First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

St. Stephen’s in Warwick a Mix Of Old, New, Rural, Suburban
Chris Sheridan
Cardinal Dolan greets the congregation at St. Stephen’s the First Martyr Church, Warwick. The cardinal visited Nov. 1 to celebrate the parish’s 150th anniversary.

St. Stephen’s parish in Warwick has observed a trifecta of anniversaries during 2015, the 150th anniversary of the founding of the parish, the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the parish school and the 25th anniversary of moving into its present church building.

So there was plenty to celebrate when Cardinal Dolan visited the striking modernist brick church that nestles almost organically among the trees of still rural Orange County on Nov. 1. The sanctuary was packed for the Mass and reception that followed at the parish school gym.

“People came out and they were very, very excited by his visit and he spent a good deal of time afterward with them in a reception at the school gym,” noted Father Jack Arlotta, St. Stephen’s pastor. “It was a special anniversary.”

The first Mass in Warwick was celebrated on Christmas Day 1865 by Father Benjamin O’Callaghan. The present church, which has won several architectural awards for its design and beauty, was constructed in 1990 to replace the little chapel on South Street that had served the congregation for 88 years. The new building stands not far away on Sanfordville Road. The community had outgrown the old church, which had a capacity about 300.

“The town really grew in the ’80s, and they realized that the church that had existed on South Street, they were going to outgrow it very soon,” explained Father Arlotta. “So (then-pastor) Msgr. Bernie Corrigan put into motion the plan for building a larger church.” Msgr. Corrigan served the parish from 1981 to 1997 and lived in residence there until his death in 2011. The parish had extensive property where the school was built in 1965, so the new church was built on land the church already owned.

Much of the influx of newcomers who came into the area in the 1980s consisted of New York City firefighters and police officers, some retired and some still active, and their families. By the time the congregation moved into its new digs, it had swollen to 2,000 families. Today, Father Arlotta says the congregation has grown to 3,500 families. The newcomers, and Father Arlotta says that anyone who can’t trace his ancestry in the still-thriving farming area back to the 19th century is considered a newcomer, have blended easily with the “old-timers.”

“It is a very attractive place to live,” noted Father Arlotta, himself a newcomer. He was named St. Stephen’s pastor last year.

“You have your old-timers, people who lived here when it was very much a rural farming community—and there still are large tracks of land that grow corn and numerous apple orchards, which attract people during the summer and the fall—and the people that came up because it was a getaway from the city. There was a tremendous boom in that period all over Orange County.”

Although Father Arlotta said growth slowed during the 1990s and early 2000s, things have picked up again in the area, bringing in more new arrivals.

“There are still young families coming in,” he said. “Our religious ed program is sizable. We have close to 800 children.” Lydia van Duynhoven is the coordinator of the religious education program. The school, St. Stephen and St. Edward School, has an enrollment of about 175, pre-K through 8. Bethany Negersmith is the principal.

The parish has plenty of activities for kids. There is CYO basketball, of course, and an active youth ministry. For adults there is a men’s group that meets once a month, a women’s sodality group, a Knights of Columbus Council, 4952, and Columbiettes as well as an active parish council. The parish also has both an adult and a youth choir.

The parish is part of the Warwick Ecumenical Council and contributes to a food pantry run out of the local Methodist church. St. Stephan’s takes charge of the council’s emergency fund, which distributes money based on need for utilities or rent or other necessary expenses.

“There’s a lot going on,” Father Arlotta said. “We have a good complement of Eucharistic ministers and lectors. It’s a very active parish all across the board age-wise.”

Masses are offered at 5 p.m. Saturdays, and 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m. 10:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Sundays. Weekday Masses are at 7 and 9 a.m. Monday and Tuesday; 9 a.m., Wednesday; 9 a.m., Thursday; 7 and 9 a.m., Friday; and 9 a.m., Saturday. There is also a Holy Hour every Friday evening from 7:30 to 8:30, and all-night Adoration the first Friday of every month from 7:30 p.m. until 8 the next morning.

Father Arlotta said: “The parish is flourishing right now. It’s one of the largest parishes in Orange County. It’s a very stable community. So I just see it continuing on and doing quite well in the years ahead,”.

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