St. Thomas Syro Malabar Catholic Church in Somerset was originated as a mission organized by 15 families in 2000. Fr. Philip Vadakkekkara and Fr. Thomas Perunilam were the founding priests of this mission. Within few years, this small mission progressed to become the first parish in New Jersey. The number of families steadily grew to about 130.
From the humble beginnings in year 2000, with a monthly mass in at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Miltown, the community moved to a rental church in East Millstone in Jan 2004 and started weekly mass. These weekly gatherings built up the true community spirit. People started talking about owning a church permanently and get rid of all inconveniences came with the rental facility. In 2006, the small parish community came together and pooled their resources and purchased the current Church and Rectory Buildings. This was the fulfillment of a long-cherished dream and the culmination of coordinated efforts within the community. This was the answer to the prayers of our families for a place to celebrate our liturgy and to nurture the traditions that they value. The parish was officially inaugurated in December, 2006. Fr. Thomas Kadukappilly became the first Vicar of the new Parish.
The main strength of this parish is the unity and cooperation of its members for all parish endeavors. The Pledge Drive for Church Building Fund is the perfect example of this support. About 50 families were able to take a 5-year financial commitment to contribute $500,000 for support of the Church building mortgage. When new families join the community, they also join this pledge drive and continue this support chain. For many families, supporting the church is part of their regular tithing. In addition to this, the parish took on a major fundraising effort in 2006-07. Parish Council organized a Car Raffle with a drawing held in February 2007. This raised about $50,000 and was used to pay towards the church mortgage.
During special events such as Christmas, Easter and Feast of St. Thomas, church is filled beyond its capacity. The entire parish family celebrates solemn mass and shares the joy of the occasion. Special activities from youth and Children make these events lively. The parish also hosts many visitors during these events.
Preaching the word of God and assisting the young parishioners to practice their faith is the goal of CCD programs in the Church. Today, there are about 135 students in 12 different grades in the CCD classes. Every year, CCD prepares candidates for first Communion and Confirmation and makes receiving these sacraments a memorable event for them.
The church is not only the place of worship for the families. It also nurtures the cultural heritage of Kerala through the Syro-Malabar Academy. With his past experience in the cultural activities of Pala Diocese, Fr. Thomas saw huge potential within the community for such a mission. Today, Syro-Malabar Academy organizes classes in a range of subjects including, Malayalam lessons, Classical dance, Cinematic Dance, Yoga etc. More than 50 students attended various classes in Academic year 2007.
Parish celebrated its first Family Night in February 2007. This was a venue for all families to come together and celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of the Parish and share an evening with fellow parishioners. The evening was filled with cultural events from the parishioners. Since then, the annual family night became a major parish celebration.
The Parish organizes outdoor activities every year. The parish organizes an annual pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. The Syro-Malabar Sports Club organizes Soccer time for adults and children during summer. The parish picnic is one of the mostly attended outdoor events. People come out and enjoy a great day in a park by actively taking part in games, competitions and recreational activities. These outdoor events help to further strengthen the fellowship among parish families.
The parish consists of seven regional wards. These wards bring together the people living in nearby areas . Ward meetings are held bi-monthly. During these meetings, people get a chance to share their experiences in their faith journey and ask any questions to the Vicar. It also generates discussions to come up with creative ideas and suggestions that benefit the functioning of the church. These wards also send their representatives to the parish council.
There are many pious organizations functioning in the Parish. Marian Mothers provide a forum for the mothers to share their views and experience and help each other in the most important role of motherhood. Their support network is a key factor in the success of the parish. Vincent De Paul Society is the charitable arm of the parish. Cherupushpa Mission League inspires children in their faith formation and promotes vocation. Alter Service Group assists the priest in the liturgy and takes part in Eucharistic celebration. The Prayer Group gathers at the church and prays for the entire parish. Prayer is the power of this parish. Church Choir joins heavenly angels and makes the liturgy lively. Youth Group brings the youngsters together and conducts programs specifically tailored to grow them in Christ. Members of the youth group actively participates in CCD and other church activities.
The parish stands out among similar Syro-Malabar parishes in the diocese for the Christian Love among the parish families. Truly speaking, this parish is a replica of the 1st century Apostolic Christians. The parish families consider each other as members of their extended family. Let us pray that this sense of love, fellowship and sharing continue in our parish as we grow together and go further in our journey of faith…