Martin and Susanna Bergen came to America fleeing the Great Irish Famine around 1850. He was twenty-two, she was eighteen. Whether they met and married here or in their home country is unknown. They settled in Newark on a farm on Bloomfield Avenue and had their first child, Nora, in 1857.
|The Hoagland-Wyckoff-Bergen-McHugh House photographed in 2009|
In the Irish-Catholic tradition, more children followed - including daughters Sarah and Mary. They lived for decades in Newark then moved to Hillsborough Township before 1900. They bought the house and farm off South Branch Road in Flagtown that in previous generations belonged to the Hoagland and Wyckoff families. By 1910, with Martin and Susannah both deceased, Nora, widowed sister Mary, and sister Sarah inherited the house where they lived with Mary's two teenaged sons.
|12 July 1920 Courier News|
Religious life in Hillsborough's first two centuries was dominated by the Dutch Reformed denomination and its many area churches. Roman Catholics, of which there were few, traveled to Somerville, Raritan, or further to worship. Things began changing between 1910 and 1920 as eastern and southern European immigrants ventured out of the Eastern cities to New Jersey's suburbs and rural villages. Around 1916, Nora Bergen began arranging for a priest from Immaculate Conception Church in Somerville to conduct a service for area residents in the family home.
|Early View of Mary, Mother of God Church, Flagtown|
Over the next fifteen years, with the help of Immaculate Conception's Reverend Richard T. Ryan, Miss Bergen grew the congregation far beyond the capacity of the house, and it became obvious that they would need to build a church. She donated part of her property closest to the road, and on March 17, 1931, ground was broken for the Mission Church of St. Martin's. It was to be of red brick and to have a capacity of 450. Construction began the next month on a scaled-down plan - still called St. Martin's - with a capacity of about 300 at a cost of $20,000.
On Sunday, July 12, 1931, one thousand people - including various councils of the Knights of Columbus and twenty assorted clergymen - witnessed the dedication ceremonies of the newly-renamed Catholic Church of Mary, the Mother of God. Monsignor James T. Mckean of Bernardsville delivered the sermon from the front steps of the church. Until 1948 Mary, Mother of God was not its own parish, but rather a mission church directed by the parish of Immaculate Conception.
|Mary. Mother of God Church, Flagtown, 2012|
In 1981 the congregation of Mary, Mother of God constructed a new church on a portion of a 90-acre tract they purchased on South Triangle Road. At that time there were more than 1,000 families in the parish. By the time the church undertook an expansion project in 2009, that number had grown to 3,200.
Nora Bergen passed away on December 29, 1940, at the age of 85, in the home where she had lived for more than 40 years. She never married and outlived all of her family save her two nephews - but what a legacy! We might be tempted to call her the Mother of Mary, Mother of God!