The History of the Parish of Saint Joseph
Washington, New Jersey
The history of St Joseph’s Parish follows what might be called the customary pattern of most parishes in the United States of America. It comprises, from the first visit of Father Farmer, S.J., down to the present time, a record of the expansion of Our Blessed Lord’s spiritual kingdom in this small territory of Warren County in the Diocese of Trenton, NJ. It manifests the abundance of spiritual blessings that have been bestowed by Almighty God upon priests and people attached to this parish during the seventy-five years of its existence.
The earliest records of Catholicity in this territory date back to the year of the Declaration of Independence. In the month of October, 1176, Father Farmer, S.J., with headquarters at St. Joseph’s Church, Willing’s Alley, Philadelphia, visited Changewater Furnace, a few miles from the present church, where in Revolutionary War Days a charcoal iron forge and furnace was located, and there baptized John William Call on October 17th. He returned again in the 1781 and on May 17th baptized William Sary. On May 29th, he baptized Margaret Robin and Hannah Wilson. At that time, the territory which now comprise St. Joseph’s parish was under the care of the Bishop Baltimore. Twenty-seven years later, in the year 1808, this territory came under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Philadelphia. In the year 1853, Washington came under the jurisdiction of the first Bishop of Newark, the saintly Mother Seton. For a period of twenty-eight years, Washington was under the care of the Bishops of Newark, until the year of 1881, when on November 1st, exactly one hundred years after the last recorded visit of Father Farmer, S.J., the Most Reverend Michael Joseph O’Farrell was consecrated the first Bishop of Trenton.
It is unfortunate that very few records are available in regard to the early history of this territory, but it is well known that Washington itself was on the old King’s Highway, leading northwest through Changewater Furnace to Oxford Furnace and on up the Delaware River Valley through Columbia to the copper mines at Pahaquarry and thence to Millbrook and Wallpack and west over the Delaware River at several ferry points. IT was only natural that Father Farmer and his early brother Jesuits should have followed this trail in search of the early Catholic settles, who had moved north after the closing of the Belgian Glass Works in Salem Co., South Jersey.
It should be a source of inspiration to all priests and people who live along this frontier trail to know that in several homes, this great pioneer priest, Father Farmer, celebrated Holy Mass and tirelessly administered to the spiritual needs of his scattered flock.
His real name was Ferdinand Steinmeier and he was born in Suabia, Germany, on October 13, 1720. He arrived in Philadelphia June 20th, 1752, and was stationed at Lancaster, PA, for six years. In August, 1758, he was stationed at Philadelphia. From that time until his death twenty-eight years later in October, 1782, most of his labors were in the state of New Jersey. He was one of the prominent men of this time – a co-laborer and subject of Bishop Carroll, a fellow-citizen of Bejamin Franklin and a contemporary of George Washington. He was selected one of the first Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania. His zeal was remarkable and he was indefatigable n his work for souls. Mrs. Corcoran of Philadelphia, who knew Father Farmer well, gives us the following description of him:
‘He was tall and upright, of a ruddy pleasing countenance, graceful in manner and fluent in conversation. He was a welcome guest at the table of Catholics and Protestants. In his disposition, he was gentle, like his Model, yet showing by the bright flash of his light grey eyes, that he could feel for his Master’s Honor and defend His cause.’
It is indeed too bad that much more of the early activities of the priests who undoubtedly visited this territory in pre-Parochial days, have not been recorded for us. There is little doubt that Redemptorists, Franciscans and Augistinians, as well as Jesuits passed this way to seek out and help those scattered souls whom we might call the pioneers in the extension of God’s kingdom in these United States.
The Diocese of Newark, involving the entire State of New Jersey was established in the year 1853 from that time on, the territory now comprising St. Joseph’s parish, was attended by Diocesan priests. St. Ann’s parish at Hampton Junction was established in the year 1859 with a resident pastor who took care of Washington as a mission. Three priests came in succession, as they were appointed pastors at Hampton Junction. Father Rolland from the year 1861 to 1864, Father Leonard until the year 1869 and Father Francis O’Neil until the establishment of St. Joseph’s parish with its own pastor in the year 1871. These three priests came frequently into Warren County to celebrate Mass in some humble Catholic home in Washington or the surrounding territory. The oldtimers still tell stories of the early Catholic settlers, hardy souls that they were, walking sometimes to Hampton and other times to Oxford to assist at Mass in the respective churches of those villages. Washington had begun to grow. The old Morris Canal, now no longer in use, was in its hey-day. Coal and freight were transferred from the D.L.&W. cars to canal boats at Port Washington. Washington was an important railroad center and a number of railroaders lived here. We were also beginning to assume importance as an organ manufacturing center. Our town, too, had been for years an important trading center for the rich agricultural countryside and the Irish lived in “The Patch.” That was, we might say, back in the days of the famine which drove the Irish to migration, and come of them settled in Washington.
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