The Heart of St. Michael’s – Its People – Quasquicentennial of Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel

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.

By 1906, when Rev. Irenaus Janitzky was appointed to lead St. Michael’s, the parish was poised for growth, both in number of families and in spiritual support provided by the church.

What stands out in this early history is that the priests were all quite young and able to lead the new flock and that, like their flock, they were all recent immigrants themselves. Father Chanath was only 25 when he served as the first pastor. Father Balogh was 34 years old when he arrived from Whiting, Indiana, Father Janitzky was 29 when he became the pastor and Father Jackovics was a seasoned 43 years old when he took the helm. Each had the energy and vision to lead St. Michael’s.

A busy parish it was. Between 1890 and 1915, 4,283 babies were baptized, 2,534 marriages were performed and 666 funerals were held. The first parish club was St. Michael’s Rosary Society, which organized in August 1909 with fifteen charter members.

Until 1918, each of the pastors administered the parish for relatively short periods of time. However, in 1918, the Very Rev. Michael Jackovics was appointed the new pastor. He served the parish until his death on 7 December 1949.

Rev. Michael Jackovics

By the time he arrived, St. Michael’s flock had grown to 3,000 souls and Fr. Jackovics was ready to lead the church as it continued to grow.

The growth of St. Michael’s paralleled the growth of Passaic. From a small town of 6,500 in 1880 to 13,000+ in 1890, Passaic continued to double its size into the 20th century. The 1900 census put the population at almost 28,000. By 1910, it had reached about 55,000 and in 1920, it peaked at 63,000.

During that same 40 year span, Slovaks began emigrating to Passaic, planned a parish, bought and enlarged the first building used to house St. Michael’s Church, expanded a rectory, laid the cornerstone and built an entirely new church building, founded the Rosary Society of St. Michael and welcomed six pastors to the fold.

In 1921, the Very Rev. Michael Jackovics consecrated half of the cemetery ground purchased in 1917 and consecrated the second half in 1937. It became St. Michael’s Cemetery in South Hackensack.

St. MichaelCemetery Entrance
Entrance to St. Michael’s Cemetery
Source: Rich H. (R.E.H.) ,
Creative Commons License

In 1922, Fr. Jackovics started catechetical classes in two rooms of the church hall with lay teachers teaching until the Sisters of St. Basil the Great arrived to teach evening classes.

As the United States entered the Great Depression in 1929, the population in Passaic declined for the first time since it was chartered as a city. The growth of St. Michael’s also slowed during this same time period, but the church remained vibrant with many of its original Rusyn Udol families and their descendants.

On 3 February 1935, the Mother’s Club was organized with 35 charter members. In the same year, a new hall and rectory were constructed.

St Michael's Auditorium - 1935 Photo from Book

Picture of St Michael's Rectory - 1935 from Book

Church plays, involving many members of the parish community, celebrated the church’s Rusyn roots, with ethnic clothes serving as costumes.

St. Mike’s, as it was affectionately known, had a men’s basketball team and an early baseball team. A church choir was established. There was a parish Sodality, which was a religious brotherhood. Church activities included the Blessing of flowers, fruit and Easter food.

Fr. Jackovics also saw to the physical maintenance of the church buildings. From the 1965 book published for the 75th Anniversary, he saw that “foundations were made firm; brick walls were re-pointed; new roofing was added; towers were aligned; tower clocks were refaced and electrified; and the center dome, damaged by the constant structural vibrations emanating from the many passing locomotives, were removed entirely.”

As the United States was on the brink of entering World War II, St. Michael’s celebrated its Golden Jubilee with a Pontifical Divine Liturgy in the church on 24 November 1940.

With the Depression came a downturn in the prosperity of the mills still in Passaic. The American Dream meant that the start of a new life for one generation led to an improved quality of life for the next generation and the Slovaks followed that path.

By 1940, the First Ward neighborhood had lost many of its immigrant families as they assimilated into American life and improved their economic standing. They now lived in other Passaic neighborhoods, Clifton, Wallington, Garfield and Lodi and other nearby towns. The old neighborhood was not what it once was.

The 1940 census was starkly different from the picture created in 1900. Fr. Jackovics is the first person enumerated on the page. He is one of the few residents not born in America. There are Jewish families, Italians, a Scot, a black couple from South Carolina and many born in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Occupations have also changed. While there were some still laborers and mill hands, there was also a porter, saleswomen, a butcher, a book keeper and a teacher.  They weren’t walking to work at the mills, either, because most of the mills were gone. Many of Fr. Jackovics’ flock were still parishioners, but they were no longer neighbors.

