In the early 1900’s, Maronites from Mount Lebanon began to immigrate to New Jersey They fled the repressive Ottoman Empire, its persecution and occupation of Lebanon. Those Maronites were scattered across Central New Jersey, but the majority settled in the New Brunswick area.
These first "settlers" in New Jersey worked very hard in establishing a new community, yet they were determined that, as exiles, their children would know about the beautiful land called Lebanon which they had been forced to leave.
One of the most striking features of Lebanese immigrants has been their conviction that education leads to success. These early Maronite immigrants identified strongly with their religious heritage.
Dedicated to the preservation of their Maronite heritage the new generation’s goal was to establish a church. In 1980 a group of about 35 families petitioned the H.E. Archbishop Francis M. Zayek to appoint a priest to serve Mass in the Maronite rite in New Brunswick on a regular basis. The group also asked the Reverend Louis Leyh, pastor of Sacred Heart, for the use of his Church. They later obtained Bishop's approval to form a Church’s Council.
On July 13, 1980, Archbishop Zayek conducted the first Maronite mass at Sacred Heart Church in New Brunswick. Following the mass, a meeting was held in the Church hall, at which plans were made to continue a weekly Maronite liturgy at Sacred Heart, conducted by a priest sent by Archbishop Zayek. In addition, and most important to the community, it was agreed upon that the Bishop would authorize the community to obtain a church of their own, and that, in the interim, the new parish would be called "Saint Sharbel Mission of New Jersey".
In July of 1980, Maronite mass was conducted every Saturday evening, usually by Monsignor George Webby, Vicar General. With Monsignor Webby at the helm, the community strengthened and began to attract many Lebanese and Maronites to attend liturgy and actively participate with the Maronite community.
The following two years witnessed tremendous growth in parish families and the Council began to identify a number of possibilities for the establishment of the First Maronite church in New Jersey. An ideal property was found in Somerset County, central to the large majority of Lebanese people. The St. Sharbel Mission of New Jersey purchased the church in 1982.
Another major milestone was the establishment of St. Sharbel Cemetery. Many parishioners expressed the need for a Maronite Cemetery. Msgr. Maroun thoroughly researched this idea and was met with many obstacles from city government and the community to establish a new Maronite Cemetery. He found the best way to proceed would be to request a section inside of the Catholic Resurrection, Cemetery of the Diocese of Metuchen. He sent a letter to H.E. Bishop Hues requesting a section for Maronites at the Resurrection Cemetery. One week later, Bishop Hues granted six acres of land to St. Sharbel Church at no cost to the parish. In the center is a replica of Our Lady of Lebanon Harissa, donated by Mr. Salah Hayek and family. It is surrounded by the symbols of Lebanon, the eternal cedar trees.
The first priest to serve the Mission of St. Sharbel and St. Sharbel church was Msgr. Fahed Azar, from 1981 to 1990. He was followed by Father Sharbel Semaan, 1990-1992, and by Chorbishop Michael Thomas, 1992-1994. Msgr.Maroun Asmar 1994-2010. After His retirement Msgr. Asmar was replaced with Fr Tony Akoury.
Over the years the organizations of St. Sharbel church have steadily grown: Maronite Youth Organization (MYO), Ladies Sodality, and the Knights, and Order of St. Sharbel members. One of the major annual events is the Lebanese cultural festival, which brings all Lebanese and many non-Lebanese together under the pretext of celebrating Lebanon's rich and historic culture.
The parish of St. Sharbel had adoration for vocations since its inception. From the beginning there were prayers before the Blessed Sacrament for an increase in vocations. Their prayers were answered in 1989 when, their very own, Msgr. Sharbel Maroun was ordained to the Holy Priesthood.
On March 25 2006 Joseph Chebli was ordained as a Sub Deacon for St. Sharbel Church by Chorbishop Michael Thomas. On October 11 he was ordained Deacon by the imposition of the hand of Bishop Gregory Mansour.
Realizing the potential of the next generation, St. Sharbel Church keeps focus on our youth. Special attention has been given to them, specifically when the church awards the top high school graduates with annual scholarships. The establishment of several scholarship funds has been very successful and continues to grow.
With the help of God the church was able to purchase another house adjacent to the church property. in order to build and renovate the church ,Father Tony Akoury formed a building comity and the architectural work was confide to Mr. Campbell who designed the structure of the new future church. The story of our parish is a story of love and the power of God who never left us and day after day he assures us that he is with us and the gates of hades will never prevails against it .To God be Glory forever .