A parish “on the move” is an appropriate way to describe the Christian Community of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
On January 17, 1975 Bishop George Guilfoyle announced the formation of a new parish that would be comprised of the community of Absecon and a small section of Galloway Township. Prior to 1975 the Catholic families had been members of Assumption Parish, Pomona and St. Peter Church, Pleasantville. But like the Jewish people of old, who for many years had sought their own homeland, the Absecon Catholics had sought their own identity and wanted a parish of their own.
The new parish was named after the first American Woman to be Canonized, Blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton. Michael J. Coyne, originally from County Mayo , Ireland, was appointed Founding Pastor. The first Mass was celebrated in Blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish on February 2, 1975 at Holy Spirit High School. Initially, the Catholic Community worshipped at Holy Spirit High School and at St. Anne, a small chapel on the grounds where the present Church stands.
The Irish love to celebrate around St. Patrick’s Day, so March 9th was the date chosen for the people of Blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton to celebrate the establishment of the new parish and the installation of its first Pastor. At that time Father Coyne announced the appointment of the first parish trustees, Edward McNierney and Frank Blee. A concelebrated liturgy at Holy Spirit High School was followed by a wine and cheese party.
As a Christian Community “on the move” the parish increased with many new families joining the 450 pioneer families who initially registered. Before long, there was need for a bigger staff. In August1975 Father John Vignone, a newly ordained priest was appointed first Associate Pastor of Blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish. The Catechetical Program was fast taking shape and needed direction. That responsibility was entrusted to Sister Rita Francis Fiefhaus, O.S.F., who arrived in August as the parish Director of Religious Education.
In September 1975 American Catholics were looking forward to the Canonization of their first American Daughter, Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton. This event had special significance for the community of Absecon since the parish was named after this great American. On September 14th Bishop Guilfoyle made his first visit to the parish to celebrate this historic event. An overflow crowd of 1200 people came form as far away as Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York and joined the parish families of the now St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in worship and praise.
In addition to the many liturgical and religious celebrations, parishioners joined together on social occasions. The first Christmas Appreciation Party held at the American Legion Hall was indicative of the spirit of friendship, love, joy, an enthusiasm that had been “on the move” during the initial year of the parish. This spirit would continue to grow in the following years making St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish well known for its hospitality and friendship.
As 1976 dawned, Americans were planning hard and fast to celebrate the Country’s Bicentennial. At the same time parishioners of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church were excited about planning the First Anniversary of their parish. The Christian Community of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton had been truly solidified and was really “on the move”. On the first Anniversary of the Parish, the Building and Finance Committee had the task of deciding on the physical complex that would best serve the needs of the worshiping community. The Finance Committee had the task of raising the funds to pay for the building program. The parishioners’ enthusiasm, zeal, and generosity soon made the building program a reality.
On January 30 1977, with the temperature 20 degrees below, a large crowd of parishioners, civic official and clergymen of various faiths, watched Father Coyne, a farm boy from Ireland, turn the first sod in the ground breaking ceremony.
All through the spring and summer, the parishioners watched with eagerness and longing as their church was being built. That longing became a reality on November 19, 1977 when Bishop Guilfoyle presided over the laying of the cornerstone and the dedication of the new church, hall, and chapel which accommodates 475, 300, and 30 people respectively.
With the advent of new industries in the area, the parish community continued to grow. There was a need for more personnel in the Catechetical Program and more space to work. In 1980, the property on the corner of Mill Road and New Jersey Avenue, known as the Cosgrove Property was purchased. With many parishioners helping and local businesses donating, the building was enlarged, improved and enhanced to become the Religious Education Center of the parish.
The parish was truly a parish “on the move” as local populations expanded and the Seton family grew. More families created a need for parish activities. Bolstered by a succession of associates, Monsignor Coyne led his charges toward the Millennium.
In 1979, Fr. John Vignone was appointed to the teaching staff at St. James High School; he was replaced by Fr. Frank Donaghue, a newly ordained priest. With the restoration of the Order of Permanent Diaconate, many men saw an opportunity to serve the church in this ministry. Deacon Joseph F. Becker was such a person and was assigned to the parish in 1979 where he still serves. In 1980, the Mexican connection began with the assignment of Fr. Rudolph Preciodo.
The late 70’s witnessed the expanding role of women religious in the church in the areas of administration and pastoral ministry. In 1981 Sister Patricia Smith, O.S.F. joined the staff of St. Elizabeth’s as the first woman pastoral minister.
About the same time the building at the corner of Mill Road was purchased from the Verdine family and renovated as a religious education center. Sr. Rita, Addie Blee, and Charlene Garbowski were then rescued from their old quarters in the basement of the rectory. The new, improved facilities served as headquarters for supervising the instruction of the 700 students who attended Sunday sessions in Holy Spirit High School’s classrooms for the next eleven years.
Fr. Richard Hadyka was welcomed to the parish in 1982 until replaced by Fr. Dennis W. Bajkowski in 1985. Fr. John Muscat joined the staff in 1988 followed by Fr. Anthony Minniti in 1993. Fr. Tom Donio was assigned in 1995.
Sr. Pat was elected to the Provincinal Council of her community. Sr. Eileen arrived in 1992 and served until she began her ministry in Stanton, Kentucky in 1995. The construction of the new Religious Education Center in 1992 brought a self-contained instruction site to the church property. Sr. Rita, after nearly 25 years of faithful service, retired to her new home in Philadelphia in 1999.
Another important part of our parish was the ordination of Robert Keeler in May of 1982 and the celebration of this first in our parish Church .
The saying, “a Country is as good as its people”, can be applied to the parish of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton . Its greatest asset is its people. The commitment and dedication of so many parishioners in diverse ministries and services has truly made St. Elizabeth Ann Seton a parish of service, a parish “on the move” into a new century.