The Priests that have served us
Henry Beers Sherman
The Reverend Henry Beers Sherman, MA, was rector of Christ Church, Belleville, New Jersey. He held services in Passaic occasionally as a sort of “missionary station” in connection with his own parochial charge.
The Reverend Samuel Clements, AM, was an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania and of the Theological Seminary of Virginia. For several years he had been rector of Saint Michael’s Church, Trenton, New Jersey, but on account of ill health was compelled to resign the charge of that large and important parish. After spending some time on the Continent, he returned to this country. He was appointed by the bishop as a missionary to the parish on December 22, 1859. His salary was $200 per annum dating from the First Sunday in Advent. On April 23, 1860 it was announced that he had accepted the chaplaincy of Kenyon College, Ohio and left Saint John’s. It should be noted that Samuel Clements must have been a well-liked rector as he was later twice asked (once on July 8, 1868 and then on December 22, 1869) to return to take charge of the parish. However, he never returned to Saint John’s.
Marshall B. Smith
The Reverend Marshall B. Smith, AM, was called to take charge of the parish as rector on August 20, 1860. He was an alumnus of the Theological Seminary of the Diocese of Virginia and rector of Christ Church, Dover, Delaware. Since his salary was to be not less than $500 per year and Saint John’s could not pay a full salary, it was subsidized by a grant of $300 per year, for two years, from the Protestant Episcopal Missionary Society of New Jersey. This allowed most of the money raised within the parish to be designated for the building of a church edifice as soon as possible.
It was during Mr. Smith’s rectorate that the first church building was erected in 1861-62. It was this new church that was the scene of a break-in in April 1863. Among other things the rector’s vestment (“a silk gown”) was stolen and was replaced by the congregation.
It was said that Mr. Smith “was highly educated and polished and very popular with his parishioners, some being the richest persons in the village – the kind that attend church in a coach. The rector was married to a daughter of his richest, most exclusive member, and was popular with men in the village outside his parish, and was a school trustee.”
Mr. Smith presented his resignation as rector of Saint John’s on March 31, 1868. His popularity in and out of church remained unchallenged despite the fact that he withdrew with 200 priests of the church to organize an entirely new denomination, the Reformed Episcopal Church, still in existence today.
The vestry passed a resolution affirming Mr. Smith’s views denying the dogma that “…there is no Church without a Bishop,” and that all protestant churches are only branches of the same Catholic Church, under different forms of organization. The resolution went on to say that any future rector must subscribe to these views. This resolution was passed mainly because St. John’s had received $600 from the Low Church Protestant Episcopal Missionary Society of New Jersey and a certain amount of allegiance was owed to their point of view.
The controversy within the church arose when the clergy objected to the use of the sign of the cross in baptism and opposed the church teaching regarding baptismal regeneration.
Mr. Adams was called August 5, 1868 as rector of Saint John’s and came to us from the Diocese of Iowa. He was an alumnus of Amherst College and of Andover Theological Seminary. He accepted the low church protestant resolution of the vestry. The highlight of his brief pastorate seems to have been the erection of a shed to accommodate horses and coaches of parishioners attending services. Mr. Adams resigned November 9, 1869.
At a meeting of the vestry held at the office of James A. Norton, secretary of the vestry, at 48 Vesey Street, NYC, the following resolution was adopted: Resolved, that H. L. Alden be treasurer of the parish known as the Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of Saint John’s Church in Passaic, in the Diocese of New Jersey. That the treasurer pay to the Reverend Henry Webbe in quarterly payments in advance, beginning with October 1, 1870, at the rate of $1,000 per annum positively; or at the rate of $2,000 annually, provided the treasury has the funds after paying taxes, insurance, interest on mortgages, fuel and lights, sexton and bellows blower. But the treasurer shall pay the said Rev’d Henry Webbe the first two quarters, at the rate of $2000 per annum.
The Reverend Henry Webbe resigned on October 4, 1871 to take effect on the 31st of December 1871. However, the vestry moved to bring his arrangement with the parish to an end at the earliest convenient date.