96 First Street, 1940 Census

In fact, the Dundee Canal was no longer needed. When I spoke to Passaic City Historian Mark S. Auerbach, I asked him when the old canal was filled in. The area where I knew the canal had been had been a public parking area across from St. Michael’s for my whole life. Much to my surprise, he said the canal wasn’t filled in, it was covered over and the parking area laid on top of it. The water culvert is still there.

In the late 1930’s, Passaic Commissioner Nicholas Martini had plans drawn up to close the canal. St. Michael’s can be seen in the top right corner of the drawing.

Dundee Canal - Martini Plan - 1935
Martini Plan

At the time, the Dundee Canal looked like this:

Dundee Canal - September 1, 1938
Dundee Canal in the 1930’s

Again, the tall towers of St. Michael’s can be seen along the left side of the canal towards the back of the photo. When the work was done, the historic canal was no longer visible:

Dundee Canal - 1940 (covered over)
Dundee Canal now gone

Today, the area looks like this:

First Street Today

The first set of steps in the right foreground are the stairs to the rectory of St. Michael’s. The steps further along the sidewalk are the steps leading into the church. Directly across the street is the blacktop parking which I remember growing up. It stretches all along First Street into the distance. Little did I know that the Dundee Canal was sitting underneath my parked car!

Back to the story of St. Michael’s. While many of the parishioners no longer lived in the old First Ward neighborhood, the church continued its remarkable progress as a community.

1949 was a special year for St. Michael’s as Fr. Jackovics celebrated his Golden Anniversary as a priest and the parishioners burned the church mortgage. However, the end of the year also brought great sadness as parishioners mourned the loss of their beloved Fr. Jackovics, who died on 7 December 1949.

Death Announcement Rev Michael Jarkovics
Funeral Card of Fr. Jackovics

Early in 1950, Monsignor John A. Stim was appointed the new pastor of St. Michael’s Church and the church continued to grow.

Msgr John Stim
Msgr. Stim continued to expand the church social activities with the establishment of the Ladies’ Guild in 1953. Also in 1953, St. Michael’s bought the old Washington School #2 from the city of Passaic and established St. Michael’s School. #2 School was remodeled to not only house classrooms, but also provided space for a convent of the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate, who taught the children.

Picture of St Michaels School from Book
School #2 which became St. Michael’s School

St. Michael’s Holy Name Society was established in 1955 with 35 charter members. The church became home to a Boy Scout troop, a Junior and Senior Girls’ Sodality, and both men’s and ladies’ bowling teams.

Msgr. Stim also oversaw the extensive remodeling needed in a church that was now approaching the three quarters century mark. Stained glass windows were installed as were new altars and pews and lighting and heating units.

On 31 July 1963, the announcement was made that a new Byzantine Catholic diocese was being formed – the Eparchy of Passaic – and that St. Michael’s Church was being elevated to the status of cathedral. The Most. Rev. Stephen Kocisko was to serve as its first Bishop.

The installation of Bishop Kocisko and the first celebratory Mass was held in the new Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel of Passaic, NJ.

Stephen Kocisko
First Bishop of Passaic, 1963

A souvenir to remember this special day was created and I distinctly remember taking it to school to share for current events the following week:



The souvenir is a small crown, about 3 inches high and 2 inches wide, with a gold cross on top. The front depicts a religious coat of arms and the back is inscribed with the 10 September 1963 date that St. Michael’s became a cathedral. My crown is in pristine condition because it has been displayed in a curio cabinet for the past fifty-two years!

Although St. Michael’s became a cathedral in the middle of the 20th century, in some ways, it heralded the entrance into the 21st century as Passaic was changing so much.

The last post, but not the last chapter in St. Michael’s life, is next.

Constructing the New Church – Quasquicentennial of St. Michael’s Church

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.

By 1902, the landscape of Passaic was continually changing. More factories had come to the city and Slovak immigrants continued to exit Ellis Island and head to the neighborhood where their families and friends had settled before them. Many of the original Udol inhabitants who migrated to Passaic traveled back and forth between Europe and the United States, often bringing more countrymen with them.

Even the enlarged Dundee Evangelical Mission Chapel, now St. Michael’s Church and rectory, was too small to meet the needs of its parishioners. Plans were made to build a new church.

The First Ward, which included St. Michael’s parish, was a mixture of two-family homes rented by immigrant families, ethnic shops, and mills. The ever present train tracks were nearby.

View along the train tracks, Botany Mills ahead

The Passaic Woolen Mills, in the same neighborhood:

Passaic Woolen Mills, Passaic, N. J. - 1905
Factories and train tracks

Shops of all kinds were within walking distance:

Shopping in Passaic

The neighborhood was the center of St. Michael’s life and the new church would be built on the same site as the old one. In 1902, the cornerstone was laid for the building that became St. Michael’s that we know today.

