Our Parish History
The history of Our Lady of Fatima Roman Catholic Church began years before
the actual building became a reality. As early as 1941, public Mass was offered in
Vernon Township to accommodate the Catholics who came to vacation in the hills and at
the lakes in this area. Mass was offered every Sunday during the summer months on the
second floor of the Vernon Fire House. The following year, in 1942, the site of the Mass
was moved to the original Club House at Highland Lakes for the summer season.
On May 28, 1950, in response to the needs of the Catholics residing in the area of
Vernon and Highland Lakes, the pastor of St. Monica's Church in Sussex, Monsignor
Christian D. Haag, instituted a permanent Sunday Mass schedule. Priests vacationing in
the area, especially Monsignor Leroy McWilliams, graciously assisted by offering Mass.
During the summer months, Sunday Mass was offered at the Club House; during the
winter months, Mass was celebrated in a small, one room building that once served as an
activities office for the Highland Lakes Club and even as a beauty shop! Over the years,
this building has been enlarged and continues to serve the needs of the community at the
comer of Waconia and Highland Lakes Roads.
The beauty of Highland Lakes attracted an ever increasing number of people. The
summer and year-round populations were growing and, to serve the needs of the
Catholics of this community, plans were made to build a permanent church. The present
building was started in August of 1954 on land generously donated by Mr. John R.
Seckler. Mass was offered in it for the first time by Monsignor Haag on May 29, 1955.
The church was dedicated on June 26, 1955 by Most. Rev. James A. McNulty, Bishop of
Paterson. Until June of 1965, Our Lady of Fatima was a mission church served by the
priests of St. Monica's Parish in Sussex.
The Parish of Our Lady of Fatima was established on June 18, 1965 when the
then Bishop of Paterson, Most Rev. James J. Navagh, appointed Rev. Aloysius J. Busch
the first pastor of the newly formed parish. The parish encompassed almost two-thirds of
Vernon Township and had as its mission. St. Francis de Sales Chapel in McAfee. The
Parish was legally incorporated on October 5, 1966 and Mr. John R. Seckler and Mr.
Joseph Meister, Sr. were named as the first lay trustees. To serve the great influx of summer parishioners as well as to provide a place for parish events during the winter months, a parish hall became an obvious need.
Construction, delayed by the untimely death of Bishop Navagh began in April of 1967
and was completed by September of the same year. The sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima
Church was also renovated and the rectory adjacent to the church was built at the same
The value of a parish hall became apparent immediately when the Vernon Board
of Education began using it in September of 1967 for classrooms. Classes were held in
the hall until January of 1970. The parish hall continued to serve the needs of the
community in the following years as a polling place and a meeting room for the monthly
Pack Meeting of the Cub Scouts. The Vernon Township Women's Club met monthly in
the hall. Parish social events and meetings, high school Religious Education Programs, a
pre-school group, grade school dances and even a Dancing School constantly showed
how important this addition was for both our parish and our community.
The growth of Our Lady of Fatima parish was possible only with the involvement
of countless parishioners over the years. The main source of strength and inspiration has
always been the weekend Eucharistic Celebrations. The dedication of the choir members
and organists, those who served as lectors, altar servers, and Eucharistic Ministers added
to the peace and joy of our celebrations.
The Religious Education Program has always been a primary concern and
succeeded in strengthening the faith of our children because of the commitment of many
adults. The Rosary and Altar Society, which began to serve the parish in November 1965
has cared for the altar and raised funds for the needs of the sanctuary and the church hall.
Many others have donated their time and talents by being part of the annual Parish
Carnival, decorating the church for the feast days and caring for the church property.
The growth of Our Lady of Fatima was paralleled by the increase of parishioners
who attended St. Francis de Sales Mission Chapel. The original building was located in
McAfee at the intersection of Routes 94 and 517 adjacent to the Great Gorge Ski Area.
Anticipating future needs, Father Busch purchased twenty acres of land on Route 517
across from the Walnut Ridge School in October of 1966. In 1979 St. Francis de Sales
became a separate parish under the guidance of Rev. John V. Boland.
Our Lady of Fatima celebrated its 50-year anniversary as a parish in 2015.