St. Lawrence Parish History

Saint Lawrence the Martyr ChurchPrior to the Revolutionary War, there were Catholic settlers who immigrated into the Lehigh Valley.  They were basically farmers who concentrated their settlements in the areas of present day Bally and Revere.  Missionaries would come through these areas.  In 1741, Most Blessed Sacrament Parish was founded in Bally.  In 1744, St. John the Baptist, in Revere was founded.

In 1829, Bishop Conwell established St. Bernard Parish in Easton.  With the establishment of St. Bernard’s, there was a resident pastor.  The territory assigned to St. Bernard’s was all of present day Northampton and Lehigh Counties.

During the period from 1830 to the 1850’s, the areas along the Lehigh River were being developed.  Roads were being built, along with railroads and canals.  This attracted settlers.  The area known as “Catasauqua” was developed from a village first known as “Briery’s Port” and then the name was changed to “Craneville” or sometimes called “Iron Borough” until 1851 when it was incorporated as the “Borough of Catasauqua”.  In the dialect of the Lenni and Lenape Indians, the name Catasauqua can mean “dry ground” or “sinking waters”.  The word is derived from Cattasoque, which means “creek.”

By the year 1840, the number of Catholics began to collect in this area.  They were tended to by the priests from St. Bernard’s.  Mass would be celebrated in private homes or in buildings that had some space.  The number of priests in the diocese was very limited.

By 1850, Bartholomew Murtaugh and Edward Crampsey were working with the priests from St. Bernard’s in trying to get organized the Catholic population and getting together some data for showing the need of establishing a parish.

When Bishop Neumann became the Bishop in 1852, work was started toward the establishment of a parish.  By the spring of 1856, their work was completed and Bishop Neumann gave instructions for the purchase of land to be used as the site for the new parish.  This was not an easy task.

At the time, no one wanted to sell land in Catasauqua for the building of a Catholic Church.  On July 19, 1856, in the Borough of North Catasauqua, Northampton County, Paul Faust and his wife Amelia sold to Bishop Neumann one half acre of land for the first Catholic Church and burying ground for $450.

The first owner of the land was William Allen who had purchased the land from William Penn’s heirs.  Allen had purchased 1345 acres which became known as Allen Township.  The section that was sold to Bishop Neumann was purchased by the Faust Family.  In 1835, the property passed into the ownership of Paul Faust.

In 1856, Fr. Lawrence Brennan was ordained and was sent to St. Bernard’s as the Assistant Pastor.  Fr. Reardon as the Pastor who assigned Fr. Brennan to the task of getting the new parish organized and built.  Once the land had been purchased the parish of St. Lawrence was quasi official.  It needed a Church building before it was permitted to be declared an official canonical parish.  Fr. Reardon and Fr. Brennan went to Patrick McGlone in Easton.  Patrick McGlone was an architect and construction engineer.  The design of the new Church was now affected.  It was to be modeled after many of the country churches in Ireland and England.  It was to be a form of gothic with a bell tower and spire.  The church was to be 70 feet long and 35 feet wide.  It was to have a choir loft and church capacity of 300.  Construction began in June of 1857.  The church was built in red brick.  By Christmas, the church was complete so that Christmas Mass could be celebrated.  Christmas also brought the letter from Bishop Neumann officially declaring that with the beginning of January, 1858, the new Church would be designated as the parish church for the new Parish of St. Lawrence with Fr. Brennan as its first pastor and on May 16, 1858, Bishop Neumann would arrive in Catasauqua to formally bless and dedicate the new Church and Parish.  Bishop Neumann also instructed the new pastor that on May 16th he would administer to the parish the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The parish of St. Lawrence was assigned as its canonical territory all of Western Northampton County and all of Lehigh County that was not covered by the Immaculate Conception parish.  This territory included Freemansburg, the entire city of Bethlehem, Hellertown, all of the area to the Berks County line to the West, all the area North to Schuylkill and Carbon Counties, and on the South to the County lines of Bucks and Montgomery.

The Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper, carried the following article on May 29, 1858:

“On Sunday, May 16, 1858, the church recently erected to the glory of God under the invocation of St. Lawrence, the Martyr, at Catasauqua, by the exertions of the Rev. L.A. Brennan, newly appointed Pastor of Catasauqua and several neighboring missions, was solemnly blessed.  The cornerstone of the church was laid toward the end of June in 1857 and the church was opened in October but dedication was deferred until it would be completely finished.

“Catasauqua is a charming little town of 2500 inhabitants, a thrifty place, possessing a bank which paid specie throughout the entire time of panic.

“The new church is built of brick, 70 feet in length and well proportioned.  A well adorned altar, a sufficiently large sanctuary, good substantial pews and an organ gallery – all this speaks well for the pastor’s zeal and people’s liberality.

“The Church was dedicated by the Rt. Rev. John Neumann according to the form prescribed by the Ritual.  The first solemn act of religion performed in the church edifice was the conferring of the Sacrament of Confirmation to about 30 children and adults.  The Bishop before administering the sacrament spoke affectionately and forcibly to them on the dignity of Confirmation and the obligations it imposes.

“The Solemn Mass, then, was offered by the Pastor, Rev. Lawrence Brennan, and assisted by a Deacon and Subdeacon.  The Rev. Thomas Reardon of St. Bernard’s, Easton, assisted the Bishop.

