Parish History

In 1931, the St. Cloud area of West Orange was not yet highly developed, but already a number of Catholic families were living there.  They began to hope for a church in their own neighborhood that would alleviate the inconvenience of having to travel a considerable distance to Mass. Two women living in the area took a census and found 65 Catholic families, with 160 adults and 83 children.

One resident who made a decisive contribution, and whose family would play a central role in the life of the parish, was Josephine Schweinler, who had a home on Ridgeway Avenue and owned wooded land fronting on Benvenue Avenue. Her husband, Charles S. Schweinler, a prominent businessman, had died in November, 1927. When Bishop Thomas Joseph Walsh of the Newark Diocese agreed to the establishment of a parish, Mrs. Schweinler gave two acres of land and paid for construction of a church on it as memorial to her husband.

Bishop Walsh formally established St. Joseph’s Parish on September 10, 1931. But he judged that its population did not warrant the immediate appointment of a full-time pastor. So he named Father Thomas B. Glover to serve as administrator while continuing in his prior work as Vice Chancellor of the Diocese. The first Masses in St. Joseph’s Parish were celebrated by Father Glover on Christmas Day 1931, and with a certain appropriateness for the day, they were held in a former stable. The Schweinler family had converted their stable to a carriage house, which later became a garage. The building was then moved 100 feet and adapted for use as a chapel until a church could be built.

Joseph Stanford Shanley of the Myers & Shanley firm in Newark, who had adapted the stable for chapel use, served as architect for the church. Because of the sparsely settled character of the area and the plan to set the church in the midst of several large trees, giving it a rustic air, Mrs. Schweinler suggested using the style of an English country church. Mr. Shanley drew on both this tradition and that of the Norwegian stave churches. Mr. Shanley designed a church of frame construction, with weathered shingles and cypress.

Inside, the wooden statues of the Crucifixion scene above the church sanctuary, along with carvings on the panels over the altar and other items, were done by woodcutters of Oberammergau, Germany, the Bavarian village that produces the world’s most famous Passion Play every ten years. Anton Lang, Sr., who once played the role of Christ, carved the statues above the sanctuary and the statue of St. Jude. Frank H. Schwarz of New York City was commissioned to do a painting of the Holy Family that was placed above the altar.

The church was built to seat 300 people, which was relatively small but quite adequate for the needs of the time. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in February 1932, and Bishop Walsh dedicated the church on Sunday morning, November 6, 1932.

St. Joseph’s Church became a popular place for weddings. This came about because of the very picturesque appearance of the parish at the time. In front of the church, where now there is a roadbed, there was a small stream which went underneath a foot bridge. It formed an ideal spot for reception lines following the wedding ceremony.

Over time, in order to secure space for expansion of the church plant, the parish bought additional land adjacent to the plot originally given by Mrs. Schweinler.  Two lots on St. Cloud Place were purchased in 1938, a third in 1948 and another in 1951. These purchases gave the parish enough room to move forward with plans to build a convent and school, which opened in 1956.

By the 1950s, development of the St. Cloud area into a suburban community and consequent increase in the number of Catholics served by St. Joseph’s made necessary an expansion in the size of the church. In 1953, a wing was added on the right side of the building. This wing was given by the four children of Charles Schweinler, the children of the donor of the original church. The addition was designed by the same architect who designed the original church. At the entrance of the new addition is a seven-foot crucifix by sculptor Harry Donahue.

In June 1976, St. Joseph’s pastor, Father James McCloskey, granted permission to Dr. & Mrs. Floyd DeCheser to erect an outdoor shrine to Our Lady and the Christ Child alongside the church in memory of their beloved infant son, Christopher, who died in July 1975. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph A. Francis blessed and dedicated the shrine on July 9, 1977.  – Excerpted from the St. Joseph Church 50th Anniversary Memory Book, 1981.