By Steve Sears
A drive down Whippany Road, just seconds after turning off of Route 10, yields the appearance of a tiny white church from yesteryear, conjuring up visions of past generations of families venturing into and out of its front doors.
The beautiful chapel is a tiny but significant part of Our Lady of Mercy Parish (rectory located at 9 Parsippany Road, 973-887-0050, www.ourladyofmercyparish.com). Built in 1854, it is the former parish church, with modest wooden pews atop hardwood flooring, and stained-glass windows bearing names dedicated to past families.
“Both the church and the chapel are very unique places for celebrating the Eucharist,” says Monsignor Francis Duffy, an Assistant Parish Priest at Our Lady of Mercy for 12 years.
Duffy has been the Weekend Assistant there since he retired from Administration. Retired priests, not appointed to any parish, respond when they are invited by the pastor. Fr. Sean, Our Lady of Mercy’s former pastor, invited Duffy into the fold. “This is my sixth year. It has been a great blessing since I’ve already known so many families for so many years.”
About 900 families are registered at Our Lady of Mercy, which in Duffy’s opinion has always been “a very special faith community of diverse families that is focused on faith formation for all and on “outreach” to those in need within the parish, the community of Whippany, the diocese and beyond.”
Reverend Roberto Amador currently serves as Administrator and acting Pastor of the parish, and Reverend Milton Camargo is Parochial Vicar. Vincent LoBello serves as Deacon. Lisa Dempsey serves as Pastoral Associate, Lynda Asea as Parish Secretary, Edwin Peterson as Trustee, and Carmen Blandino as Parish Council President.
The parish mission statement is as follows:
The Mission of our parish is to be the living sign of Christ’s presence and the manifestation of His teachings within the community by:
- Gathering the parish community in prayer, particularly at celebrations of the Eucharist, where faith is nurtured and shared.
- Calling our parish community to Christian service, so that all served might have hope, based on our actions motivated by the Gospel.
- Providing ongoing faith formation for the entire parish, exemplified by Jesus’ method of teaching His disciples.
- Enlivening the sense of community by creating opportunities for fellowship, that can help us become one in Christ.
- Contributing our time, talent, and treasure to enable the above to happen.
Our Lady of Mercy Parish was established on September 25, 1854. Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley that day laid the cornerstone for the chapel. The first church construction was pioneered by Irish immigrant Daniel Coghlan, who had moved into the area and purchased nearby paper mills. Early parishioners were primarily of Irish descent, as is evidenced by the names on the chapel’s stained-glass windows, the letters dulling with age. The original church is the oldest standing Catholic church building in the Archdiocese of Paterson (established in 1937), and for many years served as a mission church for larger parishes in the area. Eventually, Polish and Slovak families also called Our Lady of Mercy home for worship. In 1909, Father Cornelius Clifford was named the first resident pastor of Our Lady of Mercy.
In 1954, the centennial celebration of the parish encouraged ground breaking and construction of a new combination church and school building. The school closed its doors in 2017. In 1990 a new parish center was dedicated, and the interior of the worship area was restructured completely in 1992.
“The present church,” says Duffy, “in its elegant simplicity, is very special to me because I was the one responsible for its present design when it was renovated in the late 1980s. The chapel gives you the sense of being connected to the earliest members of the parish and the priests who began the sacramental life of the parish beginning with Fr. Cornelius Clifford. Continuity has been the blessing of the faith-life of the families from its beginning til today”.
“The welcoming presence of Jesus,” he adds, “lives in the members of Our Lady of Mercy’s family and everyone who enters the parish will discover it is lived as it is believed.”
Weekend Mass is celebrated at Our Lady of Mercy on Saturday, 5:30 p.m., and on Sunday at 7:30, 9:30, and 11:00 a.m.