SAINT JOSEPH CATHOLIC CHURCH, SAINT CROIX, VI
CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY OF SAINT JOSEPH
The spirit of our Risen Lord, always present in His Church, stirs up new communities of faith in the entire world. This has occurred on our island of St. Croix. In the middle of the 17th century, the first Christian missionaries arrived in the Virgin Islands, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On St. Croix, the first missionaries arriving were from the Lutheran church. In 1750 the French Catholic missionaries who arrived on St. Croix were Dominican fathers of the Dominican Order.
Holy Cross was the first Catholic Church constructed on St. Croix in Christiansted in 1755 and almost a century later in 1844 the construction of Saint Patrick in Frederiksted began. These two parishes are the oldest on St. Croix.
Since 1858 this island has been tended by the congregation of the Holy Redeemer known as Redemptorist Fathers. In 1825, the Chapel of St. Anne was built in Estate Barrenspot, which was a mission of Holy Cross until 1970, when it was established as a parish. His first parochial priest was Father Michael Kosak.
The missionary task of the Redemptorist Fathers of St. Patrick extended throughout the northern and southern parts of the island. In 1925, the Chapel of Our Lady Perpetual Help at Mount Pellier was built to serve the Catholics living in the northern part of the island. The first mass was celebrated there on October 25th of the same year. In 1963, the chapel was closed and presently does not exist.
THE ORIGINS OF THE COMMUNITY
By the end of the 1920s, in the southern part of the island, a new community with forming that would grow deep roots. In 1929, at Castleberg, we don’t know the day nor the month, a small group of Catholic got together to celebrate the Eucharist for the first time.
This community was born as church should be, a pilgrim, since there was no fixed place to meet. For some time, they met to celebrate the mass at the Great House in Estate Adventure. Then they changed their location to Estate “Big Diamond”, where the mass was celebrated 10 AM. After another period of pilgrimage, they met at Estate Lower Love. The Mass was celebrated at 9:00 AM at Kofresi at the residence of Rodriguez family who were still living there. During that time, the Mass was celebrated at both places by the Redemptorist Fathers of St. Patrick, although on some occasions priests from Holy Cross assisted. This is attested by Mrs. Inez Williams, Mrs. Vicenta Monell, Mrs. Joan Sackey and Mrs. Julia Rodriguez, who are still active members of the community of Saint Joseph. It is safe to believe that the origins of Christian community of St. Joseph go as far back as the year 1929.
NEED TO CONSTRUCT A CHAPEL
Towards the year 1940, people from adjacent areas gathered to hear the word of God. There were also many Hispanics who participated in the celebrations. Mrs. Vicenta Monell tells us that for a period of time she was responsible for preparing the altar for the celebration of the Mass, a service she still renders on occasions. The idea to build a new church became stronger as the community grew and did not have an appropriate place to celebrate the Eucharist. Moved by this reality, in January of 1941, the Redemptorist Fathers decided to purchase two acres of land at Estate Lower Love for the future chapel. The cost at the time was $100 per acre. The project continued, but the purchased land was not the most favorable place for Catholics that lived in this part of the island. Our father God, who constantly guides his people, enlightened them to find a solution to the problem. The V.I. Company owned land in Mount Pleasant. Father Knoll, because of his acquaintance with the Gaffney family, explored the possibility of exchanging the land. The V.I. Company accepted. In this way a central location was found for the Catholics of this part of St. Croix to come together to celebrate with great joy their faith in God the Lord.
To ensure that the place was the most appropriate, in November of 1946, the visiting vice provincial vicar of the Redemptorist Fathers came to Mount Pleasant to inspect the proposed site for the construction of the church. The Redemptorist Journal noted: “In November, our vice provincial vicar is visiting with us. He also visited Mount Pleasant to inspect the site that has been proposed for the chapel, and which has been spoken for the past 10 years. Those who are optimists believe that we can have a church very soon.” Truly, the work was realized with great speed because seven months later, the construction was completed.
At the beginning of 1946, the dream that began 17 years before had become a reality. The interest of those brothers and sisters blossomed and the project of constructing the chapel began rapidly. Father Knoll assumed the responsibility of this great task and asked Mr. Henry D. Brown (now deceased), carpenter and contractor, to take charge of constructing the chapel.
