Saint John Kanty Parish History

1920s to 1930s

The first stage in the organization of what would become Saint John Kanty Parish in Clifton, New Jersey, had begun in the late 1920’s. Polish-speaking catholics of that city had to travel to Saint Joseph Parish in Passaic, New Jersey, to attend religious services in Polish. The right reverend Monsignor Manteuffel, pastor of Saint Joseph’s, received the permission of the most reverend Thomas J. Walsh, Bishop of Newark, which at the time had jurisdiction over Clifton, to create a mission chapel in Clifton, and to begin the organization of a new polish parish for that city.

Monsignor Manteuffel was able to purchase some land on Speer Avenue before his death, and to transfer jurisdiction over the organization to the reverend Lawrence Szorc. Father Szorc arranged to have one of his associate pastors at Saint Joseph’s come to Clifton each Sunday and celebrate the mass in the auditorium of public school #13 on Van Houten Avenue as a means of keeping the Poles of Clifton in contact with the parish project.

In 1935, the most reverend Thomas J. Walsh, Bishop of Newark, approached the province of Saint Anthony of Padua with the request that the friars bring the new parish to birth. The very reverend Justin Figas, minister provincial, sent Father Theodore Kaczmarek to Clifton to become the first conventual franciscan pastor of Saint John Kanty Parish. Father Theodore was provided with living accommodations at Saint Joseph’s rectory in Passaic until such time as he was able to rent a small private home at 137 Speer Avenue in Clifton to use as a temporary rectory. Arriving at his new assignment in September, 1935, Father Theodore brought his parishioners together to worship in a hall he rented on the corner of Van Houten Avenue and Wesley Street. Pastor and parishioners pitched in to clean and arrange the place, and after a blessing ceremony on November 10, 1935, the hall became the first home of Saint John Kanty Parish as mass was celebrated.

The two hundred and forty-three families who formed the nucleus of Saint John Kanty began to send their children to saturday morning Catechism classes conducted by three Felician Sisters whose services Father Theodore had secured. As the spring of 1936 came around, clergy and faithful assembled for groundbreaking services for the new church on April 26, 1936. By midnight mass that following Christmas Eve, a beautiful new romanesque style house of worship was built. Just prior to its inauguration, Father Marcel Szymanski was delegated by the proper authorities to bless the new church, but its formal blessing and dedication did not come until May of 1937 when the most Rev. Thomas H. Mclaughlin, first Bishop of the newly created diocese of Paterson, came for this festive occasion. Membership in the parish had expanded to such an extent by this time that the province dispatched Father Henry Nitz to become associate pastor.

1940s to 1970s

Saint John Kanty Parish became well-known for its active religious and social life. This parish, as was the case with most parishes of the time, had many parochial societies which helped to form a strong sense of community among the parishioners. Such societies, and the charitable and fund-raising programs they conducted, helped to form a large part of the financial support of their parish, as they continue to do up to the present day. The societies also helped to pay for the construction of a new rectory during the 1940’s and for the repair of damages to the church which were the result of a fire during holy week, 1946.

Father Adolph Banach became the second guardian and pastor of Saint John Kanty when he entered office in September, 1948. During his tenure, from 1948 until 1961, all remaining debts on parish property were paid in full, and a beautiful new school was constructed and opened in 1958. The financial situation of this parish was much assisted by the fact that Clifton, New Jersey, was located in the heart of a thriving economic part of the United States, with many of its parishioners employed in the businesses and industries of near-by New York City. As the population of Clifton grew, so did the enrollments in Saint John Kanty Parish. Their generous support helped to pay off the debt on the new parochial school in a remarkably short period of time.

