On a Sunday morning in February 1919, a group of former parishioners (four benches of them) of St. Teresa’s in Summit and St. Mary’s in Stony Hill, gathered in the old Council Chamber of New Providence Borough Hall for the first Mass of the new mission in the Borough. World War I had recently ended, so a request was made to the bishop that this new mission be known as Our Lady of Peace. Until a little church could be built, the parishioners asked to rent the New Providence Council Chambers. The Mayor and Council not only let the group use the facility, but offered it rent free.
Within a year, with wood obtained from a ball field no longer used, a little church was built on Springfield Avenue. On December 21, 1919, the first Mass in the new church was offered. The priests of St. Teresa’s served the mission by saying Sunday Mass and the Trinitarian Sisters from Summit came to prepare the children for First Communion and Confirmation, first in local homes and then in the church. This original tiny church stood until sold and demolished in 1955.
FROM MISSION TO PARISH
Until 1942, Our Lady of Peace remained a mission assigned to other churches in the Stirling and Summit areas. On June 5, 1942, the following official notice was proclaimed by the Archbishop of Newark:
We hereby on this fifth day of June A.D. 1942, constitute and erect the Mission of Our Lady of Peace, New Providence, hither-to-served by the pastor of St. Teresa’s, Summit, Union County, New Jersey, into a new, separate and distinct parish, to be known as the Parish of Our Lady of Peace, New Providence, New Jersey.
On June 18, 1942, the first pastor, Reverend Joseph Fallon, arrived in New Providence. He was warmly welcomed by the parishioners and, since there was no rectory, they quickly made arrangements for temporary living quarters for him. In a little over a year, an eight-room house on Springfield Avenue was purchased and renovated as a rectory. During the next several years, parish activities flourished. Religious instructions for First Communion and Confirmation were firmly organized. Parishioner numbers grew and it became obvious that an expanded facility was necessary. Father Fallon and his parishioners began plans to buy property for a larger church, but the Good Lord had other plans for Father Fallon. On the morning of June 19, 1950 he was suddenly and unexpectedly called to heaven.
Father Peter J. Doherty was appointed pastor and served until his death in 1963. Father Doherty guided the parish in the design and construction of a new church complex. In 1952 the present site on South Street was purchased. A school and basement church of dual-use design was ready for its first Mass in October of 1954. During the 1950’s New Providence was growing faster than the parish planners had envisioned. The plans for the church complex were enlarged and work began on more classrooms over the basement church and on the construction of a new multi-purpose room to serve as church, auditorium, cafeteria and gymnasium. Father Doherty signed the contracts for the new construction in September of 1960 and the first Mass in the new church was on October 9, 1961. The parishes attention now focused on the planning of a permanent church.
Reverend Gerard P. Kelly became the third resident pastor of Our Lady of Peace Church on February 29, 1964. Father Kelly lead the parish in the planning of the permanent church. He had two basic obligations in the design of Our Lady’s Church; first it must be modern, up-to-date and fully adaptable for the future liturgical changes which had not been fully promulgated by Vatican II; and second, that it must be substantial and durable so that it would remain long after the mortgage – which the parish would be obliged to incur for its construction – had been “burned.” Our Lady of Peace Church in-the-round was first used at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, 1966.
In 2004, the school celebrated its 50th Golden Anniversary. School parents, teachers, administration, parish members and alumni celebrated in the school auditorium with a wonderful dinner and various guest speakers.
In 2006, the school achieved a major milestone and received accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
In 2008, the school was officially approved by the Archdiocese of Newark to become an academy. The school administration, faculty, School Advisory Council and Home School Association all played a role in obtaining this honor and designation. The Archdiocese has set forth guidelines that encompass six areas: curriculum, instruction, accreditation, total formation, activities and governance. As a result, the school has been officially renamed to The Academy of Our Lady of Peace.
In 2017, the Academy received the National Blue Ribbon of Distinction award. This means that the United States Department of Education has recognized the Academy as a school that has met and maintained high educational goals and standards for their students. This honor was bestowed to only 229 public schools and 50 private schools out of the 133,000 public and 36,000 private schools in the USA (that’s .20% of all schools). Of the 50 private, 37 were Catholic schools! The Academy continues to strive to reach above and beyond these standards and provide our students with a rigorous curriculum.
WHAT MAKES AN ACADEMY
In order to achieve Academy status, a school must meet stringent criteria including additional curriculum requirements, a gifted and talented program, academically related activities, an Early Childhood program, and religious education. The school must also be accredited by the Middle States Association and have an active advisory board to assist the pastor and principal. As part of the review process the Archdiocese visited with school representatives, teachers and students and took note of the school’s excellent credentials.
After a lengthy process, the Archdiocese of Newark informed Our Lady of Peace School that its application to become an Academy was approved. The Archdiocese congratulated the school, stating that “truly the hard work of this community has created an academy where students and teachers strive for excellence, where they build up one another through encouragement and challenge, and where all achieve as a result of the dynamic teaching/learning interaction.”
Brother Ralph Darmento, Deputy Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Newark, states, “Academy designation implies that special skills and subjects are taught. It is not merely a merging of schools and inserting the word ‘academy’ into the school’s new name. There are very specific academic standards and enrichment programs that academies must have in order to earn that name.” Brother Darmento authored the guidelines for academy status in the archdiocese.