In 1872 a small group of Catholics gathered in the home of Terrance Brennan as Fr. Gregory Misdziol celebrated Sunday Mass. From this small seed of roughly 30 families would grow the current parish of St. Michael's in Cranford, a parish that now serves over 3500 families. Over the next 140 years, St. Michael's Church would see its parishioners through immense changes in the town, the nation, the world and the Catholic Church. Along the way the parishioners of St. Michael's would build three churches, each of which would be completely renovated at least once, and a parish school that would educate thousands of elementary and middle school children.
The first St. Michael's Church was built on Orange Avenue near Claremont Place on property donated by a parishioner (and future mayor of Cranford), Sylvester Cahill. Because the area was so sparsely populated, St. Michael's Parish included what are now the towns of Cranford, Kenilworth, Westfield, Roselle, Roselle Park and Garwood. In addition to serving as the focus for Roman Catholics in the area, St. Michael's also provided priests and pastoral care to the surrounding areas. These missions would eventually result in the creation of four new parishes. St. Joseph's in Roselle, Holy Trinity in Westfield, Saint Anne's in Garwood, and St. Theresa's in Kenilworth, all grew out of the efforts of the congregation and priests of St. Michael's. But in 1878, just after the completion of the first St. Michael's Church and with the first of the new parishes still 29 years in the future, it was decided that the location was difficult for many parishioners to reach and the church was moved to the comer of Elizabeth and Bloomingdale Avenues.
St. Michael's Continues to Grow
In 1901 the first church was destroyed by fire. As Roselle and Roselle Park were now served by St. Joseph the Carpenter Parish, Roselle, it was decided to rebuild St. Michael's in a new location, closer to the center of Cranford. Therefore the second St. Michael's Church was built at the intersection of Miln and Alden Streets. By 1906 the parish had outgrown the new building, even though the parish boundaries had yet again been reduced, as Holy Trinity Parish in Westfield had opened. To address the needs of the congregation, Rev. George Mueller, then Pastor, had the church lifted from its foundation and a basement auditorium was added, giving the parish much needed space for pastoral work and social gatherings. In the mid-1920's St. Anne's Parish in Garwood opened, the third offspring of the original St. Michael's congregation. In spite of the reduced area, St. Michael's was flourishing. Improvements in transportation had made it easier for people to live beyond the traditional urban areas and Cranford, with its rural setting and river amenities, was popular. In 1930 Rev. James F. McDonald oversaw the opening of St. Michael School and the first graduates completed 8th grade in the spring of 1933. The Benedictine Sisters of Elizabeth staffed the school, and a house, which stood where the school is now, was moved down Alden Street and outfitted as a convent.
The next fifteen years were a period of consolidation within the parish. Building the School had been expensive, and it was now the middle of the Great Depression. The primary concern of Rev. William D. Donnelly, who succeeded Father McDonald in 1935, was the reduction of this debt and pastoral care of his parishioners through both the Depression and World War II. By the late 1940's, however, the situation had changed. Father Donnelly had been successful in paying off the monies borrowed, the war was over and the post-war building boom had begun. By 1948 it was evident that St. Michael's church was too small. To accommodate the growing congregation a new church was planned and built. This time, however, rather than move, the decision was made to tear down the old church and rebuild on the same location. The old church was closed in July 1948 and construction of the third St. Michael's Church began. For the next 17 months, masses were held in the School auditorium. Also during this period, the contemporary boundaries of the parish were set when St. Theresa's Parish, Kenilworth, the last of the churches to grow out of the original St. Michael's mission, opened in 1949. The third, and current, St. Michael's church celebrated its first mass on January 13, 1950.
The post-war building surge in Cranford was followed by the Baby Boom which, by the mid-1960's, had overwhelmed the facilities of St. Michael's school. To accommodate the growing number of students, classes were held in the basement and on the stage of the School auditorium. In 1966 construction was completed on an addition that doubled the number of classrooms and provided the students with a large gymnasium and a new cafeteria.
From 1964 to 1965 Fr. Charles J. Watters served at St. Michael's as a Parochial Vicar. Father Watters later served as a Chaplain in the U.S. Army. In 1967 he died in Vietnam while rescuing wounded soldiers from enemy fire. For his bravery and selflessness he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. A memorial to Father Watters was placed next to a large flagpole in front of the Church, in tribute to his heroism.
