History of St. Joseph’s Parish
In 1850 the Reverend John Brady visited Chester to consider the organization of a new Catholic parish. There were ten families and forty single persons professing the Catholic faith at that time. The first Catholic mass in Chester was held the following year, in 1851, in a private home at the intersection of Water Street and North Main Street. That building is now the home of Archambault Insurance Agency. The mass was celebrated by Father Peter Skelly, curate of St. Patrick’s in Hartford. That same year, the congregation was given permission to celebrate mass in a building known as the Rechabite Hall located on High Street across from the current Fire Department. Worship continued there until 1855 when the first Catholic church was built on Middlesex Avenue on the present site. This first St. Joseph’s Church served the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex, Old Saybrook, Westbrook, Old Lyme, Lyme, and Haddam. The congregation was served by visiting priests until a resident pastor was installed in 1876 with the first full-time pastor being the Reverend Philip Sheriden.
Father Joseph Synnott was the pastor in 1883, and it was during his tenure that the present rectory was built. In 1886 Father Peter Skelly became the next pastor. During his ten years as pastor, his most noteworthy accomplishment was the construction of a new church building. In 1891, Martin L. Ryan bought the original building and had the contract to build a new structure on the same site. He moved the original building to the corner of Main Street and Middlesex Avenue where it still stands today. The new Gothic-style church began construction in July 1891 and was 72 ½ feet long and 39 ½ feet wide with the seating capacity of 355 people including gallery space. The building was completed around Christmas of the same year and the dedication was on February 16, 1892.
Over the next three decades the parish grew in population and it was found necessary to establish mission churches in the towns of Higganum, Essex, and Old Saybrook. St. John’s in Old Saybrook became a separate parish in 1914. St. Joseph’s population had so greatly increased that in 1929, under the direction of Father Francis Kuster, the church building was enlarged. The length of the church was increased to 100 feet and the width at the eastern end to 48 feet. The peak of the roof was lowered and oil heat was installed. This addition was built by Albert Anderson of Killingworth, a friend of Father Kuster’s.
By 1958, Essex and Higganum had become separate parishes. The parish acquired the property across the street in 1954 which included several acres of land and the Pratt House. This property was used as a parking lot and the house was used for meetings and classrooms. The Pratt House was sold and moved in 1966 to make way for the present Parish Center which was completed in 1967.
The trustees of the parish hold legal title to the church properties and are made up of two lay members, the current pastor, the Vicar General, and the Bishop. Currently the parish consists of approximately 750 families primarily from the towns of Chester and Deep River, as well as several surrounding towns.
Kate Silliman’s Chester Scrapbook, Edited by Thelma Clark,
Chester Historical Society, 1986.
The Houses and History of Chester, Chester Historical Society, 1984.
St. Joseph’s Parish, More Than a Century of Faith, Edmund Delaney, 1991.
Current Pastor - Father Arul Rajan Peter