W. H. Carter
On the 28th of March 1872 The Reverend Dr. W. H. Carter accepted the call to the rectorship of the parish. He had been rector of Christ Church, Bloomfield, New Jersey. One controversy that arose during Dr. Carter’s rectorate was that he refused to administer Holy Communion to a Presbyterian man, whose family was Episcopalian and attended Saint John’s. Dr. Carter believed this was necessary because the gentleman had not been confirmed by a bishop. Col. Benjamin B. Aycrigg, one of the founders of the parish and a vestryman at the time, sharply criticized the rector. Dr. Carter conceded that since this man had been enrolled in the parish and a communicant before he assumed the post of rector, he would allow the practice to continue although he considered it in violation of the canons.
Dr. Carter resigned as rector of Saint John’s effective the first of May 1877 due to his belief that the parish was not able to carry the financial burden under which it was struggling. He had voluntarily relinquished one-sixth of his salary in the hope that the financial distress of the country would be only temporary. That distress increased.
In his letter of resignation he wrote: “The Parish is practically out of debt, the congregations are steadily improving, the Sunday School has increased fifty percent within the past year, peace and harmony prevail, and I humbly believe that the spiritual interests of the parish are advancing, therefore there can be no more favorable time for returning to you the trust which five years ago was committed to me.”
Dr. Carter went to Florida after leaving Saint John’s Church.
A. Sidney Dealey
In May 1877 a call was extended to the Reverend A. Sidney Dealey of Round Lake, New York at $1,000 per annum.
Mr. Dealey wrote the following in the Parish Register upon his arrival at Saint John’s: July 9, 1877. On entering my Rectorship of the Parish of St. John’s, Passaic, I desire to state distinctly that I do not endorse the above inserted paper. [refers to vestry resolution passed following the Rev’d Marshall B. Smith’s resignation] I object to it, first, on the grounds of the unscriptural spirit of party of which it seems to be the expression; and, secondly, because as a Presbyter of the Church I am bound by the vows which she required of me at my ordination; and I recognise no right whatever in any Vestry to impose special and additional obligations or Articles of Faith and Practice beside those which the general body of the Church in this Country rightly imposes on her clergy. (signed) A. Sidney Dealey
The parish at this time seemed to be going through a very difficult period due to finances. There may have been other conflicts, since the records indicate that the rector at the annual meeting of 1878 called for parishioners to “[lay] aside all party lines and prejudices and unite for the welfare of the church.” On October 18, 1879, A. Sidney Dealey resigned as rector of Saint John’s to take the rectorship of Christ Church, Buffalo, New York.
J. I. Mombert, DD
The Rev’d Dr. J. I. Mombert of Christ Church, Jersey City Heights, New Jersey, was called as rector of Saint John’s Church, January 6, 1880 at a salary of $800 per annum. During his tenure at Saint John’s, it was necessary to resume the rental of pews in order to raise funds for the parish. Dr. Mombert left the parish in February 1882.
The Rev’d Williams Howland came to Saint John’s from a parish in Flushing, New York in October 1882. It is recorded that he told the vestry that only $600 was needed to pay off the mortgage and, therefore, be able to consecrate the church. Also, during his rectorate (in 1884) the Diocese of Northern New Jersey (now Newark) assessed the parish $100 for the building of a residence for the bishop. This was paid in three installments. It was during the tenure of Williams Howland that the pledge system was adopted over the rental of pews. Mr. Howland resigned as rector effective Easter Monday, 1892, at 12 Noon.
George H. Yarnall
On May 30, 1882 a call was extended to the Rev’d George H. Yarnall of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at $1500 per annum and this call was accepted. Through hard work he quickly eliminated the debt of the parish and began planning for the construction of a new church building since the former was no longer adequate for the needs of the parish. During his rectorate the vestry was increased to 12 members (two wardens and 10 vestrymen). Also a weekly celebration of the Holy Communion became the rule of the parish on the First Sunday after Trinity, 1892.
His letter of resignation is as follows:
St. John’s Rectory
To the Wardens & Vestrymen of St. John’s Parish
I herewith tender my resignation as Rector of St. John’s Parish to take effect at once. My health has broken completely & my Doctor says I must have a long rest. It is a great grief to me to give up a work that I loved so dearly. No man ever had a more faithful & devoted Vestry. May GOD’s fullest blessing rest upon your work, which I know He will bring to perfection. Brethren pray for me that I may fully recover.
