Holy Family: The Heart of Florham Park for Four Generations

Credits: Dawn Paskalides
Back Row, from left to right: Principal Dawn Paskalides and Fr. Thomas Rekiel Front Row, from left to right: Paco Salas, Caroline Coraggio, Ewan Alvarez, Jake Label Credits: Dawn Paskalides

FLORHAM PARK, NJ- As we turned down another winding neighborhood road on our trek to the exact geographic center of Florham Park, Mary Humpsey pointed out the passenger’s side window to the street sign which read Lloyd Avenue, the site of our destination.

The longtime Florham Park resident explained that a 3.6-acre land plot was donated by the street’s namesake, Lloyd Smith, to Holy Family Parish in 1951. The construction of the church now known as “the heart of Florham Park” began that fall, commencing a legacy sustained to this day by four generations of families.

The eighty families who comprised the inaugural congregation attended their first mass in celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family on Jan. 7, 1951, at the Florham Park Roller Rink on Ridgedale Avenue. Humpsey explained that the “holy rollers”—as the early church members were dubbed—would load a pick-up truck with folding chairs borrowed from St. Vincent’s Cemetery each week and drive them over to the roller rink for Sunday mass led by Father O’Connell. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving Day of 1952 that the church was dedicated by Archbishop Thomas Boland at its current home at 1 Lloyd Avenue.

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“It’s humble. Isn’t it humble?” Humpsey described the interior of the 64-year-old parish with as much reverence and conviction as when announcing that the school history teacher’s name sounded “quintessential.” The simple informality of the black and white checkered floor tiles contrasted with the warmth of the church’s dark wooden pews incited an emotion similar to the comfort of walking into my family’s living room.

“My husband and I got married here, and two of my daughters got married here,” continued Humpsey with a hint of nostalgia. She indicated an American flag in the front corner of the high-ceilinged room and explained that it was placed there in memory of a deacon’s son-in-law who died on 9/11.

Though she just retired after 50 years of teaching, Humpsey calls herself the “permanent substitute teacher” for Holy Family School, which opened in 1954 with 173 students. Gesturing to the freshly-painted bright yellow doors, she explained that they reflect the vision of the school’s new principal with the utmost precision. “She is energy,” Humpsey said of Principal Dawn Paskalides, explaining that, along with spearheading a few of the building’s much-needed renovations, Paskilades provided each student with a chrome book and implemented a STEM program for Kindergarten through eighth grade.

Humpsey glided through the building with an ease that proved her earlier-stated notion of the Holy Family’s position as a “home base” for her family. Her family has attended church at Holy Family for the past 50 years, and all four of her children went through Holy Family School. Humpsey’s first class that she taught as a 22-year-old college graduate was Holy Family’s seventh grade class of 40 students—all girls, 10 of whom were named Mary.

“She used to read a portion of Little Women to us every day,” said Mary Smith, one of Humpsey’s first students and Holy Family School’s current librarian and Pre-K 4 religion teacher. Smith, whose grandson is now enrolled at the school, explained that those moments, listening to Humpsey read, were some of the most memorable of sixth grade.

Humpsey’s family is just one of about 1600 who attend Holy Family Church today. Her story presents only a small time capsule of the four generations of history the parish has created. Holy Family looks forward to a future of continual service to the residents of Florham Park.

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