St. Lawrence Church had a very humble beginning back in 1940. In that year there were only 19 families who attended Mass in Mrs. Water Serbe's parlor. Her frame house was situated across the road from the first St. Lawrence Church. That old church would soon become Chester Borough's Town Hall and the Quonset, the town's library.
Great strides were made since that humble beginning. In 1950, during the pastorate of Father Lawrence Callaghan of Mendham, a two-acre plot was purchased in Chester and a white cinder-block church seating 220 people was built on that land. (Borough Hall now) There were approximately 100 families then, including the parishioners of Schooley's Mountain.
In June of 1955, Father Nichols P. Negola was appointed administrator of St. Lawrence and Our Lady of the Mountain missions. His assignment by Bishop McNulty comprised 150 square miles, with houses few and far between.
For the first two years, Father Negola lived in an attic room at St. Joseph's Rectory in Mendham. It was his study, bedroom and file-room. Each day he traveled five miles to say Mass in the Chester Church and in the first year he gained 30 converts to the church, all taught in their homes. On Sundays, he said three Masses - two in Chester and one at Schooley's Mountain, 5 miles away.
One year after Father Negola's arrival in the area, a 12 acre site for a new church was purchased for $15,000.00 from Mrs. Lydia Rochelle (next to Serbe's home). The land included a 9-room house in dilapidated condition. In 1957 the house was remodeled for a rectory. The parishioners happy to have their priest living in Chester, gave him a shower. They donated all the furniture and many household articles he needed.
In June of the same year, St. Lawrence Mission was made a parish and Father Negola was appointed its pastor by Bishop McNulty. More and more Catholics moved into the area, so that a bigger church and hall became a necessity. In 1960, the congregation had tripled to 300 families.
Bishop McNulty approved the plans for the new yellow-brick church on the rectory property and in 1962, the Di Maio Brothers of Hackettstown were awarded the contract. The contract price was $170,000.00 and the architect was Robert Clothier of Newton.
Chester Historical Society PO Box 376 ~ Chester, NJ07930