THE FIRST STONE
In a very emotional celebration with many in attendance, Father Mark Knoll celebrated the Sunday Mass on May 5th, 1946, and then blessed the first stone. The following day, the construction of the chapel of St. Joseph began at Mount Pleasant, under the direction of Mr. Brown. This was the fourth and last site.
The first time that any newspaper article about the building of our chapel appeared in the St. Croix Avis was on June 3rd, 1946: “A new Catholic chapel, which will become a part of the St. Patrick parish of Frederiksted, is being built at Mount Pleasant, adjacent to the Centerline Highway. The chapel will be about 70 feet by 28 feet and will be built on concrete blocks. The spire will rise approximately 20 feet from above the roof of the building. The chapel is being built from the funds donated by the parishioners and others, and from the proceeds of programs and entertainments. Work on the chapel was begun on May 6th and the foundation is now complete.”
The blocks used in our chapel were fabricated next to the atrium of St. Patrick's temple. The work moved so rapidly that the foundation was completed by the end of May. The completion of the chapel was planned for the month of August. A curious note in the St. Croix Avis indicated that the chapel did not have a name yet: “Present plans of the Redemptorist Fathers Frederiksted are such the chapel should be good by the end of August, unless delayed by the lack of necessary materials. No name has yet been decided upon.”
The foreseen deadline to finish the chapel was not met. It was precisely in the month of August 1946 that the construction had to be stopped because the materials did not arrive on time. The boat transporting the aluminum was delayed due to a strike: “Progress on the new chapel in Mount Pleasant has been hindered by the serious lack of material. It is very difficult to obtain enough material of any kind. An order of aluminum from New York has been delayed due to the present maritime strike” (Redemption Journal, August 10, 1946).
After this interruption, the material finally arrived, and Mr. Brown immediately continued the work. This time there were no more obstacles stopping the construction. Therefore, the work continued until the chapel was completed. Despite the delay, the chapel was completed in seven months.
CONSECRATION OF THE CHAPEL
By December 1946, the building and the preparations for the blessing and consecration of the chapel were almost complete. The Catholics of this southern part of Saint Croix were living moments of much illusion and hope, as they saw their dream which flourished 17 years before Castleberg, now being realized at Mount Pleasant. Their Christian life was lived with promise and fulfillment, animated by the hope and graces of God.
All things belong to God, therefore, we need to offer them to Him. The recently built chapel needed to be consecrated. Father Knoll and the community invited Bishop James Peter Davis who resided in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to celebrate the first mass and to consecrate the chapel. The Redemptorist Fathers were also invited. On December 15th, 1946 (in 1996, the day coincides with the date exactly 50 years ago), all the preparations were ready. The ceremony for the consecration of the chapel was scheduled for 9:00 AM, to be followed by a Solemn Mass. It was the 3rd Sunday in Advent which is known as Sunday of happiness, a beautiful coincidence since all were happy for the new chapel.
The community was assembled and awaited with great joy the arrival of Bishop Davis. Everything was ready for the celebration and the consecration would take place immediately after. By then, it was decided that the Chapel will be named after “Saint Joseph, the spouse of Mary.” The community kept waiting for some time, and there was no sight of the Bishop. After the long wait Father Knoll decided to celebrate the mass, which would be the first to be celebrated in the recently constructed chapel. On that occasion so many people attended, that the Chapel was too small to accommodate everyone.
THE PATIENT WAIT
The Bishop could not arrive in St. Croix because his flight was stranded in St. Thomas. Meanwhile, the Mass had ended and the faithful waited patiently for the Bishop to appear. To kill some time, Father Knoll began to relate the history that had brought the realization of this wonderful project: “It has been 17 years since Father Meehan, C.Ss.R., held the first mass at Castleberg to the time that ground was broken for this building… The bell was donated by the late Thomas Gaffney. The late Sir Arnold Golden, Papal Knight, made a gift of $500 towards the building of the chapel.” Father Knoll gave thanks to the benefactors and encouraged everyone by saying, “The rejoicing should be all the more significant to those who have kept the faith all these years and now have a place of their own in which to worship almighty God” (West End News, December 16, 1946).
At about noon time Father Knoll announced the arrival of the Bishop. At that moment, the faces and hearts of everyone rejoiced and all were favorably disposed to receive the Bishop. After greeting the Bishop everyone participated in the celebration of the consecration. The chapel was dedicated in honor of “Saint Joseph, spouse of the Virgin Mary.” So, it is written: “His Excellency, the Right Reverend James P. Davis, Bishop of Puerto Rico, said yesterday that the Catholics in the South side of this island must keep up an enthusiasm displayed at the consecration of the new chapel at Mount Pleasant, which has been dedicated to Saint Joseph, Spouse of the blessed Virgin Mary” (West End News, December 16, 1946). Today, we also celebrate St. Joseph the Worker.
