By Steve Sears
Almost on a daily basis, Reverend Thomas Rekiel begins the walk from his rectory office to the Holy Family Church building, home of the parish he has pastored for three years. It’s a bit of a trek on a cold day, “But it’s good,” he says with a smile.
Rekiel, born in Poland, never planned on staying in New Jersey when he first arrived here from Italy, but he doesn’t appear to mind. He has found a home in a loving, caring parish, he bestowing praise on his parishioners and volunteers when afforded the opportunity.
It all began with the “Holy Rollers” at the Florham Park Roller Rink.
The year was 1950, and Monsignor John Dauenhauer, pastor of St. Vincent’s of Madison and Vicar General of the Paterson Diocese, planned along with Florham Park Mayor Alexander Blanched, a mission in the borough which would be entrusted to Father John P. O’Connell, a parish priest at St. Vincent’s. On the Feast of the Holy Family, the first Sunday in January in 1951, Father O’Connell offered Mass at the roller rink for 80 Catholic families, unofficially christening a new parish existence.
From there, plans for a parish complex were drawn up. Lloyd Smith, a local philanthropist and developer, donated land for the church site and, ten months later, ground was broken, and the plans bore fruit. Archbishop Thomas A. Boland formally blessed the new church building on Thanksgiving Day 1952.
Rekiel was ordained on May 10, 2003 in Pistoia, Italy, and prior to being named Pastor of Holy Family he served in Totowa at Saint James Parish, and also is the Director of the Italian Apostolate. Reikel was an Associate Pastor for four years after being ordained in Italy. He was fed his faith by his entire family, including his Aunt, who was a religious sister. “We were always very dedicated to the church, we always had summer vacations and we always went to visit my aunt at the convent. We’re a very faith-oriented family.”
“I am very happy here,” Rekiel says. “I have good people.” Rekiel, who currently serves the parish along with Parochial Vicar Reverend Krzysztof Liwarski and Deacon Peter M. Fiore (Reverend Frederick M. Walters is Pastor Emeritus), is currently overseeing repairs on the church building; construction workers working on the windows and gutters and roofing areas. “After some time, 25 years,” he says, “you have to change them. I would also like to change inside the church. I have a very good Finance Council and they check everything.”
A walk inside the church renders one oblivious to the busyness outside. The building, in addition to Mass time, is open daily until 7:00 p.m. There are 1,600 families in the parish.
Rekiel recognizes the huge contribution O’Connell made to Holy Family Parish during his 34 years as Pastor. “It was practically the same time,” Rekiel says about the planning and building of the school. The Sisters of Christian Charity from nearby Mendham presided over the school, which officially opened to 173 students in September 1954. Bishop James McNulty formerly blessed the school on October 24, 1954, the same year Holy Family officially became a parish.
“Up and down, so many times, almost closing but not,” is how Rekiel describes the number of students through the years at Holy Family. Now the school has a total of 96 students, Pre-K through Kindergarten. “We also have space for lunch, space for after care, it’s wonderful.”
The school is also used for a very involved CCD program, which Reikel feels one of the strongest ministries, offering both traditional CCD for children only, and then family-based CCD. There are two – three family-based sessions during the year, and twelve regular meetings during the year. “We created our own program,” says Rekiel. “This is the second year we are running the program and it’s very good, especially because today we need contact with families. When they come together as a family, they can be closer to the church.”
Holy Family also offers a Confirmation program and a special Mass for those being confirmed. Parents attend with the students and afterwards gather for a one-hour meeting with two steps. The first year of the program the study is about individual selves (character, personality) , and the second is knowing God. There is also a Youth Group which has about 30 participants, from 10th grade and up. Men’s and Women’s groups are also very involved, both attending Mass in the morning and then meeting for an hour afterwards.
The food pantry, run by the Ministry to the Hungry, is one of the other key ministries in the parish. Operating primarily on donations provided mainly by Holy Family Church, occasionally donations are collected from various businesses in the community. “Our food pantry, no one speaks about it – we distribute a lot of food,” says Rekiel. “The people are very generous. Every Sunday, we have collections at all the doors, and they bring food in. We live in an economically good town, so many times we have neighbors that need help.” Items that are needed are listed in the church bulletin every week, and donation baskets are provided at the three entrances of the church. Also, once a month the Ministry to the Hungry meets with the families and they shop for nonperishable food items.
The food pantry is located in the basement of the church.
Rekiel also speaks to Holy Family being a very social parish. “We have a wonderful hour of coffee after all the Masses every first Sunday of the month. After Mass for me as a priest, if I have many people after Mass come up to me. I can tell them ‘God Bless’ and ‘Have a wonderful day” and that’s it, but when we have coffee and we stay for 30 minutes, especially young families, we get to know each other. When the people get together, they speak about work, about life, and they help each other.” He then tells the following true story. “I witnessed one family trying to do some work on their home, and one family, they knew some contractors.” The families met one morning at coffee hour, and the first family courtesy of the latter secured a contractor for their home project.”
Hospitality over coffee isn’t the terminus of the get togethers. Holy Family Parish holds every second Saturday of the month a parish dinner downstairs in its church hall. Roughly 80 – 100 people attend after the 5:30 p.m. Mass. “We have service hours for the Youth Group and Confirmation program,” adds Rekiel, “so they come and help out.”
Rekiel has his wish list for his parish. “I’d like to have a Spiritual retreat for men and women, but maybe adjust the program and have a summer vacation for families. It’s wonderful to have shared time together when they experience faith.” He also seeks to start a ministry for young parents with newborn children to a few years old.
For more information about Holy Family Parish, a list of ministries, as well as a schedule of Sunday Masses, visit the parish website at www.holyfamilyfp.org. You can also call (973) 377-1817. The church is located at Lloyd Avenue and Orchard Street in Florham Park.