A BRIEF HISTORY OF LITTLE FLOWER PARISH
The story of the Catholic Church in Berkeley Heights began with the arrival of the original Italian families who came to the area to farm the tomatoes, corn, apples and peaches for which the State of New Jersey is famous. Because of their vibrant Catholic faith, and strong devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, they built and paid for the little church on Plainfield Avenue. In its early years, the little church was served by priests from Watchung, Stirling, Summit and New Providence. It was a mission church, and the visiting clergy were delighted to have this beautiful building in which to celebrate Mass. The little church was completed and blessed in October 1930. It is a special joy for our parish that many of those original Italian families still live among us, and form an enduring backbone of our parish. We still enjoy their tomatoes, corn, apples and peaches.
Of course, time moves on, and progress will not be impeded. At the end of World War II, new homes were being constructed. People realized the convenience of the railroad which provided easy access to Newark, Hoboken and New York City. Larger and more costly homes were built, and our town quickly changed from a rural community to a suburban community, as the new generation of executives in the world of finance and business moved in. The Archdiocese of Newark recognized this, and assigned the first resident pastor, Father James McCarthy in 1955. The little white house next to the church was renovated and expanded to become the parish rectory.
The town grew very rapidly and by the early 1960's the second pastor, Father Frank McCue, was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Newark to build the school, auditorium church and convent complex on Roosevelt Avenue. The Daughters of Mercy came to staff the school, and under their leadership the school enjoyed an excellent scholastic reputation. But it must be admitted that with the development of an outstanding public school system in the town, the parochial school struggled to compete. These were difficult days for the school during the pastorates of Father Joseph Fagan and Father Pierce Byrne. Finally, the departure of the teaching sisters brought about the closing of the parochial school, a difficult decision made by the fifth pastor of Little Flower, Father John McGovern.
The school building has never been left idle. It was quickly converted into a Religious Education Center for the instruction of all our children, and in keeping with the modern trend, it also serves as a Parish Center for the many religious and social programs run by our very talented parishioners. It should be noted that a fire in 1970 did severe damage to the little church, but in a sense the fire was a blessing from God, because the little church was then renovated to provide for the new vernacular liturgy that was mandated by Vatican Council II. Father McGovern moved the parish rectory into the unused convent, providing needed extra space for a growing parish. The sixth pastor of Little Flower was Father Stephen Feehan, who served our parish for ten years, retiring in June 2008. Our current pastor, Father Andrew Prachar, brings to Little Flower a spirit of enthusiasm and renewal.
This sketch of the history of Little Flower is very brief, focusing on our mission and resident pastors over 75 years. There have been many other fine priests who have been assigned to our parish as parochial vicars, or curates. We have also been blessed with the presence of two local men who live and work among us as permanent deacons. We are grateful for all our clergy, because they have shown us the way over the years, the "Big" Way of Jesus Christ and the "Little" Way of Saint Therese, the Little Flower.
Father Edmund Bernauer
Updated August 2008