This day of merriment of Mount Pleasant was very special, the West End news tells us: “As the Bishop arrived on the grounds of the chapel, he was greeted by a band from Saint Patrick school which struck up the hymn ‘To Jesus heart all burning’. The consecration ceremony was preceded by short procession, headed by the acolytes, the Fathers, and Bishop Davis… With much solemnity and at the proper time, the blessing of the chapel took place. His Excellency first blessed the outside, then the inside of the building. The remainder of the ceremony took place at the altar.
From that day in 1929 when the first mass was celebrated at Castleberg until November 15th, 1946, there wasn't an appropriate place for Catholics to celebrate their faith, but the time had arrived. The dream had become a reality. The Catholics of the southern part of the island now had a place to come together to celebrate their faith. The Redemptorist fathers of St. Patrick always took care of the Christian community in this southern part of St. Croix.
Since that Sunday, December 15th, 1946, the Eucharist has been celebrated every Sunday in this chapel of St. Joseph, spouse of our Blessed Virgin. The chapel remained under the pastoral guidance of the Redemptorist fathers of Saint Patrick until 1973.
During that time, the sacraments of baptism, first communion and matrimony were celebrated. Religious education for first communion was taught at various homes of the parishioners. The first person to be baptized in the chapel was Mr. Mark L. Milligan in 1947, and shortly after, preparations for the first communion began. The life of faith has always been alive and the Christian community has given testimony constantly of its faith and love for its brothers and sisters.
From its origin, the community of St. Joseph has always been bilingual. If the priest who celebrated mass spoke some Spanish, they would say some words to the Hispanics. We are, therefore, heirs of a bilingual community by tradition.
During 1930 to 1950, many people came to St. Croix from Puerto Rico, mainly from Vieques, Culebra, and Fajardo to cut sugar cane, and the eastern coast. Attempts to minister to them were made. In 1950, in Saint Patrick, Father Ed Hart gave a great mission in Spanish with great success and many Hispanics in attendance. In 1957, to continue responding to the Hispanics’ hunger for God, Father Arthur Donnelley, parochial priest of St. Patrick, established a Sunday mass in Spanish. It is very possible that, at this time, some activities and celebrations were held in Spanish at St. Joseph.
FROM MISSION TO PARISH
In Saint Croix, the population grew rapidly from 20,000 in 1960 to 45,000 in 1970 and almost 60,000 in 1980. The Christian community of Saint Joseph increased considerably. Therefore in 1973, being a mission of St. Patrick, the chapel was granted the status of parish, that is, a stable community that would stand on its own merits.
In 1972, Bishop Edward J. Harper, C.Ss.R., of the prelature of the Virgin Islands, today Diocese of St. Thomas in the V.I., had a first dialogue with the Columban Fathers. On May 17th, 1973, the Bishop called Father Hugh O’Rourke, director of the Columban Fathers, to ask him to assume the responsibility of the new parish on the island of St. Croix, Virgin Islands. The priest accepted generously this petition and sent Father Charles Degnan.
ESTABLISHED AS A PARISH
The definitive step was taken on January 8th, 1973 when the Bishop canonically installed the Christian community of St. Joseph as a parish. The first pastor was Father Charles Degnan, of the Columban Fathers. He celebrated his first Sunday Mass at the new St. Joseph Parish on the 14th of January. Father Degnan lived with the Redemptorist Fathers of St. Patrick for a while. Plans to begin construction of a parochial house were started later. Meanwhile, a parishioner from St. Patrick, Mrs. Abrahamson, donated a trailer home to father Degnan so that he could take up residence at St. Joseph. With the help from Father Robert Gaugler, Father Degnan immediately began to build a cistern; the excavation began on the 11th of January. Later in 1974, the construction of the parochial house was started. With financial contribution, manual labor, help from off the island, and the effort of the entire community, the parochial house was completed in the beginning of 1976. The house was blessed and the community had a beautiful get-together. The community of St. Joseph accomplished another important objective: to build a parochial house for its priests.
