Wildcat Ridge Hawkwatch photo: Richard Keller

St. Patick's, Hibernia

The Beacon, September 3, 1981
Bishop Frank J. Rodimer

  There is an exit sign on Route 80, central Morris County, that reads "Hibernia."  It's as big as life. People heading into and out of New York see it. most, we can be sure, pass it by without much thought. Some may recognize the name as the Latin word for Ireland. They might wonder how big the place is and how it got it's name, but very few know it's history.

  HIBERNIA is a part of Rockaway Township. A 19th century map shows that it had two school districts and was surrounded by places which have kept their names up to the present: Splitrock, Meriden, Lionsville, Beach Glen, White Meadow, Denmark and Greenville (Green Pond). What put Hibernia on the map were the iron mines which were worked as far back as the mid 18th century. As a boy I spent part of my summers at my grandmothers home in Hibernia, and I can remember people digging up some of the old iron pieces that we were told were manufactured back in the Revolutionary days.  One of the kids in our group was Cannonball because of an enviable discovery he made in a lot next to his home.
  The soft ore in that area was readily available at the foot of the mountain and, even later, down from the top.  A railroad transported the ore to Rockaway where there was a foundry alongside the Morris Canal.
  Two communities, upper and lower, were formed but there was a mixture of people in bothplaces: English, Scots-Irish and Germans, and the Irish in greater numbers at the time of the Potato Famine in 1845.  My own great-grandparents came from County Fermanagh in 1853 or thereabouts.  Later, Slovaks came in significant numbers to take their place alongside the others in the mines.
  Not all the Irish came to dig, to be sure.  The Heslins opened a hotel and Tom Delaney and Patty Caples bottled spirits.  My own great-grandmother, going in for tamer pursuits, had a little candy  store of her own.

  "THE NAME  'Hibernia' seems to pre-date the Irish immigration." Father Kupke says, "since the 'Great Hibernia Tract' is mentioned in deeds as early as the 1840's.
  The 1880 census showed that Upper  and Lower Hibernia had a combined population of 1,700.  Rockaway Village at the time counted only 1,000 and the population of the entire county was 51,000.  Hibernia was the fourth largest municipality in the county.
 The records show that the Lower Hibernia School District built a new school in 1880 for $5,000, and the Upper Hibernia school was so large that it required an assistant teacher.
  The Catholic church of  St. Patrick and the parish cemetery were in Upper Hibernia.  The story of how the church got there is incredible.  In 1865, after purchasing a lot less than an acrea in size from a George Cobb and the heirs of Thomas Willis for five cents. Bishop Bayley sold a section of it to the Upper Hibernia School District No.4.  Bishop Bayley then instructed Father Castel of Boonton to open a missiion at Hibernia and to use the remaining property for a church building.


THIS INSTRUCTION of Bishop Bayley fit in with Father Castel's plan since he had just built a new stone church in Boonton.  He moved the original frame church in 1848 over the hill to Hibernia.  Even today that would be an extra-ordinary accomplishment.  The building was refashioned and I have a sketch of it that was hand-drawn by my great-aunt and kept in my great-grandparents Bible.

   Bishop Bayley bought another tract, also less than an acrea, near but not touching on the church lot, in 1869 from the New Jersey Iron Mining Company for $1.  This is St. Patrick's Cemetery lot.
  Today you can just about make out the foundation of the church building, and although

 St. Patrick's Cemetery is still to be seen, it is a forlorn spot.  It was still beautiful when I visited it with  my grandmother when I was a boy.  My great-grand- parents and some of their children are buried there as are relatives of many others who are still alive today.  Vandels, however, have desecrated the place, knocking over every headstone and even opening some of the graves.

   Still there is a reason to rejoice this year.  This is the centennial of the establishment of St. Patrick's Parish in Hibernia.  In 1881 Sishop Wigger, Bishop of Newark, just a few months after Trenton was split off from Newark and made a diocese of it's own, elevated St. Patrick's from the status of a mission of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to a parish, but under the same pastor, Father Alphonse Shaken.

Strangely enough, 'no' pastor ever lived in the Hibernia parish even though it had the status of a parish for 47 years.  Bishop Thomas Walsh, shortly after becoming Bishop of Newark in 1928, suppressed the parish.  St. Patrick's church building had already burned down in 1910 and was never rebuilt.  My mother who was 14 at the time of the fire often recalled the event.  It was a Sunday afternoon when the day's services were over.  The last ones to leave neglected to tend the potbellied stove properly before they went home.  The sadness that came over the town that evening was as great as if a patiarch had been killed in the mine as had happened to so many of their family members.

FATHER SOTIS of Rockaway continued to celebrate Mass in Heslin's Hotel in Hibernia until he died in 1913.  Father Sotis' successors however, did not continue the Mass in Hibernia except on rare occasions.
  The mines closed in 1913.  Cave-ins made the mine area dangerous and Upper Hibernia that had once flourished with a church and school, offices and hotel, rows of company-owned houses, faded into history.  The railroad that carried ore to Rockaway ceased to operate.
  Just a few homes survive on top of the mountain and two of the three access roads are gone, including the one to Meriden which probably was the route used to bring St. Patrick's church building up from Boonton.  The other one to Lower Hibernia is impassable and is closed off.
  People in the valley, however, have retained thier own little community and even today there are those who can make the past come to life.  That includes one man in his 90's whom everyone calls "Uncle."
  The General Store where people used to run up monthly charges long before credit cards were invented has burned down.  However, the handsome old Methodist Church along the Hibernia Road that used to hold some of the best Strawberry Festivals in Northern New Jersey, still stands nobly, and is now a well kept township library.

MANY OF THE  old houses still stand, too. A faithful remnant live in them, and the brook still flows through the valley.  Underneath the ground that yeilded ore at the cost of many lives, who kinows what treasure lie - a Delaney and Caples bottle or an old cannonball that was never meant to go off to war.
  A sign on a highway says next to nothing.  The story of people living, believing and not dying until they passed along their faith is the only story worth telling at all.

Photo's and article courtesy of Fr. Richard Tartaglia, St. Mary's RC Denville New Jersey

     * Original article from The Bacon September 1981 retyped for clarity and photo content added.