durison
Rt. Rev. Msgr. George Durisin

He completed the renovation begun by Msgr. Stim in preparation for the Diamond Jubilee on 31 October 1965. The cathedral was rededicated with a Solemn Pontifical Divine Liturgy celebrated by Bishop Kocisko. A banquet, attended by a thousand people, was held in the Passaic Armory, during which many memories of the founding and founders of St. Michael’s were remembered.

My grandmother was a saver and I am the lucky owner of both the program and the menu.

Diamond Jubilee Menu

Diamond Jubilee Program
Diamond Jubilee Menu and Program, 1965

Julia Sabo, my Nana, was one of the honored guests as she was the oldest living parishioner baptized at St. Michael’s. I am lucky enough to have her original baptismal certificate:

She was honored along with the oldest male parishioner, oldest female parishioner and the oldest married couple:

Julia's Picture in St Michael's Book
Honored Guests, 1965

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the children of St. Michael’s School summed up the milestones in the church history perfectly:

Kids Holding St Michaels Milestones in Book
1965 Celebration

St. Michael’s celebrated its 90th Anniversary in 1980. The church was again rededicated and picture announcement cards were published. The front had a photo of the inside of the newly redecorated church.

Saint Michael 90th Anniversary Invitation   Picture Inside Cathedral of Saint MIchael
St. Michael’s, 1980

If a book was published, Nana didn’t buy one, but I remember there was another banquet dinner.  I also remember that we were asked to not tell her that she was again going to be honored as the oldest parishioner baptized at St. Michael’s and she was very annoyed that everyone knew how old she was when they announced the date of her baptism. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me now since the 1940 census is available. Nana shaved twelve years off her age in that census. 🙂

Julia Sabo, 1980 Celebration

St. Michael’s was then only ten years away from its Centennial celebration. Nana made it half way through those years, passing away in May 1985.

I have only one souvenir of the church Centennial, a coffee mug in brand new condition that I bought years ago on eBay.

 StMichael100thMug     StMichael100thMugBack
Centennial Mug, 1990

Earlier, I mentioned how 1963  and the elevation to cathedral status gave St. Michael’s a new sense of purpose and direction. The newest wave of immigrants had long been settled in Passaic – Hispanics, first from Puerto Rico and then other countries of Central and South America.  By the 90th Anniversary celebration in 1980, the old timers were almost all gone. My grandmother outlived most of her friends, most of whom were either born in Udol or Hajtovka or whose parents were born there.

The major milestone of St. Michael’s as it approached its Centennial was the completion of the Chapel and social center located in West Paterson, NJ. The cornerstone was laid and the complex dedicated in May 1987. West Paterson was chosen as an acknowledgement that many of the parish families had moved to the suburbs and were no longer residents of Passaic.

After Msgr. Durisin was transferred to a new post in August 1988, St. Michael’s was again in a cycle of several short term pastors with the arrival and departure of four priests within six months.

In February 1989, Rev. Marcel Szabo  was appointed as the new spiritual leader of St. Michael’s Cathedral.

Rev. Marcel Szabo

Preparations were already underway for the Centennial in October 1990, but the load of work to be done was tremendous as the church and rectory were in serious need of repair and updates. Under Fr. Marcel’s direction, it was all completed in time for the celebration.

As part of the public festivities, Bishop Dudick, the Bishop of Passaic, presented the Cathderl parish, with an icon, “Our Lady of Passaic.” St. Michael’s website  link to the church history explains the cultural change in the neighborhood better than I can:

The process of renewal and renovation in anticipation of the Centennial Anniversary began concretely in August of 1989, on the eve of the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. On this date, St. Michael’s Cathedral Parish as well as the ENTIRE city of Passaic was entrusted to the custody of the Blessed Mother. Bishop Michael Dudick, Bishop of Passaic, presented his Cathedral Parish with an icon entitled “Our Lady of Passaic” which was carried in procession around the church, through the neighborhood, and on the streets for all to see. As the Bishop, clergy and faithful parishioners proceeded down the middle of the street singing hymns to the Mother of God, some parish women were on hand to distribute blessed flowers to the curious neighborhood residents and onlookers who dotted the procession route. So moved were some of them by this gesture that they even followed the procession into the Cathedral and attended the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. As a direct result of this procession, now an annual event, the relationship between the Cathedral Parish and its Hispanic neighbors has greatly improved. Not only has the occasional of graffiti and vandalism decreased, but there has also surfaced a crew of Hispanic gentlemen who do not hesitate to volunteer their services to St. Michael’s even if only at a moments notice.

This pretty much sums up the cultural and ethnic change in the old First Ward neighborhood.

Rev. Marcel Szabo has been described as exactly the urban priest one would want to have leading his flock today.  Today, the neighborhood is mostly Hispanic, but Fr. Marcel had connected with members of the community. There is even a shrine in front of the rectory dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, which has earned the respect of the Latino neighbors.

Current church bulletins include names that are mostly Slovak in origin and the parish family is stable and generous with its financial support of the Cathedral. The Mothers’ Club and Rosary Society are still active and there is an Eastern Christian Formation/Byzantine Catholic Youth (ECF/BCY) religious education program is offered at the Chapel for pre-K through Grade 12.

Cultural changes that were evident as early as 1940 have not seemed to hamper the vitality of St. Michael’s and the Cathedral is prepared to celebrate its Quasquicentennial in October 2015. The church founders would be proud of its accomplishments.

From St. Michael’s home page on the web:

Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel Today

3 thoughts on “Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel – Bridging the 21st Century”

  1. A wonderful job!
    I was a part of singing the Papal Mass for the installation of Bishop Kosciusko.
    What an exciting day for a 10yr old who loved singing and welcoming a Bishop, too!!
    You’ve done great things here to preserve the history of St. Michael’s.
    A favor?….could you please find or direct me to the record we made of the “Mass of St. John Chrysostom”?

    I am up in Penobscot, Maine and it would be a comfort to me to have it.
    I have Multiple Sclerosis and assorted other illnesses that now keep me in bed.

    I need the things around me that brought me joy and brought me close to God.

    Here’s my contact info….

    I used a pseudonyme for privacy.

    Here’s my name from then…Judith Kanuh

    1. Hello Judith.
      I am Cynthia Madsen and we were in the same class at St. Michael’s School.
      I was browsing through the internet specifically looking for articles relating to Father Marcel and I saw your post. I can’t at this moment procure the recording of the Liturgy but I will investigate.
      We recently had an alumni reunion. Not too many attended but our class was the most represented.
      I am sorry to hear of your illness. I will keep you in my prayers.
      If you wish to respond that would be nice.

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