Saint Lawrence Church History:
Until the early 1600ís, The area we know now as Laurence Harbor was inhabited by Native Americans of the Lenni Lenape tribe, who came down from their northern settlements each summer to be near the water. When European colonization began, the region was first controlled by the Dutch. In 1664, the English gained control.
In 1684, the region became incorporated as part of South Amboy Township (which at that time also included the land of modern day Sayreville, Old Bridge and Monroe Townships). During the 18th Century, the area of Laurence Harbor was the private estate of the Provost family. Major General Provost, who had been an officer in the British Army, built a house on the bluff. His son, James Provost, had a disagreement with his father, and so the land and holdings were willed to James' only sister, who was married to Colonel John Travers (tax assessment records list Col. Travers as the owner of the estate in the 1830s). The Travers family were Episcopalians, and funded the building of Trinity Episcopal Church on Main Street in Matawan in 1850. In 1869, forty-two square miles of the Township broke off to become Madison Township. In 1975, residents of Madison Township voted to rename itself Old Bridge Township.
The Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge Township owes its name to land developer Laurence Lamb. At the turn of the 20th century, Lamb bought property in the area and built a 400-acre shorefront golf and country club. The country club was luxurious, with eighteen rooms and sixteen fireplaces. For years, celebrities such as Clark Gable, bandleader Guy Lombardo, the future King Edward VIII of England, and members of the Vanderbilt family visited to feast on the famous Chingarora Oysters that grew in the bay. In 1928, the golf course was sold to the developers, Morrisey and Walker, who parceled the land into 25x100 lots, the perfect size for summertime bungalows! A boardwalk, casino, band shell, concession stands and a merry-go-round provided entertainment every summer. Sadly, much of the waterfront entertainment site was destroyed by hurricanes in 1953, 1954, and 1960.
As early as 1923, priests from St. Mary parish in South Amboy were attending to the spiritual needs of Catholics in Laurence Harbor. In October 1926, Bishop Thomas Walsh of Trenton established St. Lawrence as a mission church of St. Maryís. The early residents set up chairs and attended Mass in the outdoor casino where dances were held on Saturday night. When the weather was bad, Masses were held inside local stores.
The Great Depression of the 1930s caused many families to lose their primary homes and move into their smaller summer bungalows year-round. With a year-round population beginning to take root in Laurence Harbor, Diocese of Trenton Bishop William Griffin became aware of the need for a parish, and not just a mission church.
Ground was broken for the church at the corner or Hilltop Avenue and Laurence Parkway on May 26, 1941. Construction was under the direction of the Pastor of St. Mary Church in South Amboy, Msgr. Edward C. Griffin, and as such the design was modeled after St. Mary's. However, with the start of World War II and the scarcity of building materials that followed, the original plans for a steel "A-Frame" design could not be implemented. It was substituted for wooden trusses in an "X" design with exposed nuts and bolts. The first Mass in the new building took place on Christmas Eve, 1942, and was celebrated by Rev. Francis P. Gunner of St. Mary's in South Amboy.
On June 25, 1943, Father Thomas Carney was transferred from St. Anthony's parish in Trenton and became St. Lawrence's first resident pastor (Fr. Carney was also responsible for the construction of the rectory in 1947). The parish was canonically erected (created) by Bp. Griffin on November 13, 1943. Father Walter Slattery, Father Melvin Stanczewski, Father Vincent Nebus, Father Julius Licata, Father Raymond Attanasio, Father Joseph Szulwach, and (currently) Father Jonathan Toborowsky succeeded him in subsequent years.
Memories of St. Lawrence prior to World War II
1. Mrs. Alfred Coane was a summer resident of Cliffwood Beach. She states that St. Lawrence as such did not exist. There was no church or rectory. Mass was said at either local casinos or dance halls with the priests of St. Mary's Church at South Amboy coming down for Mass. Her recollections are of a thriving Christian community. Masses were well attended and bake sales and spaghetti dinners were among the activities of the community.
2. Mrs. Joseph Lang, in a written recollection, recalls that the first Mass offered in lawrence Harbor was on August 3, 1923. The Mass was said in a store. Later, Mass was offered in the local casino and continued to be offered there in the summer months for the next seventeen years. During the winter months, residents traveled by bus to St. Mary's in South Amboy to attend Mass. It was noted by several people that if bus service was unavailable, people walked to South Amboy for Mass.
3. Mr. Frank Zahn recalls attending Mass in one of the stores on the Laurence Harbor circle. He also recalls that in the wintertime the Marathon Bus Company offered discount fares to transport the parishioners to South Amboy. From 1938 to 1941, Mass was offered during the summer months on the second floor of the Laurence Harbor Fire House [Editor's Note: today, that building is the Laurence Harbor First Aid Squad].
4. Mrs. Margaret Fogleo, a resident of Cliffwood Beach and Laurence Harbor during this period of time, describes the community as active and spirited. It was the responsibility of the residents to set up the casinos and dance halls, after they closed, for Mass on Sunday. The same group also took down the chairs, etc., at the end of Mass. According to Mrs. Fogleo, sometime during the late 1930s, a decision was made to form a formal parish and erect a church and rectory. To help defray the cost of construction, a number of activities were held; among them were spaghetti dinners, carnivals, card parties, merchandise club.
5. Mrs. Modesta Beatty agreed with the above, adding that the general atmosphere was one of work and enjoyment.
Copyright Roman Catholic Church of Saint Lawrence