Geo. H. Yarnall
Dec. 8th, 1893
The Rector’s resignation letter was reprinted in the Passaic Daily News of December 9, 1893 along with an explanation of his illness. The article said in part: “Mr. Yarnall’s resignation was, with much regret, accepted bythe Vestry. Bishop Starkey has arranged for the Rev. Mr. Melvin Honeyman of Newark, to conduct the services in St. John’s Church to-morrow. The 8 o’clock morning service will be omitted. The other services will be held as usual. Mr. Yarnall’s breakdown will be a sudden blow to the members of his parish. Very few of them knew that his health had been affected at all and it was a complete surprise to all but two of the vestrymen when the resignation was read last night. Dr. Edwin DeBaun says that his patient has collapsed completely and it is utterly impossible for him to continue in the parish. He thinks it one of the severest cases of nervous prostration he has ever met with and thinks that it will take a year’s rest to restore Mr. Yarnall to health. Under these circumstances there was nothing for him to do but to resign. He has been slaving ever since he came to the parish, and to leave just as the new church is being built is a great disappointment, but he felt that unless he made way for a new rector, everything would be at a standstill till he was able to get back to work.” It appears that for a time he was allowed to remain at the rectory and the parish had supply clergy to perform the services.
George C. Betts
George C. Betts was a native of Ireland and a convert from Methodism. In 1868 he was rector of Trinity Church (now Cathedral), in Omaha, Nebraska. Father Betts was a high churchman and it created some complaints in that congregation. For this reason he left Trinity parish and became the first rector of St. Barnabas Church, also in Omaha, which was founded as an “Oxford Movement” parish.
An interesting anecdote about Father Betts comes to us from the parish records of St. Barnabas Church. We learned that on the 10th of March 1872 Bishop Robert Clarkson demanded he relinquish the use of chasuble or any other vestment save surplice and black stole, that he stop the choir from turning to the altar for Creed and Glorias, that he not make the sign of the cross except at Baptism. “Those the Rector declined to comply with, promising however if the bishop showed them to be wrong or in violation of any law of the church, to make submission. The bishop stated it was his ‘wish’ and ought to be obeyed. The Rector declined to obey a mere personal wish.” The conference was here ended. Shortly after this meeting, he resigned as rector and left the city.
Another story about Father Betts comes to us via the history of the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, New York City.
“During the autumn of 1885 a Mission was conducted at St. Mary’s by the Reverend Fathers George C. Betts and Edward A. Larrabee, which seems to have made a deep impression. In a long minute of thanks and appreciation, the following expressions occur, amongst others: ‘To their powerful and soul stirring sermons and addresses, to their pleadings and warnings, to their great sympathy in their personal dealings with individuals, is due, under God, the great success of their Mission. The board wishes to express the grateful thanks of the Parish to these Fathers, and to assure them they will ever be lovingly remembered in our prayers.’ This would seem to have been the first Mission preached at St Mary’s.” We also know that Father Betts was a pallbearer at the funeral of St. Mary’s founder, Father Thomas McKee Brown on December 22, 1898.
Father Betts assumed duties of rector at Saint John’s on March 26, 1894. In May 1894 he established the daily celebration of Mass, “to the Glory of God and in recognition of those great Catholic principles that should mark the services of the Church.” During his one-year rectorate at St. John’s the present church building, designed and built by one of the leading architects of the country, William Halsey Wood, was completed. The two men must have worked well together since they both were firmly committed to the principles and rituals of the Oxford Movement. When it was completed, St. John’s had a fine example of Norman Gothic architecture. A great service of rejoicing was held on Christmas Day –a peculiarly Episcopal festivity, for Christmas was scarcely observed by the other denominations in Passaic.
Father Betts was a charter member and organizer of the American branch of the Guild of All Souls.
He resigned effective April 25, 1895.
Leonard W. S. Stryker
Father Stryker was elected rector in May 1895 and “entered upon the duties of his rectorship on Whitsunday, June 2nd, the services on that day being a Low Celebration at 7:30 AM, Choral Celebration and sermon at 11 AM, Choral Evensong and sermon at 7:45 PM.” During Father Stryker’s time the current parish house was built as a gift from Mrs. John Ward in memory of her husband.
The Rev’d Leonard W. S. Stryker resigned as rector in February 1908, having accepted a call to Saint Matthew’s Church, Wheeling, West Virginia. From this date until June 1, 1908, services were taken by The Rev’d Professor Blodgett of The General Theological Seminary in NYC.