The sacramental and spiritual life of the parishioners of every parish are the chief concern and desire of the friars who minister in this form of the apostolate of the province. Fortunately, without a burden of continued indebtedness that had troubled so many of the other parishes administered by the province of Saint Anthony of Padua province, the friars who have ministered at Saint John Kanty Parish in Clifton, New Jersey, have been freer to exercise their priestly and religious ministry, which is the ideal of every friar in the parochial apostolate, rather than concentrate on financial matters. The friars who served at Saint John Kanty over the years have always been careful to see that their parishioners have been given the proper spiritual guidance during the tremendous changes that have come upon the Catholic church in the united states since the end of the second world war. Father Fabian Zator served as guardian and pastor from 1961 to 1968, and then was followed in office by Father Aloysius Balcerak who served until 1973. During father Aloysius’ administration, both church and friary were modernized and redecorated. Father Martin Dombrowski became guardian and pastor of Saint John Kanty in 1973, following his distinguished service as the founder of Father Kolbe High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut, serving in this office until the province chapter of 1979.

1980s to 1990s

Father Joseph Grzybowski, assisted by his confreres, Fathers Henry Senft, Michael Slonecki, and Adam Ziolkowski, guided the direction of this vibrant and growing parish community of twelve hundred families.

Gerald Kendziora followed Fr. Joseph as pastor and guardian at Saint John Kanty. During his tenure an underground leak in the oil storage tank that fueled the church’s boiler was discovered leaking and had already contaminated a large area. The environmental protection agency stepped in and ordered the removal of the tank and the removal of the polluted soil.

It was the task of Fr. Alexander Cymerman, who entered office in 1989 and continued for three terms, to have to deal with the problem. As he wrote in the Anthony Journal in March 1992: “the oil-spill clean-up goes on … And on … At SJK, Clifton. To date, $254,000. (including all the Parish savings) has been paid, and it doesn’t seem that we are anywhere near the end. Parishioners have been asked to offer the Angelus three times daily asking that God intervene under his house. We ask the friars of the province to join us in prayer that this ordeal will soon end.”

There were happier moments for Fr. Alex. When Fr. Alexander Cynerman traveled to Ghana in october 1990 for the Custos Capitularis Visitation, he took along about two hundred gifts of candy, gum, love-notes, shirt patches, and cut-outs for the children of Brother Vincent’s Leper Village. The gifts were from the parish school children of Saint John Kanty’s. While Fr. Alex was in Ghana, the same students collected $900.00 in a penny drive. Their lenten “mite box-for-the-mis­sion-children”, added to that sum, brought the Saint John Kanty School children’s gift to a total of $1500.00 for Vincent’s children at Ankaful.

In 1998 a long held dream of the parishioners came into reality with the construction of a spacious and very attractive Parish Center. With office space for the staff and for the friars, with the addition of classroom space for the school as well as a wonderful library and computer room, and, finally, a full size gymnasium with a fully equipped adjoining modern kitchen, and a meditation room with a wall-sized stained glass window of the good shepherd, the Saint John Kanty Parish Center was something to be proud of.

2000s to Today

Under the leadership of Fr. Raphael Zwolenkiewicz, the first floor of the friary was modernized and made more comfortable. In the future, redesigning the sanctuary is being envisioned. The parish library was formally blessed on October 11, 2003, and the library was named in honor of the late Rose Jakubcak who had done so much for it during her lifetime.

Some of the newest parishioners of the parish numbering approximately 1000 families are recent arrivals from Poland. The rich ethnic heritage of Saint John Kanty Parish is being continued by this present generation of Poles who have joined with their predecessors to seek a better spiritual and material standard of living for themselves and for their children. At this date, approximately 40% of Saint John Kanty’s parishioners speak Polish at home as their first language. For them, a second Polish mass has been introduced.

In June 2005 Saint John Kanty School was scheduled to close. A drop in the number of students who once were as high as 250 had declined to 70, making it financially impossible to have the school remain open.

Despite this final development, Saint John Kanty continues to thrive as a parish. A second polish language mass has bee added. New organizations are founded as old ones pass away.

The parish looks forward to celebrating its 75th anniversary on Sunday, October 24, 2010.