During the 1970's St. Michael's Church was renovated to accommodate the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council. Msgr. John F. Davis led the effort to renovate the interior of the church, including the placement of a new simple altar which allowed the priest to face the congregation and the relocation of statuary from the sanctuary to newly created shrine areas in other parts of the church.
Rev. William S. O'Brien succeeded Monsignor Davis as Pastor in 1983. Under his leadership, the parish's charitable outreach activities were encouraged and renewed, with the parish and its parishioners becoming active in a number of local charities, including the Mount Carmel Guild and Cranford Family Care. In addition a number of other outreach ministries within the church were begun.
In 1995, St. Michael's Church began its most recent renovation. Under the direction of Rev. Lawrence W.Cull, the interior of the church was completely renovated. The leaking roof was replaced and the trussed, wooden ceiling refinished. A new Reconciliation Room was created, the vestibule was enlarged, the aged carpet removed and the original terrazzo floor and light fixtures were restored. A new altar, constructed of marble from the original altar, was added and the tabernacle was moved to a prominent position behind the altar. A new Parish Center was also built downstairs in the church.
Under the direction of Rev. John P. McGovern, who became Pastor in 2001, St. Michael School celebrated 75 years of educating and forming children in their faith. The St. Michael Religious Education Staff served over 1400 children as well as offering teen and adult groups for both recreation and religious study. The family ministry offered a very popular MOMs group. A successful capital campaign allowed for the addition of an elevator and handicapped accessible restroom to the church and to renovate and install air-conditioning in the School auditorium. The youth ministries of St. Michaels’s and St. Theresa’s Church, Kenilworth, joined to become the Sts. Michael and Theresa Youth Ministry (STMTYM). Each spring the STMTYM travels to Appalachia for a ministry experience, repairing homes in rural West Virginia. Through the continuing work of the Samaritan Ministry, begun in the 1980’s, the parish continued helping the needy in the surrounding communities and at home.
St. Michael’s current pastor, Msgr. Timothy J. Shugrue, who assumed this responsibility in 2011, builds on the strong foundation established by previous pastors. His efforts to strengthen the spiritual and communal aspects of parish life include the formation of a Steering Committee for Parish Transformation. The committee, with Msgr. Tim’s guidance, seeks means of spiritual development and increased active participation of our members. Msgr. Tim also oversaw the restoration of the Parish Center following Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
Priests Who Have Served the Parish
Rev. Gregory Misdziol (1872-1874)
Rev. Peter S. Dagnault (1874-1875)
Rev. Adolf Bergman (1875-1876)
Rev. August Eberhard (1876-1877)
Rev. William J. Wiseman (1877-1891)
Rev. James P. Smith (1891-1898)
Rev. Frank J. Murphy (1898-1902)
Rev. John A. Westman (1902-1906)
Rev. George H. Mueller (1906-1925)
Rev. James F. McDonald (1925-1935)
Rev. Msgr. William B. Donnelly (1935-1968)
Rev. Alfred G. Currall (1968-1969)
Rev. Msgr. John F. Davis (1969-1982)
Rev. William S. O’Brien (1982-1989)
Rev. Msgr. Lawrence W. Cull (1989-2001)
Rev. John P. McGovern (2001-2011)
Rev. Msgr. Timothy Shugrue (2011-Present Day)
Rev. D. Benidito
Most Rev. Paul G. Bootkoski
Rev. Steven Brosk
Rev. Paul Cannariato
Rev. Richard D. Carlson
Rev. T. J. Coyne
Rev. Roy DeLeo
Rev. Joseph V. Derbyshire
Rev. J. F. Dolan
Rev. Joseph L. Donnelly
Rev. Mark J. Dooley
Rev. L. Robert Duffy
Rev. Andrezej Gajewski
Rev. Robert Gajewski
Rev. Warren Hall
Rev. Richard J. Hallinan
Rev. S. J. Hill
Rev. William V. Holland
Rev. B. M. Huebschman
Rev. Edgardo Jocson
Rev. Sebastian Kunnath
Rev. Oscar Leano
Rev. Noel Levantino
Rev. Krzysztof K. Maslowski
Rev. J. J. McAvoy
Rev. J. M. Nuberg
Rev. John M. Oates
Rev. Maurice L. O’Keefe
Rev. Orlando M. Padapono
Rev. Lewis V. Papera
Rev. Cesar Perez
Most Rev. Michael A. Saltarelli
Rev. Msgr. Robert T. Sheeran
Rev. J. P. Smith
Rev. Jerry Sogliuzzo