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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the time, the Dundee Canal looked like this:
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:
Today, the area looks like this:
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.
Early in 1950, Monsignor John A. Stim was appointed the new pastor of St. Michael’s Church and the church continued to grow.
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.
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.
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.