St. Peter The Apostle Catholic Church Embraces Diversity, Change And Discipleship

St. Peter The Apostle Catholic Church Embraces Diversity, Change And Discipleship

By Elsie Walker

During one service “Father Herb” Tillyer told his congregation at St. Peter The Apostle Catholic Church that those within the parish represent all the occupied continents of the world, except Australia….and then he teased that if there was someone from Australia in their midst to tap him on his shoulder and let him know.

St. Peter’s parish in Parsippany is a multi-cultural one which embraces not only its diversity, but its discipleship.  One way the latter is reflected is through the St. Stephen’s Ministry which is forming in the church.

Rev. Msgr. Tillyer has been at St. Peter the Apostle since 1994.  He has, however, been a priest much longer than that; he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a priest this past May.   When asked what inspired him to become a priest, Tillyer shared, “I think it was my family background. My parents were devout Catholics.”  As a youngster, the priests in his parish were role models to him.   He attended Bayley-Ellard.  Later, Tillyer enrolled in Seton Hall, which has a program for men contemplating the priesthood. There the calling became stronger.  He became a priest in 1968.

“Father Herb,” as he likes to be called, has a variety of interests.  Although he is unable to have one where he lives now, he loves cats.  Also, he is a fan of the New York Yankees, New York Giants, New York Knicks, and his alma mater, Seton Hall.   Tillyer loves to read history and to travel.  Later this year, he will be travelling with members of the parish to the Holy Land.

Tillyer is part of the history of the church, which dates back to 1938.  According to a history provided by the church office, the parish of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church was formed in 1938 to serve the needs of a summer resort community that was quickly turning into a year-round one.  The first Mass was celebrated in the Lake Hiawatha Firehouse. In 1939, the parish bought a tract of Diocese-owned land for the price of one dollar and a church was built in 1940.   Among the milestones since then have included completion of the Shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes (a copy of the original in France) in May 11, 1955 and construction of a parish school in the late 1950s.  By 1959, a convent and an auditorium were added.

Over the years, the growth of the parish required a new church building, and in 1988, the present church was dedicated.   It includes a daily mass chapel and a church hall. Since then, other changes have occurred, including the introduction of Perpetual Adoration (available 24 hours, seven days a week) in what is the former convent chapel, as well as a 40 percent expansion of the school facility, to accommodate school, C.C.D. and parish needs. In 2009, the parish’s school closed and in its building, a new Parsippany Catholic School, All Saints Academy, opened as a project of three parishes in Parsippany.

Besides all the physical changes, this parish has seen others.   These changes include the demographics of the area.   Tillyer, noted that the changes reflect that of the town itself.  Many years ago, there were a handful of Catholic families in the parish area, now there are a couple hundred.  The area is also more culturally diverse.  Tillyer estimated about 30 percent of Parsippany’s population is Asian Indians.  There is also a large Spanish population, plus a Filipino one.

The church embraces its diversity and shared faith, which is reflected in its worship.  Besides Sunday masses (in English), which Tillyer notes are traditional, every Saturday there is a Spanish mass.  Tillyer noted English speaking ministers of communion take part in the Spanish Mass, while Spanish speaking ministers of communion take part in the English mass.  The father sees it as symbolic of sharing culture and faith.

Although most understand English, once a month there is a mass in a language Asian Indians would recognize from their home country, which gives them a chance to experience religion in their own language.  Once a month there is also a Filipino mass which draws people from other parishes.  From time to time, the church has held an international mass in which different portions are done in different languages, flags of various countries are displayed, and afterwards various foods are shared  Tillyer noted that it is symbolic in showing that although from various cultural backgrounds, all share the same faith.

Tillyer noted some of the other aspects of St. Peter’s parish life.  It has a food pantry to help people in needed.  Tillyer said, “the Lord said to take care of each other.” Once a month, the members of the parish bring in food, which is sorted and set-up for those who need help and come to the food pantry.   About 40 to 50 families are helped in that way each month.

Another example of outreach is its youth group’s yearly trips to Appalachia, where a group goes to help in home repair, helping those in one of the poorest parts of the United States.   The parish is active in Catholic Youth Organization basketball, in which teams of children in grades four to eight play.  All the volunteers who work with the children go through a background check and training as part of the “Protecting God’s Children” program.

In addition, there are a variety of adult athletic offerings in the gym during the week.  Once a week, children ages six months to three years and their parents, and some grandparents, come together for playtime and to socialize. The children are exposed to their religion as well, at a level that’s appropriate for their age.

In addition to these examples of life at St. Peter’s, the church has another.  It is starting a St. Stephen Ministry.

Helping to launch and develop that ministry at St. Peter’s is Beverly Delleart of Pompton Plains. She is a certified spiritual director who studied at the Quellen Spiritual Center in Mendham.  She has been in ministry for 30 years at the parish level and arch dioceses level.

Delleart explained that the St. Stephen Ministry, named for the apostle in the New Testament, equips laity to walk through the difficult times with someone, for as long as needed, as long as it is the “best and appropriate care.” St. Stephen ministry involves “compassionate listening.”   In wanting to bring this ministry to his parish, Delleart describes Tillyer as a “visionary” who “is really involving the laity in the work of the church.”  Currently, 17 parishioners are going through the extensive formation training needed to be part of the St. Stephen Ministry.

An overview of how the ministry works is this: A priest may become aware of someone who needs more than meeting with him weekly; the priest would see if the person would like a St. Stephen minister.   If so, the priest would contact the leadership of the parish’s St. Stephen ministry and explain the person’s situation, but not give out the person’s name.  The leaders would take a day to pray on which St. Stephen minister would be a good match and the minister they feel inspired to ask would be contacted.  The minister would be told the situation, but not the name of the person.  The minister would then decide if he or she felt called to serve at that time. If so, the person and the minister would receive each other’s name and start connecting.  Knowing that the person now has someone to walk in the journey with him or her, the priest can address the next family in need.

Example of situations in which a St. Stephen minister might provide care is in the death of a loved one, loss of a job, cancer diagnosis and treatment, relocation of a loved one, etc.    In addition to listening, St. Stephen ministers are conduits to resources, like the food pantry, that they can put the person they are caring for in contact with.   Delleart noted that St. Stephen ministers are bound by confidentially.

“Men and women who answer the call [to be St. Stephen ministers] go through extensive training,” noted Delleart.

Delleart said that the church’s students in the program are committed.  She noted that the training is held at night after most have finished the work day.   Also, they are not only preparing to help others, but are growing spiritually as they go through the training.

“St. Stephen ministry involves the entire parish,” noted Delleart.  She shared that those who are not training are praying for those who are.   Also, they help to spread the word of what the ministry is, and in the future, can help to let those in the parish who are in need know of this ministry.

The first group of St. Stephen ministers at St. Peter’s will be blessed and commissioned at a mass set for March 31, 2019.   Delleart notes that already others have inquired about the next training session to become a minister.

The St. Stephen ministry and the church’s other activities reflect the love of this church, which is also evident as people come to it looking for a church home.   When registering new members, Tillyer shared that he asks, “Why are you here?”  He noted that “people are so welcoming to me” is one of the answers.  Another comment that he’s heard from parents of children is “there’s a large diversity in the parish.” They like that their children will be exposed to a church that so many different cultures attend.

What does Tillyer say?  “Why don’t you just come and attend and see what you feel,” he said. “See what we’re like.  We’re glad to see you.”

An upcoming event in the church is the Christmas Concert set for the afternoon of Dec.2.  For more information about St. Peter the Apostle Church call the rectory at 973-334-2090 or visit


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