St. Joseph's Parish was founded by Bishop John Dubois in 1829. It was the sixth parish that was established (among those still in existence in the Archdiocese of New York). Parishes that preceded it were St. Peter's on Barclay Street (1785), St. Patrick's Old Cathedral on Mulberry Street (1809), St. James on Oliver Street (1827), Transfiguration on Mott Street (1827). The cornerstone of the Church was laid on June 10, 1833 "at the corner of Barrow Street and the Sixth Avenue." The present structure is the original one and, consequently, St. Joseph's Church has the distinction of being the oldest Catholic Church edifice in Manhattan and, perhaps the entire Archdiocese.
At the time St. Joseph's Parish began, the population of New York, numbering 203,000, was concentrated in the southern half of Manhattan. Parish boundaries then stretched from Canal Street to 20th Street, and from Broadway to the Hudson River (later reduced in extent from Houston Street to 14th, and west from University Place to Hudson Street). Until a church was constructed, St. Joseph's first Pastor, Rev. Patrick Duffy, conducted services in a 'large' hall in a building located at the junction of Grove and Christopher Streets, for which Bishop Dubois paid an annual fee of $200. Early church records indicate that St. Joseph's first congregants were predominantly Irish-Americans.
By late 1830 St. Joseph's was incorporated under state law with four trustees along with Rev. James Cummiskey (who became the second pastor, or first pastor in the present church building). This group organized church construction which proceeded according to the plans of the architect, John Doran. Not much is known about him, but he succeeded in harmoniously combining a strong Greek Revival style with numerous Gregorian features.
The Church was dedicated on Sunday, March 16, 1834. Extant newspaper accounts from that year present an interesting and enthusiastic account of what happened on that day. The following was printed in the N.Y. Catholic Diary and Weekly Register:
"On Sunday, the 16th inst, the new Catholic Church at the corner of Barrow Street and the Sixth Avenue, was dedicated for the worship of the God of Heaven and Earth, whith all the imposing ceremonies of the Catholic Church. Never before have we witnessed any thing more impressive, more solumn, or more august, than the grandeur of the Divine Service, more effective than the sublimity of the Church music which was introduced by the Italian Opera Company, and appropiately selected from the ritual of the day.
At half past ten o'clock, the church was crowded, not however inconveniently... About one third of the congregation were of different religious creeds, and the deepest interest, which the solemnity of the occasion inspired, was found depicted on every countenance... After the Gospel, the Rev. Dr. Pise preached an appropriate and excellent sermon... which occupied an hour (and) was listened to with rapt attention. A collection was made after the sermon, which, together witht he sum received from the sale of tickets, in aid of defraying the expense of the building, will amount to fifteen hundred dollars."
Records of the dedication reveal an impressive list of ecclesiastics who would become within a short time important figures in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. Besides Bishop Dubois who was the celebrant of the Pontifical Mass, present were Father John Hughes who became Bishop of New York (1842) and the Archbishop in 1850; Father John McCloskey who became Pastor of St. Joseph's and then coadjutor Bishop of New York (1843-1847), Archbishop (1864-1885) and first U.S. Cardinal in 1875; also present was Father William Quarter who became the first Bishop of Chicago in 1844. These and others were assembled with Father John Cummiskey who had been Pastor and Father Constantine Pise who was Pastor since 1833, joined with hundreds of parishioners and friends to worship and thank God in an edifice wherein "beauty and simplicity are admirably blended," as reported in the press.
Looking back to that important day in the life of St. Joseph's Church brings feelings of gratitude for the sacrifices made by those early parishioners to have a Church of their own in the midst of Greenwich Village.
