St. Philip the Apostle Roman Catholic Church worships as a vibrant community of faith, whose history began immediately after World War II. Saddle Brook, then known as Saddle River Township, was experiencing tremendous change. Farms gave way to tracts of new homes, ready to welcome hundreds of young families moving to the suburbs. To meet the needs of these many young families, a group of Catholics gathered in July of 1953 at Cambridge (now Helen I Smith) School to organize a new parish.
A new school building came first where parishioners gathered in the parish gymnasium for Sunday Mass. Weekdays, parishioners worshiped in a small chapel which later became the school nurses office and hallway. Fr. Thomas J. Kenny, the founding pastor, shepherded the new residents and the “old timers” into a parish community. In 1956, a stately church edifice was completed. This new church building accommodated 1000 worshipers and included a choir loft. Later pastors, Monsignor Paul Lang, Fr. Raymond Doll, and Monsignor Charles Stengel built on the foundation laid by Fr. Kenny, and helped nurture a community dedicated to passing on the faith to future generations through support of the parish school and parish religious education programs.
St. Philip’s school continued to grow which led to expansion projects in 1959 and 1969. During these years the schools enrollment swelled to over 500 students. In its history more than 2000 boys and girls graduated from St. Philip’s School. At the end of the 2003 school year, declining enrollment and the financial strain on the parish forced the closure of the school.
In 1984 -1985 St. Philip’s undertook a massive capital campaign to renovate the church building. The church was changed in many ways to reflect the post Vatican II church. A major change was the relocation of the sanctuary, which moved the entrance of the church from Saddle River Road to the rear of the building. The renovation also included the addition of a Daily Mass Chapel, Chapel of Reservation and air conditioning.
For the newly renovated church, Msgr. Stengel commissioned the Peragallo Organ Company of Paterson to build a new pipe organ for the church. Designed by Joseph Wozniak, it was installed at 24 ranks (sets of pipes) and through private donations, has grown over the years to 31 ranks. A beautiful set of harmonique flutes were installed in memory of Sr. Maureen Mahoney who taught music in the parish school for many years. Every year, during a free Annual Summer Concert Series, St. Philip’s hosts both concert and local parish organists to showcase their talents.
In September 1999, Saddle Brook was deluged with over 10 inches of rain by Tropical Storm Floyd. The Saddle River flowed through the parish grounds and traveled all the way to Pehle Avenue. Devastation to the parish plant was great, but the spirit of the parishioners was greater. At all of the weekend masses, parishioners were asked to gather that Sunday afternoon to help clean. Well over a hundred people came together with the parish cleaning staff and removed every piece of furniture and equipment from the buildings. The school was open and operational within one week.
In October 2004, following a three-year capital restoration campaign, the main sanctuary and Daily Mass Chapel were reopened, beautifully updated and refurbished under the guidance of then pastor Fr. Robert McBride and Deacon Phil Salerno. During construction, masses were once again celebrated in the parish gymnasium as was during the humble beginnings. The finished project blessed the parish with spiritually uplifting worship spaces.
Fr. Theesmas Pankiraj was appointed St. Philip’s sixth pastor in 2006. Taking the helm after a parish school closes is not an easy assignment. Fr. Theesmas, guided by the Holy Spirit, steadfastly led the parish to fiscal stability with needed improvements while enhancing the spiritual life of the community. Ministries have grown, a newly ordained priest was assigned and seminarians are in weekend residence. Currently, the there are over 400 students in Religious Education program which is run by Sr. Jadwiga Zaremba. The parish also offers programs and ministries for children, young adults, adults and senior citizens.
August 2011 offered Fr. Theesmas and the parish another challenge, Hurricane Irene. Presenting herself much the same as Floyd did in 1999, the parish grounds sustained monetary damages of more than a million dollars, closing the leased school building for over six months. Through the grace of God and the support of the township and its’ service organizations, the parish ministries/organizations were able to continue their schedules during the disruption.
St. Philip’s has hosted the Annual Summer Festival of Fun since 1959 when it begun as a small fair. It has grown to be the largest social fundraiser of the parish and a greatly anticipated event for all of Saddle Brook. Continuing its mission St. Philip the Apostle Church, with over 2,400 registered families, works together joyfully for the glory of God and the common good of our community of faith and neighbors.