Originally, the Richfield section of Clifton was owned by a tribe of Lenni Lenape Indians. By 1943, however, it was an accumulation of nursery and farmlands with a few scattered neighborhoods. The only large unit of homes was Acquackanonk Gardens, a defense housing project erected during the war to house the many workers in the defense industry.
A small group of people including Emily and Raymond Witcomb, Hugh and Margaret Williamson and Mary Frechen sought to have Sunday Mass said in the Community House, a restructured barn located on the site of the present VFW Hall on Valley Road Mrs. Frechen, secretary to the project manager, wrote to Bishop Thomas J. McLaughlin and Monsignor William F. Louis celebrated the first Mass on June 6, 1943. Fewer than 100 people attended. In an interview, Dr. Andrew Chambers recalled those early years when a portable altar and folding chairs had to be set up every Sunday morning and then taken down after the two Masses.
Monsignor Philip Coyne succeeded Msgr. Louis. Because Msgr. Coyne was also pastor of St. Agnes Church in Paterson, St. Philip became a mission attached to St. Agnes Church. By 1946, membership had grown to such an extent that the parishioners were convinced that they needed their own church. A two-story wooden building was erected at the corner of Van Houten Avenue and Valley Road. A second-hand organ purchased and kept in Ann Baer's home was moved to the new church. The diocesan newspaper, the Beacon, is now housed in what was the first St. Philip the Apostle Church.
The end of the war was the cause of an unprecedented building boom. Hundreds of houses seemed to crop up overnight on the vanishing farmland. Eager young veterans and their new brides took advantage of the G.I. Bill of Rights and bought the homes as fast as they were built.
In September 1949, Bishop Thomas J. Boland assigned Fr. Thomas J. Molloy to serve as the first full-time pastor. St. Philip had grown so quickly that it could no longer be considered a mission parish.
Msgr. Molloy dedicated the parish to the Blessed Virgin and asked the people to pray to her for guidance and spiritual strength. At the same time, he urged and encouraged the parishioners to help themselves. Organizations flourished. The Holy Name Society, whose first president was James Peters, recruited new members, while the Rosary Society saw its ranks increase each month under the guidance of Mrs. J. Kelley, its first president. In May of 1949 the 50/50 Club began under the leadership of Dr. Andy Chambers. Committees from all three organizations, later know as the St. Philip Building Club, provided the nucleus for the building fund. Boy and Girl Scout troops were formed. With the arrival of the baby boomers, parishioners realized that they needed a much larger church and a parochial school as well.
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