As years passed, many changes were made in the Church. Two fires, one in 1855 and the other in 1885, caused extensive damage to the interior. The stained glass windows in the in the south wall remain as a legacy from 1879. One of them with the image of the Sacred Heart was donated by Father Thomas Farrell, Pastor from 1857 to 1880, an important figure in the history of the Archdiocese. It is in his memory that the present Farrell Hall (school auditorium) is named. Concern for the education of children led to the formal establishment of St. Joseph's School in 1855 that continues its educational ministry to today - 137 years of service of children and their families in the name of Christ! ( St. Joseph's Free School existed as early as 1834)
A restoration of the interior of the Church was achieved in 1972, during the pastorate of Father Robert Wilde. It returned the Church to a more simple and pristine environment. At the same time, thanks to the generosity and work of parishioners, the fresco of the Transfiguration, after Raphael's original in the Vatican, was discovered under layers of paint and restored. On December 3, 1972, Cardinal Terence Cooke, Archbishop of New York, celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving. Afterwards, Casserly Hall was dedicated to the memory of Father John Casserly who had been an Associate Pastor at St. Joseph's since his ordination in 1937, an impressive record of 35 years of pastoral ministry. Casserly Hall continues as the center for many of the parish's activities and works of mercy. It is there that the Soup Kitchen feeds the hungry, the Shelter welcomes the homeless, and where the Altar-Rosary Society meets and the A.A. and N.A. have their weekly meetings. These are just some of the activities that make St. Joseph's a special parish. Several of these, as well as other distinctive pastoral-liturgical activities owe much to the work of Father Robert Lott who was the Associate Pastor from 1971 to 1984.
The 150th anniversary of our parish was celebrated in 1979 when Cardinal Terence Cooke again joined parishioners and Father John D. O'Leary, Pastor from 1974 to December 1985, in a most happy celebration on March 18, 1979. Then on May 1, 1984, Cardinal John J. O'Connor celebrated the Eucharist with our parish community in thanksgiving for the 150 years of worship and service since the dedication of the Church in 1834.
The preceding are only a few of the many events and persons that have been part of the life of St. Joseph's Church. Many more pages would be required to present the whole story. Perhaps, some day someone will undertake to accomplish that task with a book that will do justice to countless parishioners - laity, religious, clergy - who have been part of the life of this Church.
Truly, the past has been historic. So much accomplished and celebrated because of the efforts of people working together on Parish Councils, Committees and many other associations with the pastoral leadership of Pastors, Associate Pastors, Pastoral Staffs, Principals, Parish Staffs and wonderful volunteers throughout the years since 1829.
Early in the 1980's, studies were made that were aimed at a thorough correction of structural problems and renewal of all parish properties. Age and use had taken their toll in the Church and other buildings and facilities of the parish. A 'Master Plan for the Rehabilitation of St. Joseph's Church in the Village, Including the School and Rectory' was presented on October 12, 1983. This was the dream of many parishioners, committees, and Pastoral Staff. If funds could be collected, the hope was to see the achievement of the plan, after Archdiocesan approval, close to the 150th anniversary of 1984. For various reasons, this was not accomplished. It would have to wait for a later day.
The dream of a complete restoration of the interior of the Church continued to be pursued as innumerable meetings, consultations with parishioners, architects, engineers, liturgical designers, Archdiocesan personnel, together with visits to other churches became an almost-daily experience. Slowly, a new vision began to emerge with fresh insights and determined willingness to work hard to bring about the necessary and beautiful restoration that would also respect the 'beauty and simplicity' mentioned when it was dedicated in 1834. To continue, early in 1989, Cardinal O'Connor, announced that there would be a Campaign in every parish to raise funds for its important needs and those of the Archdiocese. Our Parish and Finance Councils, together with the Fabric and Liturgical Committees and Pastoral Staff saw this as the opportunity that could make the dream of an extensive and great restoration of St. Joseph's Church come true. The campaign, appropriately called an 'Adventure In Faith,' resulted in raising the funds and the dream coming true.
The preparatory work of our architect, Raymond Pavia, and the unrivaled expertise of the artisans and craftsmen associated with the selected contractors and restoration specialists, Gargiulo Brothers, Inc., brought the intensive work of research and planning to its present achievement.
The actual work of demolition and restoration began in early July of 1991. Because of it, all Masses were celebrated in Farrell Hall (school auditorium). The restoration was completed substantially in time for the re-opening of the Church for the Christmas Midnight Mass '91.
On March 19, 1992, St. Joseph's in Greenwich Village held a Festive Celebration of the Eucharist with a Dedication of the Church and Blessing of the Altar, presided by Reverend William J. McCormack, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of New York.
and that brings us to today....