A 40-Year Journey
This year, the Church of Saint Anselm is celebrating a wonderful event: the 40th anniversary of the parish. It’s a good time to look back on the path that led us to where we are now: a faith community united in its dedication to service and to fostering peace.
The parish was established by Bishop George W. Ahr and the Diocese of Trenton on May 31, 1972. The diocese had determined that a new parish was necessary to serve the needs of a growing Catholic population west of Route 35 in this area of Monmouth County. Sections of existing parishes were part of the new parish geography, including St. Mary in Deal, St. Jerome in West Long Branch, St. Michael in West End, St. Dorothea in Eatontown, Holy Spirit in Asbury Park and Holy Innocents in Neptune.
“The idea was to try to unite the people of this area and to bring them together in one central place for worship,” recalled Fr. Joseph Miele, the parish’s first pastor. To attract members, the diocese publicized the formation of the parish in the diocesan newspaper, The Monitor, and through announcements made at nearby parishes. Per the diocese, the new parish would be located on Wayside Road on a 23-acre tract.
The newly formed parish celebrated its first mass on Saturday, June 17, 1972, at the Wayside School, just down the road from the current parish property. A home at 6 Pine Lane in Eatontown served as the first rectory, meeting place and center for the religious education program. Daily mass was also celebrated there. At that time, 130 families were registered with the parish.
A New Home for the Parish
“The principal was very gracious to allow us free use of the Wayside School,” said Fr. Miele. However, members of this fledgling community knew they would have to construct their own parish building.
Since there were five new parishes at the time, the diocese could not provide large amounts of financial assistance. So, the parish voted to accept the financial responsibility of constructing a church building. As a result, a new church was dedicated on November 2, 1975, during a mass over which Bishop Ahr presided.
As a member of the Diocesan Liturgy Committee responsible for the implementation of Vatican II liturgical changes, Fr. Miele helped ensure that Saint Anselm embraced the more progressive ideals of Vatican II. “By implementing these changes, we attracted people and they became active, offering their time, talent, and treasure,” he said. “People knew it was their parish, and that they had to work together for it to survive.”
The 1980s and a New Pastor
In the early years, the first ministries of the parish evolved. From the beginning, there was a children’s liturgy, religious education, celebration of the sacraments, and a music ministry. The first Parish Council meeting was held on January 14, 1980. In 1982, the first Seder meal and first RCIA took place.
In June of 1984, our parish said farewell to its founding pastor and welcomed Fr. Robert (Bob) Kaeding as its new pastor. One of Fr. Bob’s first orders of business was to build the parish and its income, since finances were still an issue for the small congregation. “That way, we could hire the staff and do the things that needed to be done,” he said.
In addition to organizing a formal stewardship program, the developing Communications Committee launched a public relations effort. The efforts paid off. As the population of the surrounding area grew, and as the parish’s reputation became known, many people found their way to Saint Anselm.
Between 1984 and 1987, the parish focused on organizing to meet the needs of the expanding community. The parish office was staffed to handle administrative needs, and the parish expanded its spiritual and outreach ministries. The RENEW program of faith sharing groups began, contributing to the sense of community in the parish. The late 1980s saw the establishment of the Community Outreach (COR) Committee, a Hospitality Room for homeless families, and the Human Concerns, Bereavement, Welcoming and Communications Committees. Popular traditions also began to take shape: the Peace Garden was planted in conjunction with our 15th anniversary, and the first live manger appeared at Christmas.
A Growing Parish
By the end of the decade, it became apparent that Saint Anselm had grown beyond its original expectations. The number of registered families had more than tripled since the Parish Center was built, and there were 350 children enrolled in the religious education program. In 1992, ground was broken for the new building expansion, which would include seating for 750 people in the worship center, a new chapel, eight classrooms, a 100-seat auditorium and office space for the parish staff.
“Early on, we earned a reputation as a unique parish, an inclusive parish, where everyone had a place,” said Fr. Bob. “People who felt they did not belong in another parish came to Saint Anselm and could get involved.
In Recent Years
On March 16, 2005, the parish bid farewell to Fr. Bob and soon thereafter welcomed Fr. Gene Vavrick as our new pastor. Choosing a successor for Fr. Bob was a decision that was not taken lightly by the Bishop, as it was important to parishioners to maintain the special sense of community at Saint Anselm.
This kind of responsibility is not lost on Fr. Gene. “The leadership of the previous pastors set a tone characterized by empowering all of the members of the parish,” he said. “With Vatican Council II, the Church recognized that all of the baptized comprise the Church, not just the ordained, and ministry is a function of all of the baptized. I think Fr. Miele and Fr. Bob really understood that and tried to stress that throughout the years. My goal is to continue that effort.”
Today, as we celebrate our 40th anniversary, our parish serves the needs of more than 2,000 registered families. We are thankful that our parish continues to grow and thrive, and for the many opportunities we’ve had to touch the lives of others in our 40 years. It is the great people of this parish, and the great leadership that we’ve been fortunate to have, that allow us to continue our mission of living the Gospel.