The First World War brought sobering times to the parish. The enlistment of its young men in the Army caused the Fife and Drum Corps to disband. The influenza epidemic in October, 1918, deepened the sadness of those days into great sorrow. Quite a few parishioners died during that terrible scourge. Schools closed and no public funerals were permitted. A steam shovel was used at the cemeteries to bury the dead. Tragedy struck our young parish in the year 1920, on the afternoon of October 15. The church building was ravaged by fire and utterly ruined, thus changing the entire course of the development of the parish plant. Briefly we shall touch on both aspects of this tragic loss to the infant parish.On that day Father Loponte went to Caldwell to see the
Dominican Sisters at their Mother House. He hoped to reach an agreement with them concerning the founding of our first parish Grammar School. Father left the parish with high hopes for the future, but when he returned in the evening he was met by a scene of heart-rending disaster. One of the painters who had been hired by Father to renovate and repaint the exterior of the Church had fired the small edifice over a disagreement about the money he was to be paid. Two buckets of turpentine and a match set the building ablaze. The first fireman on the scene unwittingly fanned the flames when he smashed the double front doors and allowed the wind to rush in and turn the church into an inferno. Father O'Neil, the new pastor of St. Michael's, had arrived at about the same time. He forced his way into the back of the church with the help of a more prudent fireman. Once in the Sanctuary they cut away the steel inner tabernacle from its wooden setting, and the Holy Eucharist was safely borne to the rectory. The plans of Father Loponte, because of the poverty into which
the parish was plunged, were totally changed. Father had intended to buy a farm across Bloomfield Avenue owned by a Presbyterian named Mr. Peck. It ran from Roseville Avenue to Sixth Street, and south from Bloomfield Avenue to almost Fourth Avenue. In imagination we can, with some regret, picture our present beautiful parish plant in such a setting. There, certainly, Father Loponte would -have built the new church he was contemplating. But what had seemed like a probability to Father before the fire was not even a possibility afterwards. He had no choice but to clear the charred ground and start anew on the same spot, but with a greatly diminished dream to spur him on. Gone for good was his plan for a complete school building with an auditorium, a parish project which would have provided a community center for his people and a suitable place of learning for the children of his flock. Instead of wringing his hands in helpless anguish, Father Loponte, without so much as a pause in his energetic efforts, supervised the clearing of the wreckage left in the wake of the fire. He saw to the immediate renovation of the basement in the burned building, and extended
The First Communion class soon after Father Dooling's arrival at St. Francis Xauiertoas so large that the Mass had to be said outdoors. The striking, inspiring sight of Father Dooling giving these children their First Holy Communion will long live in the memories of those who were present. Father Owens, standing straight and tall in the foreground staged the entire event.