W. (William) Gordon Bentley
An article from the Passaic Daily News on May 2, 1908 described the new rector as follows:
“The Rev. W. Gordon Bentley, who has accepted the call to the rectorship of St. John’s parish, in this city, will commence his new duties on June 1.
He is a man of middle age, and married. He is a native of Jefferson County, New York, and he was educated at the Adams Collegiate Institute, Adams, New York. From 1882 to 1889 he taught natural science in the Adams Collegiate Institute. In 1889 he began studying for holy orders under the late Bishop Huntington of Central New York. He went to St. Andrew’s Divinity School, Syracuse, and was ordered deacon on May 28, 1890. He was at St. Mark’s Church, Syracuse, until October 1, 1890 when he was appointed minister-in-charge of St. Paul’s, Constableville, and St. Mark’s, Port Leyden. He was ordained priest May 15, 1891, and made rector of the above churches. Later he was in charge of the churches at Greig, Waverly and Smithboro, N.Y. In 1898 he was called to St. Stephen’s, New Hartford, his present charge. His entire ministry has been in the Diocese of Central New York. Mr. Bentley is a churchman of the Catholic School, and by many he is called Father Bentley. He sings the service with dignity and beauty and is a good preacher.”
The highlight of Father Bentley’s ministry at Saint John’s must have been on April 23, 1914 when the new church was consecrated, the mortgage having been paid by a legacy from Peter Reid.
Father Bentley resigned in 1925 due to poor health. His letter of resignation is as follows:
To the Wardens and Vestrymen of Saint John’s Church at Passaic, N.J.
I feel it my duty to give you this early and timely notice that if I live until November of this year, I shall reach the age which the Church has set for the retirement of the Clergy from active service and participation in the Clergy Pension Fund. Since that Fund came into operation it has been my purpose to avail myself of its provisions. The conditions and circumstances of the last few weeks show that such action is not only desirable but imperative. I therefore present, and ask you to accept, my resignation of the Rectorship of this Parish, such resignation to take effect on October 31st, A.D., 1925. This action is taken after consultation with Bishop Lines and has his consent and approval.
It is impossible to adequately express the various feelings and emotions aroused by this action which will sever our official relations of more than seventeen years standing. Let me assure you of my sincere and cordial appreciation of the many courtesies and kindnesses which you have extended to me. I shall be interested in the future Spiritual and temporal welfare of St. John’s Church, and shall pray for GOD’s richest blessings on him whom you shall elect as my successor, and on you his fellow workers and supporters.
W. Gordon Bentley, Rector.
Signed and dated at Passaic, N.J.
April 6th, A.D.,1925.
Father Bentley retired from active ministry October 31, 1925.
Albert J. M. Wilson
Albert J. M. Wilson was born in Belfast, Ulster, Northern Ireland in 1888. He attended the Mountpottinger School in Belfast and came to the U.S. in 1912. He was a graduate of Saint Stephen’s Anglican College, at Annandale-on-the-Hudson, and took his master’s degree in arts at Columbia in the Class of 1917, taking his degree in theology at the General Theological Seminary at the same time. After leaving the seminary he served for a year and a-half at Saint Matthew’s Church, 84th Street & Central Park West, where he was made deacon. After his ordination as priest, he was rector of Grace Church, Millbrook, New York for over four years before he was called to Saint Bartholomew’s, NYC, during the rectorship of the Rev’d Dr. S. Leighton Parkes, where he served as curate for three years.
Mr. Wilson came to Saint John’s in February 1926. With his coming, the “high church” regime was abandoned. In a sad period for Saint John’s, he stopped the use of mass vestments and other catholic practices. He instructed Saint Faith’s Altar Guild to store all the vestments that they had made beginning in the 1870s. These and other liturgical items were eventually given to other parishes for their use.
A newspaper account of his first “service” at Saint John’s stressed all the changes that were taking place:
“Candles glowed upon the reredos above the High Altar at the eucharists yesterday morning as during the previous high church regime but that was the only remaining sign of the thought and practice which has prevailed… Mr. Wilson discarded all eucharistic vestments (amice, alb, crossed stole, maniple, cincture and chasuble) … He abandoned the traditional preparation before the altar… All genuflections and other forms of reverencing toward the altar were given up, as was also the frequent use of the sign of the cross…”
In the prosperous days of the 1920s the church initiated a drive for $100,000 to build a new rectory (its third) and to make extensive improvements to the church and parish house, “to provide much needed room for rapidly developing activities.”
