A Brief History of our Parish

With the development of the section of Louisville known as “Butchertown,” then at the eastern edge of the city, came a number of Catholic families. Those speaking German had to go to either St. Martin of Tours or to the more distant St. Boniface Church, both far enough to make church going inconvenient. When, therefore, their number justified it, the Right Reverend Martin John Spalding, Bishop of Louisville, determined that they should have a parish of their own.

The hard task of organizing the new congregation, to be placed under the patronage of St. Joseph, was entrusted to the Reverend Leopold Walterspiel, a native of the grand duchy of Baden and one of the first priests sent to Kentucky from the American College of Louvain in Belgium.

A site for the proposed building was obtained on the south side of Washington Street, between Adams and Webster Streets, and the plans were drawn up for a modest combination structure. The very Reverend Benedict Spalding, Vicar General of the diocese, with the Concordia Choral Society which enhanced the occasion with several selections, laid the cornerstone on August 13, 1865. The building was completed and dedicated on January 6, 1866, by the Right Reverend Peter J. Lavialle, Bishop of Louisville. This combination edifice, which is still standing and in use included space for school and hall purposes, including classrooms on the first floor and the church on the second.

Looking at the list of names of the pioneer parishioners, one would gain the impression that St. Joseph Parish at its inception was for the German Catholics exclusively. This, however, was not the case. Originally it was a so-called “mixed” parish composed of both Irish and German families, a condition that lasted until 1876-1877 until the Celtic-speaking Catholics obtained their own church on the corner of Washington and Buchanan Streets.

During these formative years the first two pastors of St. Joseph’s were continually harassed by financial difficulties. Money was hard to obtain, and the debts of the parish mounted. Father Van der Hagen could no longer cope with the situation, and when he was transferred to St. Louis Church in Henderson, KY, in May 1875, a change in the administrators of the parish took place.

Bishop McCloskey asked the Franciscans Fathers of Cincinnati, who were already working in Louisville at St. Boniface Church, to take charge of St. Joseph’s, and when Father Ubald Webersinke, O.F.M., their superior, agreed, Father Luke Gottbehoede, O.F.M., of St. Boniface Church, was sent to assume temporary charge until June 1875 when Father Eugene Butterman, O.F.M. was appointed first Franciscan pastor of the parish. After 127 years of Franciscan spirituality, the shortage in vocation to religious life and the priesthood pressed the Franciscans to leave our parish in 2002.

An energetic diocesan priest was assigned to St. Joseph for the first time, Fr. Jack Schindler. But his time in our parish was short. Fr. Jack passed away in December 2003, as he led a group of parishioners on a trip to Germany.

With the shortage of priests and religious communities, our universal Church has examined and tested new models of Church. Churches without a resident priest are growing in our local area. Administrators and sacramental moderators are more visible today. Understanding the theology behind these new models may be difficult for some communities. Sr. Justina Heneghan R.S.M., succeeded Fr. Jack after his death and became the first pastoral administrator of St. Joseph with the help of Fr. Patrick Delahanty as sacramental moderator.

In the summer of 2006, Fr. David G. Sánchez was appointed as the new administrator of St. Joseph. Fr. David became our pastor in June 2007. During his first two years of ministry, St. Joseph grew dramatically. In 147 years of the St. Joseph parish, our community has proved that our hearts are always open to new migrant communities. Today a Spanish mass is offered in our church as a new Hispanic Latino community moves to our city. Our parish will celebrate our Sesquicentennial Anniversary (150th) in 2016.

 
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