Saint Francis Residential Community: Denville, Before There Was a Denville

By Steve Sears

Saint Francis Residential Community Executive Director, Sister Johnice Thone, recalls the words spoken to her by retired Sister Freida Voegerl, who told her that Saint Francis Residential Community was born before the Denville’s incorporation in April 1913.

“She would always say, ‘Saint Francis founded Denville.’ And that’s pretty much true; there was not much of anything here when the Sisters first came. And because it was a health resort and people were coming from the city, Denville got on the map.”

Officially founded in 1895 by the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother as a health resort, Saint Francis Residential Community has grown over its 120 years, but one thing has remained the same: the care provided. Located at 122 Diamond Spring Road, they leave no stone unturned when it comes to provision for its residents. “We are an independent senior living (facility),” says Debra Shay, Director of Resident Services. “We can have more than 100 residents at a time. We have 58 rooms currently, and 65 apartments.” Meals in apartments are optional, and are like an apartment in a community, but residents have the option of enjoying services such as meals, housekeeping, medication management. The difference is the rooms are akin to hotel rooms with meals, but the apartments are completely independent living. Rooms for periodic vacation stays are also offered for seniors and families.

In the early days, a farm was located across the street, and the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother owned the farm, and food grown and produced there fed those who visited. “People came here from the city, from Pennsylvania, from Connecticut, they spent periods of time here. It was not permanent housing,” says Sister Johnice. “The farm provided all the food for residents and the guests of Saint Francis. We had cows, and pigs, and chickens. And the good news initially is that there was six of these Sisters here, all from Germany, and we had one gentleman who oversaw the farm, and the Sisters helped on the farm, fed the chickens and the pigs, and also helped with the milking.” Corn and vegetables were also planted on nearby fields, and in the Spring,  all were harvested for residents for their meals. All meals were served family style. There was also an on-site German bakery.

There are certain requirements for living at Saint Francis Residential Community. Residents must be able to take care of themselves independently and must be able to afford the rent. The before-mentioned brief stays for a respite costs $150.00. Much has been improved through the years, and what’s new is a second elevator which will allow access up to the fourth floor, an upgrade and installation of a central air conditioning is taking place in some of the older buildings, a full generator for the entire facility is now in place, which was put in after Superstorm Sandy (“We were actually a warming center for Denville during the storm,” recalls Shay).

Saint Francis Residential Community also gives back to the community of which it is a part. “We sponsor local sports teams, we sponsored the playground which was just built, we have a lot of the community organizations such as the Rotary, Kiwanis, various schools like the Celebrate the Children which is a school for children with special needs in our town – they come here and do volunteer work, and we help them with their job sharing programs – we’re very visible in community, we are part of he community,” attests Shay. “Every Thursday the Rotary meets here, they have their breakfasts here, and the Sunrise Rotary also meets here on Wednesday mornings. Many community organizations use our facilities for meetings. It works for all of us; the Mayor holds parties here, so it’s a win-win. We also participate in the Rotary’s Street Fair.”

There is also a special spiritual aspect to Saint Francis Residential Community, explains Sister Johnice. “We have many people who come here primarily because the chapel is available, and Mass is available right on the grounds” A small meditation chapel for private reflection and prayer is located in the main building, and a main chapel in another building is where daily and Sunday Mass is celebrated. Both chapels are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Saint Francis Residential Community also is home to a nice library, and should residents not find what they’re looking for here, they may take advantage of the Denville Public Library, which is just across the road. “They (the DPL) come here and bring a bunch of books so our residents don’t have to cross the street. It’s great. They find out what kinds of books the residents like, they come here once a month, and they bring a bundle of books,” ads Sister Johnice.

Also, residents have the benefit of surrounding nature, a stroll taken to enjoy fresh air a nice way to lift spirits.

“What we do best is take care of the Senior community,” says Shay. “Our residents are our family; we care about them like they are our family. We have a long history, our employees have been here a long time, we’re very dedicated to our mission and our residents.”

Sister Johnice echoes Shay’s comments. “Absolutely,” she says regarding the fact that many employees have been at Saint Francis Residential Community for a good period. “For the stability it provides for the residents, their families, and as well for we as staff. We have each other’s backs. If we need something done and the person who would normally do it is not available, somebody will say, ‘Don’t worry Sister, I’m on it.’ And they are family.”

The whole month of December will be a busy time for Saint Francis Residential Community. Regularly scheduled activities, including concerts, occur. “There’s a lot of Christmas music,” says Shay, adding that “people do the church bells, a choir comes, and the Valleyview (Middle School) Band…” Local groups like the Girl Scouts also visit.

“Many of our residents,” adds Sister Johnice, “come from the local area, not necessarily Denville but from the area, and sometimes their families will come and pick them up to celebrate the holidays. So, there’s a lot of opportunities 


“We have someone,” says Shay, “whose whole family is coming here for Thanksgiving dinner instead of going somewhere else. They’re coming here.” The culinary team will be preparing the meal, and Sister Johnice proudly states that never has a complaint been heard about the food at Saint Francis Residential Community, and the team is very accommodating with regard to dietary needs.

“Saint Francis brings peace, comfort, a realization that they’re safe and have no worries, have a close family and community around them” says Sister Johnice. “You don’t ever have to be alone.”

For more information about Saint Francis Residential Community and to schedule a guided tour, please contact Debra Shay at 973-627-5000. More information is available on their website,

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