History of St. Joan of Arc Church

History of St. Joan of Arc Church
Taken from St. Joan of Arc Parish Sixtieth Anniversary

Until the Civil War, Catholics living in Sloatsburg traveled to Piermont, Paterson, or Greenwood whenever they went to church. At the end of the Civil War, Father John Quinn of Piermont made his first recorded appearance in the Suffern-Sloatsburg area as pastor of a parish that extended from Piermont to Goshen. Plans were soon made for Father Quinn to offer Mass in a private home in Suffern four times a year, an arrangement that continued for about two years. Father managed to cover his parish in reasonable time by the use of a hand car borrowed from a friendly railroad repair crew.

The year 1868 saw the completion of the region’s first Catholic Church when the Church of St. Rose of Lima was dedicated in Suffern. The parish to be served by this new church stretched from Suffern to Harriman. In 1897, the parish was divided with Tuxedo becoming the seat of a new parish that included the communities north of Suffern. Thus began the long association of Sloatsburg with the Catholic Church in Tuxedo.

For the next twenty-seven years, until 1924, the Catholics of Sloatsburg attended church services in Tuxedo. Many walked the distance from Sloatsburg to Tuxedo. Subsequently weekly celebration of Mass was held in the Henry Club Hall, now the site of the Sloatsburg Hardware Store on Route 17, then the center of social activity in the village.

In August 1922, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel purchased the land on which the future church of St. Joan of Arc would be built from Henry A. and Doris L. Grangras for $3500. On May 30th of the following year Rt. Rev. James H. McGean, representing Archbishop Patrick J. Hayes, blessed the cornerstone and the actual building of the new church began. The construction contractor was Mr. W. S. FitzRandolph of Sloatsburg.

Archdiocesan records reveal that the new church was to be built of stucco in the California style of architecture with a capacity of approximately 200. A parish hall was also authorized. The records reveal that amounts of $32,210 and $19,697 were spent on the Church in 1923 and 1924 respectively, while in 1924 an additional $6437 was spent on furnishings.

Reliable information as to why California style was chosen is not available. Perhaps the design was selected because it is attractive and functional for a small church in a rural location. Also simplicity of style would keep costs down and this might have influenced the decision.

Why was the name, St. Joan of Arc chosen? It was probably chosen because the Saint, only recently canonized in 1919 was very much in the news. Burned at the stake more than 70 years before Columbus discovered America, she was finally receiving recognition for a life of rare accomplishments. She was truly a woman and saint for the modern world.

On the memorable day of May 30, 1924, the feast day of St. Joan of Arc, Cardinal Hayes solemnly dedicated the new church, the first Catholic Church to be located in the Village of Sloatsburg.

Many parishioners heaved a sigh of relief now that they no longer had to travel to Tuxedo to hear Mass. However, the problem of religious education for their children remained until 1954 when the Sister of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine arrived to assume the task of providing religious instructions. On November 21, 1924, Andrew Sovak and Anna Kelly became the first couple to be married in the new church.

From its humble beginnings as a small Spanish style mission Church administered by Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Tuxedo, St. Joan’s has grown and prospered, presently boasting an active congregation of some 300 families.

On June 23, 1963 at a St. Joan of Arc Holy Name Society Communion Breakfast, Father Robert Kelly, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Tuxedo, first mentioned the possibility of St. Joan’s becoming a separate parish. Two days later, at a meeting he had called to discuss the subject before a large audience in St. Joan’s Hall, he expressed pleasure at the wholesome spirit that he had found among the people. Father noted that there were some 280 families in the village ready to become a parish and he pledged his firm support in pursuit of that goal.

He had already organized a Steering Committee of twelve to advise him in all matters pertaining to St. Joan’s. They had agreed to purchase the Warren Waldron property at 32 Eagle Valley Road for use as a rectory. This was the most significant move towards separate parish status since the construction of the church in 1924. As in many similar undertakings, the major problem facing the people at the time was financial. Obviously, it was important to have revenue match expenses at a  minimum in order to demonstrate to the archdiocesan authorities that the parish could be self-supporting. To achieve this goal, Father announced a campaign to enlist the financial support of all Catholics in Sloatsburg.

Apparently the campaign was successful because three years later, in June 1966, after 42 years as a mission church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, St. Joan became a separate parish. Cardinal Spellman, convinced that the parish could survive on its own, appointed Father Cornelius M. O’Brien as the first resident pastor.

It was at this time that Father George McGrath, pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, announced the purchase of the Wannamaker-Carlough property adjoining St. Joan’s rectory to be given to the new parish as a gift from Mt. Carmel. The first infants to be baptized in the newly established parish were Maya Christina Hieronymi and Stephen Alfred Sarka, both christened on June 6, 1966; the first marriage listed in the parish records took place on August 13, 1966, between James Matarese and Loretta Iasilli.

Indicative of the spirit of St. Joan of Arc Parish is the often repeated story about an experience the resident pastor, Father Cornelius M. O’Brien, had in 1966. In a conversation with some men of the parish, Father alluded to things that needed “fixing up” around the then forty year old church. Even though funds were not available, everything that the Father thought that needed to be repaired was fixed plus a few other things he had hesitated to mention. All of the work was completed by the voluntary efforts of the parishioners.

Golden Jubilee

On Saturday, June 29, 1974, at 5 P.M., Terrance Cardinal Cooke celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving in the Church of St. Joan to mark its 50th Anniversary. Concelebrants at the Mass were Rev. Msgr. Robert J. Kelley, former pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and the mission Church of St. Joan, Rev. Joseph V. Callanan, then pastor of St. Joan’s, Rev. George E. Reinheimer, former assistant pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Also present were Msgr. Cornelius M. O’Brien, first resident pastor of St. Joan’s, and Msgr. Patrick B. Fay, another former assistant at Mt. Carmel Church who was celebrating his 50th year in the priesthood. A Golden Jubilee dinner-dance was held later that evening in the Sloatsburg Municipal Hall with Cardinal Cooke as guest of honor.