Father Degnan lived alone in the parochial house as he had no associate pastor. Once in a while, members of the community visited him. He was very interested in the well being of the community. He helped Sister Consuelo with religious education. During that time, the community began to become conscious of being a parish, and to feel secure in their faith. The celebration of the sacraments of baptism, communion, confession, and matrimony, on a permanent basis, strengthened the life of the community. On Sundays, two masses were celebrated, one in Spanish at 8:00 am, and the second in English at 10:00 am. Father Gaugler celebrated in Spanish and Father Degnan in English.
In 1978, Father Degnan’s health started to decline, and for this reason, he had to return to his community in the United States. There was no other Columban father to substitute him. The community after five years of parochial life, was without a resident pastor. The Bishop, attentive to the needs of the faithful, searched for ways so that the community of St. Joseph would not be without a priest. He asked Father Carlyle Blake, pastor of St. Patrick, to take care of the community as administrator of the parish.
From August 1978 to July 1981, there were no resident priests at St. Joseph. The community started to decline. The attendance at the Eucharistic mass was reduced, some left for other parishes and other stayed home. The discouragement as noticeable. Seeing this difficult moment, some members of the parish, supported by the priest who came from St. Patrick, wrote a letter to the bishop in which they expressed their feelings. We have reproduced it below:
January 25, 1979
Right Rev. Edward Harper, Bishop
Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands
PO Box 1825, Charlotte Amalie
St. Thomas, VI 00801
Dear Bishop Harper,
A grave concern for the continued stability of the recently instituted parish of St. Joseph at Mount Pleasant on St. Croix has dictated the need for this letter of appeal to you. As you are aware, with the departure of the Columban Fathers, St. Joseph has been under a caretaker status. This has caused a decline in parishioners’ participation in this parish. Members who had begun to attend the services and who had been taking active participation in meetings at St. Joseph, began shifting to other parishes throughout St. Croix even though they are parishioners residing within the geographical district as designated for this parish, which is clear concern of lack of a parish priest. Visitation to some of the areas has also become a concern and has been expressed by many of our parishioners. Many of the other functions that should be properly taken care of cannot be administered in proper perspective because of being in a status of limbo.
We are aware that have attempted to locate a priest that assume the duties as Pastor of St. Joseph. We appreciate your arranging and taking care of the duties of this parish with the priest from St. Patrick to oversee the duties and function of St. Joseph. However, we feel that we may be able to offer with you some suggestions and therefore respectfully request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience.
You may direct your kind response to us through Father Carlyle Blake. We thank you very kindly for your understanding and your most urgent attention to the above.
The Undersigned Parishioners
This letter shows the maturity of the community and its interest for keeping the faith united in the Lord God.
PAROCHIAL MISSION OF WASHINGTON
The bishop, on his part, continued to look for priests for the parish. He entered into conversation with the Archdiocese of Washington. On February of 1981 Archbishop James Hickey, today Cardinal of Washington, visited the Virgin Islands. When he came to St. Croix and saw the needs of the community, he generously promised to adopt St. Joseph as part of his Archdiocese. Towards the end of June, the promise made by Cardinal Hickey came true as he sent Father Arnold de Porter and Father James Halloway, both diocesan priests. Father de Porter was the first diocesan pastor and father Holloway was the associate pastor. They both took possession in July 1981.
The parochial community began to recover its enthusiasm and during that time not only did they renew themselves spiritually, but they also started to work on renovating the Chapel. Their determination was strengthened with the work of the new parish staff: two priests and a sister, Clara Toebat, I.C.M., who directed the religious education for all the children, English and Spanish. She collaborated at the parish from August 1981 to July 1994. The interest by the new parish staff to serve its community was great. The three of them strived to learn Spanish to able to guide the Hispanic community. Father Holloway and Sister Clara took Spanish classes at the Saint Joseph High School and Father the Porter went to Mexico to refresh his Spanish.
Towards the end of 1981, Father de Porter, advised by Father Robert Gaugler, started to plan the renovation of the chapel. On February 1982, the campaign to renovate the Saint Joseph chapel was started. The renovation was done in two stages, the first consisted of replacing the roof, windows, fans, pews, floor and sound system. The second stage was the renovate the sanctuary in accordance with the liturgical demands of the Second Vatican Council.
