On Sunday, September 14, 1952, Father William Buckley celebrated the first Mass for Annunciation Parish. The altar was a table in the Midland Avenue Company Three Firehouse. Two weeks before, Bishop James McNulty, administrator of the Archdiocese of Newark, assigned Father Buckley to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, in Ridgewood, with his residence at Mount St. Andrew’s Villa in Paramus. Recent post-World War II growth led Archbishop Thomas J. Walsh to erect several new parishes in the former farms and fields of Bergen County. Archbishop Walsh died June 6, 1952, before all his plans bore fruit. Father Buckley’s job was to establish a Catholic parish on the west side of Paramus.
Railroad construction in the 1800s had bypassed Paramus. While Bergen County towns grew around the railroad stations, Paramus continued as it had for over two centuries, as a farming area within Midland Township. In 1922, Paramus split from Midland Township (now Rochelle Park), due to a dispute over public school construction. The Hudson River trolley line marked the border between Paramus and Rochelle Park. In 1931, Route 4 connected the George Washington Bridge with Paterson, and in 1937 Route 2 (now Route 17) allowed access to New York State from southern Bergen County. These new highways crossed in Paramus, at one for the first cloverleaf intersections in the world.
Catholics from the new Borough of Paramus worshipped at Mt. Carmel, Ridgewood; Sacred Heart in Rochelle Park; or at St. Joseph’s, Oradell. After World War II, celery fields and strawberry patches sprouted housing developments for returning GIs. By 1952, the growing Catholic population warranted the establishment of two parishes within Paramus; Our Lady of the Visitation on Farview Avenue, on the east side; and the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Midland Avenue, for the west side.
In 1891, the relative isolation of Paramus impressed Mother Xavier Mehegan, the foundress of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth. She purchased land in Paramus and built the House of Divine Providence, a home for patients with incurable illnesses. In 1908, the Sisters of Charity added a chapel to the complex. The chapel forms the nucleus of our present parish church. The chapel’s cornerstone, dated 1908, still faces Midland Avenue from the century-old wall. The main buildings were constructed of sandstone, which was quarried right on the property. On December 14, 1925, a fire destroyed the main buildings. The Sisters of Charity could not raise the $700,000 replacement costs, so they never rebuilt on the property. In 1951, the Archdiocese of Newark purchased the ruins and land of the House of Divine Providence from the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth.
When Father Buckley arrived, the walls of the chapel still stood, fire-blackened and weed-filled. In October, 1952, Father Buckley moved the celebration of Sunday Mass to the chapel at Mount St. Andrew’s Villa, on the north side of Midland Avenue, across from the ruins of the House of Divine Providence. By December 14, 1952, the twenty-seventh anniversary of the fire, construction in the old chapel had progressed to the point that Father Buckley could celebrate Sunday Mass in its basement.
On March 28, 1953, Thomas A. Boland, the new Archbishop of Newark, dedicated the church. The main stained glass window over the church’s entrance depicts the Resurrection, giving rise to stories that the parish was originally named “Resurrection.” But Archbishop Boland, whose Episcopal motto was “Maria Impende Juvamen” (Mary come to our aid), changed the name to Annunciation, the First Joyful Mystery. Archbishop Boland went on to found other parishes named for Mysteries of the Rosary, including Nativity, Presentation, and Ascension. Also in 1953, Father Buckley began construction of the rectory.
Annunciation School began classes in the church basement in 1954. Archbishop Boland dedicated the school building in 1956. The rectory and school have sandstone facing; the stone came from the now-closed quarry at the west end of the school building. In late 1956, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, who taught at the school, occupied the new convent. The Sisters of St. Joseph remained at Annunciation School until the mid-1970s. The school closed in 1982. Annunciation is now one of three sponsoring parishes for Visitation Academy.
In 1954, Father Buckley submitted his first report to the Archdiocese, indicating that the parish had 469 registered families. By 1961, the number climbed to 629 families. Our parish now has over 1,400 families registered.
In 1997, Annunciation’s pastor, Father Michael J. Sheehan, announced a million dollar renovation program to modernize the church building. The old 1908 church was long, narrow, and rather dark. Demolition of a large portion of the south wall of the old church allowed the widening of the nave. The church now centers on the altar, with the pews in a three-quarters-round arrangement. Archbishop Theodore McCarrick dedicated the new church on April 1, 2000. Sandstone from the demolished south wall of the church now supports the baptismal font, tabernacle, pulpit, and altar. The lower church was rededicated as Providence Hall, commemorating the House of Divine Providence, which stood at the site.
The old sandstone reminds us that our parish literally is built on rock. The past 100 years have seen such changes in Paramus, and in American Catholicism; but Annunciation, built on the rock of the Eucharist and the Gospel, continues its mission of loving, serving, and sharing.