“At the Solemn Blessing of the Church by Bishop Neumann the following were confirmed:  Charles Rogers, Thomas Egan, Hugh Burke, Henry Doherty, Thomas W. Murphy, Patrick J. Boyle, Patrick McDermott, Patrick Cullian, John J. Duffee, William J. Cramsey, Joseph P. Mullen, Martin J. O’Brien, William Doherty, James L. Doyle, Johanna M. Bonner, Brigid A. Connor, Brigid M. Murphy, Mary C. Maloney, Julia C. Mullen, Margaret A. Griffin, Margaret E. Cramsey, Delia M. Sharkey, Mary E. Doherty, Helen McMullen.”

Additional information about this solemn day is given by The Catasauqua Herald, Wednesday, May 19, 1858, Vol. 1, Num. 4, pg. 2, c2, i8: 

The Catholic Church

“Confirmation was administered to quite a large number and the Solemn Ceremony of Dedication performed at St. Lawrence (new) Catholic Church in this borough on last Sunday morning and afternoon by the Right Rev. John Neumann.  Solemn Mass was sung by the Rev. Lawrence Brennan, Pastor, assisted by Rev. O’Brien of Philadelphia, and Rev. Schrader of Allentown.  Rev. O’Brien delivered a very impressive sermon in the morning.  Solemn Vespers and the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament were celebrated in the afternoon at 3 o’clock P.M., on which occasion the Rev. Thomas Reardon of Easton delivered a very eloquent sermon.

“Rev. Reardon congratulated the congregation on the evidences of propriety afforded in the erection of their present neat and capacious edifice and hoped that the spirit which actuated them in this glorious movement would still continue to inspire them with renewed zeal in advancing the principles of the church.

“The Rev. Reardon is unquestionably one of the most eloquent of the Catholic devines (sic).  The choir attached to the Rev. Reardon’s church was present and sustained its reputation for good music in an admirable manner.  The whole of the preceedings were of a solemn character throughout and were witnessed by over 300 strangers mostly from Easton among whom we noticed Dr. Bering and Dr. Cavanaugh.  Over 200 visitors dined at the Eagle Hotel and everything passed off in a highly creditable manner.”

Final Land Purchases by St. Lawrence Parish

On July 19, 1856, Paul Faust and Amelia sold to Bishop Neumann one half acre of land for the first Catholic Church and burying ground at Second and Chapel Streets.  On December 21, 1863, the remainder of the block on Second Street was sold to Bishop Wood by Paul and Amelia Faust as a burying ground.  The cost was $110.  This purchase completed a full block of property.

The ground across the street from the Church, where there currently stands the parish school, was originally owned by Tilghman Moyer and his wife Susan.  This was sold to George Gillon of the village of Hokendauqua and then sold to Bishop Wood on March 31, 1865 for $2,100.

On December 18, 1872, the property that is now known as Calvary Cemetery at Grove and Lincoln Streets was purchased from George Bogh by Bishop Wood for $1,527.34 to be used as a burying ground.  The final portion of this site was purchased from the Portland Cement Co for $100 by Archbishop Prendergast on October 18, 1911.

No other property has since been purchased by the Parish.

The above history is available thanks to the research of Reverend Joseph J. Morrell
(12th Pastor of St. Lawrence)


St. Lawrence the Martyr
Feastday: August 10

Saint Lawrence the MartyrSaint Lawrence was one of seven deacons who were in charge of giving help to the poor and the needy. At the beginning of the month of August, 258, the emperor Valerian issued an edict, commanding that all bishops, priests, and deacons should immediately be put to death. This imperial command was immediately carried out in Rome. On August 6th Pope Sixtus II was apprehended in one of the catacombs.  As he was led to execution, Lawrence followed him weeping, "Father, where are you going without your deacon?" he said. "I am not leaving you, my son," answered the Pope. "In three days you will follow me." Full of joy, Lawrence gave to the poor the rest of the money he had on hand and even sold expensive vessels to have more to give away.

The Prefect of Rome, a greedy pagan, thought the Church had a great fortune hidden away. So he ordered Lawrence to bring the Church's treasure to him. The Saint said he would, in three days. Then he went through the city and gathered together all the poor and sick people supported by the Church. When he showed them to the Prefect, he said: "This is the Church's treasure!"

In great anger, the Prefect condemned Lawrence to a slow, cruel death. The Saint was tied on top of an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted his flesh little by little, but Lawrence was burning with so much love of God that he almost did not feel the flames. In fact, God gave him so much strength and joy that he even joked. "Turn me over," he said to the judge. "I'm done on this side!" And just before he died, he said, "It's cooked enough now." Then he prayed that the city of Rome might be converted to Jesus and that the Catholic Faith might spread all over the world. After that, he went to receive the martyr's reward. The anniversary of this holy martyr falls on August 10th, according to the Almanac of Philocalus for the year 354, the inventory of which contains the principal feasts of the Roman martyrs of the middle of the fourth century; it also mentions the street where his grave is to be found, the Via Tiburtina.

Since the fourth century St. Lawrence has been one of the most honored martyrs of the Roman Church. Constantine the Great was the first to erect a little oratory over his burial-place, which was enlarged and beautified by Pope Pelagius II (579-90). Pope Sixtus III (432-40) built a large basilica with three naves, the apse leaning against the older church, on the summit of the hill where he was buried. In the thirteenth century Honorius III made the two buildings into one, and so the basilica of San Lorenzo remains to this day.  Pope Damasus built a basilica in Rome which he dedicated to St. Lawrence; this is the church now known as that of San Lorenzo in Damaso. The church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, also dedicated to this saint, still exists. The feast day of St. Lawrence is kept on 10 August. He is pictured in art with the gridiron on which he is supposed to have been roasted to death.