This was in June 1926. Despite the fact that the drive fell $20,000 short of its goal, negotiations started for the sale of the rectory at 217 Paulison Avenue. The new rectory (opposite the church across Lafayette Avenue) was built, but the Depression prevented the fulfillment of other plans.
Mr. Wilson resigned May 31, 1930 to become the rector of Saint George’s, Rumson, New Jersey.
Donald MacAdie, STD
Richard Nelson Bolles 1958-1966
Rector of St. John’s from 1958-1966, Father Bolles was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 19, 1927. He graduated from Harvard University in 1950 with a BA and from The General Theological Seminary in 1953 where he was a Fellow and Tutor from 1953-1955. In 1957 he received his STM also from General and in 1964 was a Fellow at the College of Preachers in Washington, DC. He was awarded a DLitt by John F. Kennedy University, Martinez, California as well as degrees from several other institutions. He was ordained a deacon in June of 1953 and priest in December 1953 by Bishop Benjamin M. Washburn. Father Bolles served as vicar of the Church of the Redeemer, Palisades Park, New Jersey, and St. James Church, Ridgefield, New Jersey (1955-1958).
He came to Saint John’s Church in 1958 just in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of our parish. In 1963 Father Bolles oversaw the transfer of members of the closed Saint Andrew’s Mission into Saint John’s, thus making our parish an integrated one.
Upon leaving St. John’s in 1966, Father Bolles became Canon Pastor at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, California from 1966-1968. He went on to become Executive Secretary of the Ministry in Higher Education for Province VIII of the Episcopal Church. While in that position, he also served as Secretary for the Western Region of the United Ministries for Education. From 1974-1987 he was Project Director of The National Career Development Project. He is the author of a book frequently listed in The New York Times’ Best Seller List, What Color is Your Parachute. Other books by Father Bolles are: Where Do I Go From Here With My Life?, The Three Boxes of Life and How to Find Your Mission In Life. Father Bolles is widely recognized as the leading authority in the field of career development and job changing.
Robert Keith Dixon
Father Dixon served as rector of St. John’s Church from 1966-1981. He was born in Albany, New York on August 8, 1936. He received his BA in 1958 from Hamilton College, New York and graduated from The General Theological Seminary in 1961. He was ordained to the diaconate in June of 1961 and to the priesthood in December of that year by Bishop Leland F. Stark. Father Dixon was curate at Calvary Church, Summit (1961-1962) and at Holy Trinity, New York City (1963-1966). During Father Dixon’s rectorate Centennial House and the rectory on Passaic Avenue were sold. The building now housing the Thrift Shop was purchased for use as a rectory and the Parish House was extensively remodeled to accommodate the offices.
Edmund Bruce Partridge
Born on July 6, 1932 in Orange, New Jersey, Father Partridge was rector of St. John’s Church from 1981-1984. He received his BA from the University of Pittsburgh in 1959 and his M Div in 1962 from The General Theological Seminary. An LHD was awarded to him in 1973 by the London Institute. Bishop Leland F. Stark ordained him to the diaconate in June 1962 and to the priesthood in December 1962. Edmund Partridge married Carolyn Elizabeth Ehni on June 29, 1957.
Among Father Partridge’s many assignments within the Church, he served as rector of St. James in Wichita, Kansas from 1968-1971. From then on he specialized in interim ministries which he developed into a “professional art form” especially in working with distressed congregations. It was in this capacity that he came to Saint John’s. First as an priest-in-charge for one year, which assignment was extended another two years as rector. During his time here he worked diligently to rebuild our community into a viable parish.
From 1990-1992 he was Dean of Trinity and St. Philip’s Cathedral, Newark, New Jersey and was later awarded the title of Honorary Canon. Canon Partridge retired in 2000 from Grace Church, Rutherford, New Jersey where he served as rector for five years. He is the author of The New Spirituality for Laymen, and The Church in Perspective as well as the editor of The Guide for Lay Readers.
William C. Thiele