DELBARTON SCHOOL HISTORY
(BY FR. BENET CAFFREY)
The Morristown area, home of Delbarton, is an area rich in history. During the notorious winter of 1779 - 1780, the Continental Army made its winter quarters in Jockey Hollow, now part of the Morristown National Historical Park, adjacent to what is now the St. Mary’s Abbey/Delbarton campus. Washington’s Headquarters is nearby in Morristown itself.
In the late 19th century Luther Kountze, (pronounced koontz) the son of German immigrants, went not west but east from Denver, and established Kountze Brothers, a Wall Street banking firm. In 1875 he married Annie Ward Parsons, a descendant of two patrician New York families, the Barclays and the Delanceys. The family prospered both economically and socially and in the 1880s Luther Kountze followed many other prominent New York families in establishing estates in northern New Jersey. He began to amass the four thousand acres which ultimately included what are now St. Mary’s Abbey/Delbarton, Morristown National Historical Park and Lewis Morris County Park. In the northeast corner of his holdings he completed in 1883 a large stone mansion as a summer retreat and established a working farm with a number of outbuildings such as a carriage house and stables, barns, creamery (still used as a residence) and “chickenry.”
Luther Kountze had four children: Barclay Ward, William Delancey, Helen Livingston and Annie Ward. Borrowing a syllable from each of the first three children’s’ names the estate was named del bar ton.
Following the death of Luther Kountze in 1918 the family made several attempts to sell the estate. In 1925 the monks of Saint Mary’s Abbey, then in the center of the City of Newark, seeking a house of studies for young members of the community, purchased approximately four hundred acres of Delbarton, including the mansion and farm. In the fall of 1927 the first group of pioneering professors and theological students took up permanent residence and began monastic and academic life at Delbarton.
Soon the idea of establishing a secondary school began to germinate in this education oriented Benedictine community which already conducted St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark. Led by Abbot Patrick M. O’Brien and pioneering first Headmaster, Father Augustine Wirth, Delbarton School opened as school for resident students in 1939 with sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Eight boys were graduated from the eighth grade the following spring of 1940.
Under the energetic leadership of Father Stephen Findlay who succeeded as Headmaster in 1942, grades were added until in 1948 the first upper school commencement of twelve young men took place. Numbers increased but the School remained predominantly residential. Father Stephen led the construction of the St. Joseph Gymnasium following the destruction in the disastrous fire of 1947of the Kountze carriage house which had served as gymnasium and dormitory for some 26 boys. At this juncture the School appropriately chose as its motto, Succisa Virescit, cut down it grows again, borrowed from the often destroyed Abbey of Monte Cassino in Italy. The opening of Trinity Hall in 1959 was another transformative moment as the enrollment rose to over 300, the majority now day students, a harbinger of the School’s future. Father Stephen retired in 1967 after 25 years as Headmaster but continued as Director of Development. In 1971 the Schmeil-O’Brien Hall dormitory was dedicated but the tide had been strongly set in favor of day students.
Delbarton’s fourth headmaster, Father Gerard Lair (1975-1980), initiated major changes. The traditional system of discipline, with demerits and detention, was scrapped in favor of a culture of conversation/conversion designed to bring about positive changes in boys. The academic prestige of the School grew, and, most significantly, in 1978 the Board of Trustees made the decision to terminate the residential program.
Campus facilities have continued to expand with dedications of the Lynch Athletic Center in 1983, the Findlay Science Pavilion in 1995, and the Fine Arts Center in 2007. The student body continued to grow to the current level of some 540 students. Since its inception Delbarton has graduated over 4,000 men, many of whom have distinguished themselves in service to nation, church and community.
In March 2006, the monastic community elected former Headmaster Father Giles Hayes as Abbot of St. Mary’s Abbey and President of Delbarton School, and in the fall of 2007, Delbarton welcomed Brother Paul Diveny as its eleventh Headmaster. In March 2014, Abbot Giles was succeeded by Father Richard Cronin as Abbot of St. Mary’s Abbey and President of Delbarton School.
After a successful eleven year tenure as Headmaster, in which Delbarton was strengthened financially, in its facilities, and in the vibrancy of its Benedictine and Catholic school culture and values, Brother Paul retired in June 2018. Father Michael Tidd was appointed as Delbarton’s twelfth Headmaster by Abbot Richard in November 2018, assuming office in July 2018.