St. Cassian Parish was founded in 1895 as a mission church adjunct to Immaculate Conception Church in Montclair; the church building for the new St. Cassian Parish was built on the property at the corner of Lorraine and Norwood Avenues in Upper Montclair. On May 10, 1895, Very Reverend Dean, William McNulty of Paterson, laid the cornerstone. Bishop Winand Wigger, Vicar General John J. O’Connor and Reverend Joseph Mendl, the pastor of Immaculate Conception, then incorporated the new parish on September 13, 1895.
The original church building was approximately 90’ x 55’ and according to the 1906 Montclair town map, had a stable in the backyard. The seating capacity was about 150. The parish consisted of about 12 families, mostly servant girls, gardeners and other domestic helpers. Most of the parishioners were Irish, either directly from Ireland or from the Irish enclaves of New York City, Jersey City or Newark.
In the beginning, St. Cassian Parish was ministered by curates of Immaculate Conception without a pastor, but later priests from Seton Hall College and Jesuit priests from Jersey City tended to the needs of the faithful. In May 1899, Fr. Benedict Boeing, OFM, a young German Franciscan Friar stationed in Paterson, was assigned to the quickly growing parish. However, with his departure in June 1902, St. Cassian again became a mission church of Immaculate Conception. Various priests served the community until the first full-time pastor, Fr. John A. McGeary, was appointed on July 9, 1911.
Shortly after Fr. McGeary came to St. Cassian Parish, an addition was made to the church building. The addition was completed on May 15, 1912 at a cost of $7,000 and was first used as a hall for social events and meetings and had a stage. Eventually, the altar was placed there and the church building was transformed into a cruciform shape, and, at the same time the seating capacity increased to 320.
When Fr. McGeary first came to St. Cassian Parish, he lived in a two-story frame building at 75 Oakwood Avenue. However, on March 12, 1912, the parish purchased a building at 187 Bellevue Avenue and in May, Fr. McGeary moved in, thus making the home the parish rectory. For the next 82 years, until August 1994, the priests of the parish called this residence home.
In the meantime, the St. Cassian parish continued to grow and thrive, increasing its membership and establishing its importance in the lives and many families of Upper Montclair. Fr. McGeary remained pastor until his retirement in 1936 when he was replaced by the second pastor, Fr. William Landers, who began his 18 year pastorate.
It was during Fr. Landers’ tenure with Fr. John Brown as his curate (and future pastor from 1954-1974) that a great achievement was accomplished: in December 1952 construction began and on September 14, 1953, St. Cassian School opened with an enrollment of 230 students and a combination of lay teachers and Dominican Sisters staffing the school. In 1994, the Commission on Elementary Schools of the Middle States Association bestowed a certificate of accreditation on St. Cassian School which has been renewed several times since then. A further honor was bestowed, when, in 2016, under Mrs. Maria Llanes, the school principal, the School was awarded the National Blue Ribbon Award for being a nationally recognized school of exemplary excellence.
To this day, the school is open and continues to flourish with over 250 students from pre-kindergarten to 8th grade, where the curriculum engages students with an emphasis on Multiple Intelligences (MIADs) and a focus on Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STREAM). Most of the graduates attend some of the finest private and public high schools in the metropolitan area.
On November 6, 1992 a survey analysis of the church determined that after 97 years of continuous use, the church building was no longer safe to use. This was also confirmed by both the engineers of the Archdiocese of Newark and the Township of Montclair. Therefore, the premises were condemned and closed immediately.
In December 1992, the Finance Council of the parish unanimously advised Msgr. John E. Doran, the seventh pastor of the parish (1991-1997, to purse a Feasibility Study for a new church building. With further advice and guidance from the Parish Council, a Building Project Committee was formed to pursue this enormous task. The Study recommended a major construction project for a new church, parish center and remodeled rectory. The goal was set for over $3,000,000, which was achieved through the great generosity of the parishioners.
When the old church and former rectory were demolished in the summer of 1994, the priests moved to the site of the former Dominican Convent on Lorraine Avenue, while the parish offices were temporarily relocated to the basement of nearby St. James Episcopal Church. During the transition period, weekend and holiday Masses were celebrated in the St. Cassian School gymnasium and weekday Masses were celebrated in the living room of the newly designed rectory. At the same time, while the parish was without a church building, many of the other local and nearby religious denominations showed incredible hospitality and kindness and made their facilities available to the parish for weddings, funerals and other events.
Archbishop (later, Cardinal of Washington, DC) Theodore E. McCarrick presided at the Mass ground breaking of the new St. Cassian Church on January 22, 1995. He returned on October 6, 1995 for the Blessing of the Cornerstone and the Blessing of the Parish Center (also known as Larkin Hall), marking the 100th Anniversary of St. Cassian Parish. The new St. Cassian Church, which seats about 400 people, faces Bellevue Avenue on the site of the former rectory with the Parish Center in the lower level. Just outside of the Parish Center in the back is Msgr. John E. Doran Plaza, named after the pastor who designed the new church project and raised the funds. Construction of the church building began in January 1995 and was completed by Christmas, 1995.
The first celebrations in the new church took place during an inspiring dedication weekend on December 16 and 17, 1995. Five bishops from the Archdiocese of Newark, including Archbishop McCarrick and Archbishop Emeritus Peter L. Gerety, celebrated Masses throughout the weekend.
Since the dedication weekend, the church was completed with a number of additions including the Stations of the Cross, the beautiful statue of Our Lady in the back of the church, the arrival of the restored and refurbished Schantz organ and the six-foot cross on the roof of the church. The final installation of the stained glass windows came years later, when, in November 2015 the last clear windows were fitted with stained glass, thus completing the church’s construction.
Fr. Marc A. Vicari was appointed the 9th pastor of St. Cassian Parish in February 2011, replacing the retired Msgr. John Judge who had served from 1997 to 2011. Currently, there are approximately 1,650 families and it continues to grow as the parish implemented many new programs and continues to attract new families.
While the Feast of St. Cassian of Imola is celebrated on August 13 in the Universal Church, the parish has transferred the celebration of the feast to the 4th Sunday of September annually. The parish celebrates the feast of its patron saint annually with great solemnity, followed by a parish picnic at a nearby park. Finally, in November 2016, Bishop Tommaso Ghirelli, Bishop of Imola Italy, presented Fr. Vicari with a relic of St. Cassian of Imola as a gift to the parish. In return, Fr. Vicari presented Bishop Ghirelli with a relic of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, respectively. During Holy Week of 2017, a small piece of the gifted relic of St. Cassian was installed in the altar of the church, rightfully and finally putting the patron saint physically in the midst of the worshipping faithful at St. Cassian Church, Upper Montclair.