The story of the Catholic Church in Berkeley Heights began with the arrival of the original Italian families who came to the area to farm the tomatoes, corn, apples and peaches for which the State of New Jersey is famous. Because of their vibrant Catholic faith, and strong devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, they built and paid for the little church on Plainfield Avenue. In its early years, the little church was served by priests from Watchung, Stirling, Summit and New Providence. It was a mission church, and the visiting clergy were delighted to have this beautiful building in which to celebrate Mass. The little church was completed and blessed in October 1930. It is a special joy for our parish that many of those original Italian families still live among us, and form an enduring backbone of our parish. We still enjoy their tomatoes, corn, apples and peaches.
Of course, time moves on, and progress will not be impeded. At the end of World War II, new homes were being constructed. People realized the convenience of the railroad which provided easy access to Newark, Hoboken and New York City. Larger and more costly homes were built, and our town quickly changed from a rural community to a suburban community, as the new generation of executives in the world of finance and business moved in. The Archdiocese of Newark recognized this, and assigned the first resident pastor, Father James McCarthy in 1955. The little white house next to the church was renovated and expanded to become the parish rectory.
The town grew very rapidly and by the early 1960's the second pastor, Father Frank McCue, was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Newark to build the school, auditorium church and convent complex on Roosevelt Avenue. The Daughters of Mercy came to staff the school, and under their leadership the school enjoyed an excellent scholastic reputation. But it must be admitted that with the development of an outstanding public school system in the town, the parochial school struggled to compete. These were difficult days for the school during the pastorates of Father Joseph Fagan and Father Pierce Byrne. Finally, the departure of the teaching sisters brought about the closing of the parochial school, a difficult decision made by the fifth pastor of Little Flower, Father John McGovern.
The school building has never been left idle. It was quickly converted into a Religious Education Center for the instruction of all our children, and in keeping with the modern trend, it also serves as a Parish Center for the many religious and social programs run by our very talented parishioners. It should be noted that a fire in 1970 did severe damage to the little church, but in a sense the fire was a blessing from God, because the little church was then renovated to provide for the new vernacular liturgy that was mandated by Vatican Council II. Father McGovern moved the parish rectory into the unused convent, providing needed extra space for a growing parish. The sixth pastor of Little Flower was Father Stephen Feehan, who served our parish for ten years, retiring in June 2008. Our current pastor, Father Andrew Prachar, brings to Little Flower a spirit of enthusiasm and renewal.
This sketch of the history of Little Flower is very brief, focusing on our mission and resident pastors over 75 years. There have been many other fine priests who have been assigned to our parish as parochial vicars, or curates. We have also been blessed with the presence of two local men who live and work among us as permanent deacons. We are grateful for all our clergy, because they have shown us the way over the years, the "Big" Way of Jesus Christ and the "Little" Way of Saint Therese, the Little Flower.
Written by Fr. Edmund Bernauer, 2004
Our coat of arms
Blazon: Gules, a chevron barry wavy of six argent and azure, seven roses of the second, seeded or and leaved vert arranged four in chief, three below. In Base, a sarsaparilla tree, proper.
The Arms of the Church of the Little Flower has been developed with particular concern to situate the parish within its geography and history.
The land that now constitutes the Township of Berkeley Heights is part of the land grant by the King of England to John Berkeley, first Baron Berkeley of Stratton, who was one of the founders of the Province of New Jersey. Originally incorporated as New Providence Township in 1809, the township was renamed in 1951 to honor Lord Berkeley after parts of the town became Summit and New Providence. The Berkeley arms form the template for the church's arms with modifications made to indicate the unique nature of the parish.
The Berkeley shield is red with a white chevron with ten white crosses (six above and four below the chevron). For the church, the crosses have been reduced in number to seven and replaced with white heraldic roses. The number seven refers to the seven sacraments which give life and meaning to the parish. The particular arrangement of the roses is deliberately chosen to illustrate a theological truth. We come to the Church through the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist) which then open the pathway to the other sacraments. The arrangement of the roses on the shield shows that the three initiation sacraments are the foundation and support of all the others. The roses refer to the parish's patron saint St. Therese of Lisieux who wished to spend her heaven doing good on earth. The rose is seen as an answer to prayer.
A further indirect connection to St. Therese is not found specifically on the shield but it relates to the parish history. St. Therese belonged to the Carmelite family, women and men religious who trace their spiritual ancestry to the prophet Elijah and the revelation he had of God as a "still, small, voice" who spoke to him on Mount Carmel in Israel. In 1251, Mary appeared in a vision to St. Simon Stock of the Carmelite Order and presented him with the Brown Scapular; since that time, Mary has been celebrated as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a devotion which is particularly favored by those of Italian descent. The original church of what was to become the Parish of the Little Flower was built by Italian-American residents who had formed the Mount Carmel Society, a religious and social group. The new Parish Center is the original Mount Carmel Hall where the first Masses in the area were celebrated.
Replacing the four lower crosses from the Berkeley arms is a sarsaparilla tree which is taken from the seal of the Township of Berkeley Heights where it gives witness to the early presence of the sarsaparilla industry in the area.
Finally, the white chevron has been charged to recognize the membership of the parish in the Archdiocese of Newark by borrowing the six wavy lines from the Archdiocesan arms. They stand for the six rivers which touch the Archdiocese: the Hudson; Passaic; Raritan; Rahway; and Saddle Rivers. The Passaic River forms the northern border of the township and parish.
The presentation of the Arms is completed by the motto: "Let us love". Building on the call of Jesus to the Church to love one another, St. Therese formed her "Little Way" on trying to love other people as Jesus loves them at all times. These words are taken from her autobiography The Story of a Soul and serve to remind the parish community of the call that is given to each of ·us as members of the Body of Christ.
Design and Commentary: Rev. Michael M. Walters, JCL, MA
Artistic Representations: Carolyn Martins-Reitz
St. Therese of Lisieux
The Little Flower
Therese Martin was born in Alcenon, France in 1863. She entered a Carmelite convent at Lisieux at the age of fifteen. As Sister Therese of the Child Jesus, she lived a hidden life. By word and example she taught the virtues of humility, simplicity and trust in God to the novices of the Carmelite community. On September 30, 1897 at the age of twenty-four, Therese died, offering her life for the salvation of souls and the growth of the Church. Therese was declared a saint of the Church in 1925 and a Doctor of the Church in 1997. She is the patroness of the missions.
The world came to know Saint Therese through her autobiography, "The Story of a Soul". She described her life as "a little way of spiritual childhood." She lived each day with unshakable confidence in God's love. "What matters in life," she said, "is not great deeds, but great love."
"My mission, to make God loved, will begin after my death," she said. "I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses." Countless lives have been touched by her intercession, and thousands have imitated her "little way"