In 1847, a lot of land was purchased by Father Louis Senez, (pastor of St. Vincent Parish in Madison) for $400 to build the first Catholic Church in Morristown. The building of the church was then left to Father Bernard McQuaid. The original wooden church structure stood on the site of the present-day rectory. By August 15, 1848, the modest church was roofed and Father McQuaid gave the church the title of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mass was said for the first time in the church on Christmas Day, 1848. The new church was dedicated on March 5, 1849.
Recognizing the importance of Christian education, in 1850, Father McQuaid opened a Catholic school in the basement of the small church. During it’s early years, the school was staffed by various lay teachers, but in 1875 Father Sheeran petitioned Mother Xavier of the Sisters of Charity for teachers for the school. Arrangements were made in September, 1875 to send two of the sisters from the Mother House each day.
With the continuing influx of Irish immigrants to the “Little Dublin" area, the fledgling parish quickly outgrew its original church building. The cornerstone for a new church was laid on June 30, 1872, and the new church was blessed on Ascension Thursday, May 22, 1873. The Gothic Revival style Church was built at a cost of $40,000 from brick made in the vicinity, trimmed with Ohio sandstone.
On March 1, 1875, Rev. James Sheeran purchased 15 acres of land to serve as a new burial place for Assumption parishioners. Father Sherran named the cemetery “Holy Rood" which is an old English term meaning “Holy Cross." Today there are more than 11,000 people buried at the cemetery which is on Whippany Road in Morris Township.
Throughout the ensuing years, the new church building underwent several renovations most notably for the parish Centennial in 1948 and again for the Centennial of the church building in 1972. During the 1972 renovation, the altar railing was dismantled, the altars of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph were removed, and the center marble altar was screened from view. Sections of Mary and Joseph’s altar were used to create a new marble “table" altar which was first used on September 17, 1972. A further renovation in 1978 completed changes stemming from the second Vatican Council, by removing the old main altar from behind the “screen" (complying with liturgical recommendations for one single altar) and the consecrated section was buried in Holy Rood Cemetery.
Much of the church structure was destroyed by a devastating fire which took place on April 10, 1985. Thanks to the careful work of Morristown’s firefighters and Assumption’s clergy, liturgical vessels, gold crucifix and candlesticks (1848) saint statues (1948), and Stations of the Cross (1892) were removed before they could be destroyed by water or fire damage. Although the roof fell in, pews were damaged, and the organ was ruined by water, the marble altar and stained glass windows (1882) all survived with the exception of the Rose window over the loft which was later restored. During the rebuilding of the church, weekend Masses were celebrated in the school gym until Christmas Eve of 1987, when Midnight Mass was celebrated on an unfinished floor in the church, with the congregation seated in folding chairs. The newly-restored church was re-dedicated by Bishop Rodimer on Feb. 29, 1988.
In 2007 Assumption Church underwent a major renovation, reducing the size of the sanctuary area to allow for more seating and moving the baptismal font to a central location. The renovation ensured that all elements of the church remained in keeping with the church’s Gothic tradition, with emphasis on utilizing and accentuating as many details and appointments original to the church as possible.
When Assumption Parish was founded as a small fledgling worshipping community of Irish Immigrants in 1848, Father McQuaid estimated the parishioners to number “about one hundred and twenty souls, including babes in arms! Today, the vibrant parish has 2,500 households registered as parishioners.
The one-room school, which educated just 25 students in 1850, expanded through various buildings on the church property until finally residing on neighboring Macculloch Avenue. Over 500 children are now enrolled in Assumption School under the guidance of the Sisters of Charity and over 750 children are enrolled in the Parish’s Religious Education Program.
Today, the Assumption Parish Community is a dynamic, generous, and spirit-filled worshipping community, dedicated to helping the seniors, homebound, and all those who need our financial and material support. With over 35 active ministries, there are hundreds of Assumption parishioners who go into the community, bringing the Good News of the Gospel to help those in need. Our continued growth and evolution requires the combined efforts of all parishioners, ministry leaders, and clergy.