Cornerstone, Laid in 1902

By 5 May 1905, the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of the parish, the new church had been completed and parishioners looked back with pride at what had been accomplished since the first steps had been taken in 1890.

The landscape of First Street took on an entirely new look with the beautiful new building in their midst. If you have any misconceptions about the proximity of the Dundee Canal to neighborhood life, these photos will clear them up:

St. Michael’s, c1907

If you exited the church and didn’t watch where you were walking, you could end up very wet!

The railroad tracks were such a vital part of the mills’ business, too.

When a new bridge was added to cross the canal, there was a ribbon cutting ceremony. The towers of St. Michael’s can be seen in the distance.

St. Michael’s, Down First Street

Now that you have a good idea of how the neighborhood looked, take a look at the beautiful inside of the brand new church:

Interior of St. Michael’s Church

By the time the church was finished, this new parish had had three pastors – Fr. Chanath, Rev. Szatala and Rev. Molscanyi. In early 1906, the sixth pastor came to the church – Fr. Janitzky.

It took fifteen years for immigrants to plan, purchase a building and found the parish of St. Michael’s and construct a new church to meet its growing needs. Next, Rev. Janitzky began the first of many projects that expanded and enhanced the religious life of his flock.

Tomorrow – As in the old country, the new church sits at the center of the lives of its members.

Making a Home in Passaic – Quasquicentennial of St. Michael’s Church

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 Slovak immigrants who processed through Castle Garden and arrived in Passaic were likely amazed by what they saw because Industrial Passaic couldn’t have made itself less like Udol if it tried.

The 1880 census of Passaic shows residents who were predominantly native born Americans with a spattering of immigrants from the British Isles.

The First, Second and Third Street neighborhood at that time was composed of native born Americans and immigrants from Britain, Sweden, Germany and one young couple born in Prussia. Most of the adults worked in the cloth mills nearby. In fact, they were so close that they all could easily walk to work. (The mills declined by the middle of the 20th century, but I’m old enough to remember a couple that stayed in business that long.)

The 1890 census is long destroyed, but in this case, the 1900 census gives an accurate look at how St. Michael’s neighborhood had evolved after 1880.

First Street Neighborhood, 1900

Between 1880-1900, the neighborhood had completely changed. this census page shows seven native born Americans, all children of immigrant families. Most of the residents were from “Austria” or “Rus Pol” (Poland). Native language was not a question asked on this census, but many of the surnames can be identified as Slovak. Occupations were mostly laborers and mill hands.

In the middle of all this ethnic change, the Udol immigrants not only found a strange language and a neighborhood completely unlike the village, but these devout church goers also discovered there was no Greek Catholic church to be found.

For people whose life was centered around their church, this situation could not be allowed to continue. The church not only provided for their spiritual needs, but was the familiar rock that tied them to family, friends and their village lives.

In the 1880’s, there was only one Catholic church in Passaic – St. Nicholas. That is where the early Slovaks worshiped, but the church was Roman Catholic, not Byzantine (Greek) Catholic. By 1890, a group of Slovaks, which included many from Udol, met and decided to purchase the Dundee Evangelical Mission Chapel at the corner of First and Bergen Streets.

The First St. Michael’s Church, c1895

The chapel was enlarged and a rectory built and St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church was a reality. Fr. Nicephor Chanath was the first priest to serve at St. Michael’s, which he did faithfully from October 1890 to December 1894., when he was transferred to St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church in Scranton, PA.

Rev. Chanath was an appropriate choice to be the first pastor of St. Michael’s, a brand new church. Fr. Chanath was, himself, only about 25 years old in 1890 and was also a new immigrant to the United States, having been born in Hungary. His time at St. Michael’s was short, but he laid the foundation from which the church prospered and grew.

I have not been able to find a photograph of Fr. Chanath – perhaps none exist of him – but I was able to locate him at St. Mary’s after he left Passaic. Sadly, he died at the very young age of 34 on 31 December 1898 of influenza and is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Scranton.

The second pastor of St. Michael’s was Rev. Eugene Szatala, appointed to replace Fr. Chanath. His tenure was also fairly short. By the time Rev. Molscanyi arrived in March 1902, the parish had grown dramatically and had outgrown the space of the old church.

There now was a thriving, vibrant Slovak community that had extended its social customs and religious life from Europe to Passaic. Over six hundred families, many from Udol and Hajtovka, belonged to the parish and Passaic had not even reached its peak immigration point.

It was time to construct a new church building from scratch. Next, the cornerstone to the future was laid.