History of St. Joseph’s Church and
The Bread of Life Community
St Joseph’s Church can trace its origins directly back to the “Roman Catholic Line School Society” whose members built school house on 18th Street by a group of Germans that had settled on the south “hills” of Erie. Their stated goal was to provide a catholic education for their children without sending them to the “distant” St Mary’s School. At this point in the City of Erie, there were only two established parishes, St Mary’s and St Patrick’s. In fact, most of the early founders of St Joseph’s came from St Mary’s Parish on East 9th Street. In 1866 Fr Stump held the first mass in the original school house. Bishop Young had granted permission for regular masses to be held, as he foresaw and had encouraged the creation of a south Erie parish. Our parish history officially began in 1867 after the creation and construction of the original church (site of the current rectory). Fr Stump, along with Bishop Mullen held the first mass was in June of 1867. That same year our current Rosary Society was formed, making it our oldest parish organization.
The years of 1868-1869 were tumultuous ones for St Joseph’s. The parish had formed a parish cemetery and parishioners refused to use the new Holy Trinity cemetery on West Lake Rd. The situation worsened and had resulted in Bishop Mullen ordering the removal of Fr Stump as pastor and have the sheriff lock the doors to the new church. After petitions of the parishioners and committees, the Bishop lifted the interdict, as it was not issued to punish, but to convert and maintain obedience. The Jesuit Fathers of Buffalo were engaged to reopen the church in Jan 1869, eight months after the church was closed. They put the parish back on sound spiritual and financial ground. They even had future plans for a permanent religious community and founding a college. These plans never materialized, due in large part that the Bishop had wanted to create as many churches and parishes as possible in Erie. The Jesuits’ left St Joseph’s in 1873.
Secular priests would be assigned to St Joseph’s from then on. In 1880 the architect P.C. Keeley was hired to design plans for the existing church for a fee of $251.15. His work included Erie’s own St Peter’s Cathedral, as well as, Cathedral’s located in Buffalo, Rochester and New York City. The cornerstone was laid on July 2nd 1882 before an immense crowd. An interesting item is that the original plans called for a church fifteen feet longer than the current structure. The church was to have ten pillars and ten high side windows instead of the current eight. The Bishop had changed the size of the church after plans for the nearby St Michael’s Church had started. The tall spire and exterior were completed in 1886. After examining the books in August 1886, Bishop Mullen granted permission to finish the church. Most of the interior fixtures were taken and used from the smaller original church. The Interior was plastered in 1887 and masses began to be held in the bare church.
Msgr. Kloecker oversaw a period of growth and changes. His projects included, paying off church debt, building a large modern school and to finish the bare church. The church’s four bells were installed and dedicated in 1889. The parish debt was completely eliminated in 1894. The new large school building was started in 1896, completed in 1898 and started educating our youth in 1898.The current parish rectory was constructed in 1906 on the site of the original church that was razed. The old rectory and school house were sold in 1907. The exterior of the church was enhanced with the addition of copper gables and pinnacles, of which four were over ten feet high. In 1914 two large triple windows were ordered from Europe for the transept of the church, they represented the glorification of our Lady (North) and the glorification of St Joseph (South). Our jewel was further beautified during the years of 1915-1917.
Here is list of the major improvements:
The church interior was frescoed and painted.
20 new art-strained glass windows were installed.
Wood carved pews were put into the church. The beautiful Stations of the Cross were installed.
The church and school were wired for electric & lighting.
Erie’s first powerfull pneumo-electric organ was installed in 1916.
Shade trees and landscaping were planted.
Carpeting installed in the sanctuary and aisles.
High, Side Altars and Confessionals were installed in 1917.
Marble adoring angels, marble fixtures and onyx sanctuary lamp were added.
St Joseph’s School 1950’s
View of Sanctuary and Side Altars 1917
The main high altar was hard carved in Germany at the turn of the century and feature a representation of the Blessed Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Slightly below are carvings of two special German patronesses, St Elizabeth of Hungary and St Catherine of Alexandria. The high altars’ two outer panels depict the Passover from Egypt and Abraham’s meeting with Melchisidech, while then inner panels portray the Changing of Water into Wine at Cana and the right panel is the Last Supper. Our side altars were hand carved in Germany and Consecrated in 1917. The four Saints that flank the side altars of are Blessed Mary flanked by St Rose of Lima and St Francis de Sales, St Joseph accompanied by St Barbara and St Augustine.
St Joseph’s High Altar
St Joseph’s Interior 1940’s
St Joseph’s parish and school thrived in the years to follow, as of 1925 there were over 600 families registered. By 1945 the parish had grown to over 1100 families, making it one of the largest in Erie. The school had risen from 200 students to over 400 in the same time period. In 1929 the church was refaced in sandstone @ a cost of $47,000, which in today’s (2006) dollars would cost
$ 545,000!!! The church interior was completely redecorated in 1945 and a new heating and electrical system was installed the same year.
Children’s Mass circa 1940’s
The 50’s saw the construction of the new community center that was completed in 1955. The center originally consisted of an auditorium, grill rooms, bowling alley, kitchen and office facilities. The Men’s Society was responsible for the operation of the center until the late 1960’s. The center hosted very popular Friday teen dances, wedding receptions and all types of parish social gatherings.
In the late 1960’s the original school was well over 70 yrs old and showing its age, a decision was made to raze the school building and remodel the community center for school use. The “new school” was remodeled at a cost of $35,000 ($194,000 today’s dollars 2006). The lot where the school stood was paved and leased out for weekday parking.
Vatican II had made the 1970’s and 1980’s a period of great liturgical change, our parish and clergy had to stay on their toes. The masses changed from Latin to English, the communion rail was removed, and practice of standing for communion started. Our parish food bank and clothing collection were established and still continue to serve the surrounding urban area.
St Joseph’s Church had a special centennial celebration in 1989 for the 4 bells that have rung out in time of joy and sorrow. The bells have the following characteristics: Crist bell 2,634 lbs, Blessed Mother Bell 1,237 lbs, St Joseph’s Bell 755lbs and the John the Baptist bell 323lbs. The church was re-carpeted in 1990.