An account of Burgenlaenders’ migration to New Jersey

Frank Paukowits, a parishioner at Holy Trinity Church in Passaic, NJ, shared this account of the migration of immigrants from the Burgenland region of Austria to the Clifton-Passaic area of Northern New Jersey in the years around 1900. Marge Hanzl Ruppert passed this along — we have several cousins in Austria and in the U.S. who hailed from Burgenland. My mother attended Holy Trinity Grammar School in Passaic, class of 1937, and my parents were married in the Church of Holy Trinity in 1943. — Joseph Lasica

Burgenlaenders started migrating to the Clifton-Passaic area in New Jersey around the turn of the century. Most were from southern Burgenland and the Güssing area. Many of the immigrants worked in the wool and textile mills and small factories that were concentrated in the area.

Religion was a very important aspect in their lives. When they arrived in America, most continued to worship and attend services in their new homeland. The church became a place where the newly arrived Burgenlaenders could gather with friends and family to continue the religious traditions of the “Heimatland.” It was not uncommon then to establish national churches to
accommodate the new immigrant population groups. On June 17, 1900 (Holy Trinity Sunday), several men from Passaic met with the Bishop of Newark to request that a national church be built for the German-speaking people in the area, and the request was granted. Appropriately, the name chosen for the new parish was Holy Trinity.

A temporary church was used for religious services until a permanent church could be built. In the spring of 1903 the cornerstone for the church was laid, and the church opened up for services in September of that year. Its first pastor was Fr. Joseph Hasel from Newark, and there were about 400 parishioners.

Shortly thereafter in 1906 a school was established in temporary quarters in the back of a barbershop near the church. It was very popular and attendance grew rapidly. To accommodate all the students, additional land was purchased adjacent to the church where a permanent school building was constructed.

Having a church where masses were said in their native tongue made the transition to their new homeland that much easier for the Burgenlaenders. Many of the Burgenlaenders who came to this area as young adults ended up being married at the church, baptizing their children there, and celebrating the most important events of their lives in that church.

While I lived in New York, I had many relatives who lived in Clifton and Passaic. As a result, I attended many religious functions at Holy Trinity Church, and even served as an altar boy at my cousin’s wedding there more than 50 years ago. Also, since my mom lived in Clifton before getting married, my parents’ wedding service was held at that church. Thus, my bond to the church is extra special.

The church is in excellent physical condition. It was renovated for its centennial celebration in the year 2000. The church basement is still used for the annual Weinfest that is held in early November. Walt Groeller from Whitehall, Pa., has been entertaining crowds at this function for the last 30 years. It’s a tradition that people are not willing to give up.

More than 100 years have past since those first Burgenland immigrants attended services at Holy Trinity Church. While the neighborhood has changed and most of the old time Burgenlaenders have moved from the area, many still travel to the Church for Sunday services. The 10:00 AM mass is still said in German. The Church’s pastor, Fr. Antonio Rodriguez, who is Spanish, speaks fluent German and is supportive of the needs of the old parishioners. The Burgenlaenders show their appreciation with continuing support of the church, in the tradition of the early Burgenlaenders who worshipped there many years ago.