The community's participation was very effective. Assistance was also solicited from off the island. The first day stage of the renovation of the church was completed on December 1982. That year, on the 15th of December, the 32nd anniversary of the chapel was solemnly celebrated and the recently renovated chapel was also blessed. The entire community participated of the Eucharistic celebration, giving thanks to the Lord for the efforts made during the renovation of the church.
Father de Porter continued the project of renovating the sanctuary. Father Gaugler continued providing advice from Puerto Rico. The renovation of the sanctuary started in September 1983. Because the sanctuary was so small, the renovation was to be done only to the altar, pulpit, sanctuary wall and tabernacle. However, Father de Porter was unable to see the conclusion of his project because Archbishop Hickey of the Archdiocese Washington sent him once more to be the pastor of the community of Saint Peter’s church in Waldor, Maryland, US.
Archbishop Hickey assigned Father Robert McGuigan as the new pastor of St. Joseph. Father McGuigan took possession of the parish on July 22, 1985 and his associate pastor was father Adalberto Martinez, who had been serving as deacon at the parish the year before. The rest of the parish staff was formed by Sister Clara and Miguel Melendez, who was the first permanent deacon of Saint Croix. He worked on unceasingly for two years, until he became ill, and died in November 1996
The first task that Father McGuigan completed was the renovation of the sanctuary. That was in October 1985. At the end of the year, to beautify the sanctuary, the current St. Damian Christ was placed over the altar. This cross was donated to Saint Joseph parish by the then Bishop of our Virgin Islands Diocese, Sean O'Malley.
THE ST. DAMIAN CROSS
The St. Damian cross is an icon rich and biblical spirituality. This cross was painted in 1972 by Luz Marina Mendez Castejon, an artist from Guatemala who lives in Washington. The cross was placed originally in the chapel of the College of the capuchin brothers where Father O'Malley, who wasn’t a Bishop at that time, was the superior of that community in Washington. In 1985, this cross was placed in the sacristy of the capuchin Chapel and was later substituted with by a bigger one brought from Italy. At that time, Father O'Malley, who was consecrated Bishop on August 2nd 1984, passed through Washington towards the end of 1985 to visit the Chapel and encountered the bigger cross in the sacristy. At that moment, he thought of the community of Saint Joseph and decided to bring it to Saint Croix. It was a beautiful gift made to our parish by our Bishop. Since then, the St. Damien cross, which transformed the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, presides over the sanctuary of our church.
Continuing with the ministry of father McGuigan, his pastoral work went ahead. Sister Clara continued with the religious education of the children, the participation of the catechist increased, and Father Martinez intensified his work with the Hispanic community.
In September of 1989, our islands suffered the blow of Hugo, one of the most destructive hurricanes of this century. The roof of the church suffered extensive damage, but thanks to God, the parochial house did not. Father McGuigan lived this tremendous experience, along with Bishop O'Malley in the restroom of the parochial house.
Father McGuigan health began to decline little by little, until finally, he had to return to his archdiocese where he currently lives in a rest home. Cardinal Hickey was not able to send another priest from his archdiocese. The community of Saint Joseph was a parish mission of the Archdiocese of Washington from July 1981 to the September 1991.
UNDER THE DIOCESE OF ST. THOMAS
From January 1992, St. Joseph parish once again went back to being under the guidance of the diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands with Sean O'Malley as its Bishop. On January 1st, 1992, the Bishop assigned Father Jose G. Herrera as the new pastor of Saint Joseph church. He had been associate pastor the year before. Father Jose was the first diocesan pastor of this diocese who worked in the community of Saint Joseph.
Father Jose continued encouraging the pastoral work of the parish, he strengthened the lay ministry, especially the lectors, eucharistic ministers, and altar servers. Religious education was still directed by sister Clara until June 1994. From the time Father Jose took possession of the parish until September 1994, there was no associate pastor. The permanent deacon, Conrad Williams, James Verhoff and Angel Maldonado collaborated with him, and are still active in our parish. I, Father Serapio Lopez Cruz, joined the parish staff of the community of Saint Joseph, invited by Father Jose and accepted by Bishop Elliot Thomas, on September 17th, 1994.
CONSTRUCTION OF A NEW CHURCH
During the past years, the parochial community of Saint Joseph has continued growing, and our chapel is not large enough to accommodate the congregation, especially when we have liturgical celebrations such as Christmas, New Year's mass, Easter, First Communion, Confirmation, bilingual masses, funerals, and other special celebrations. This uncomfortable situation led Father Jose, early in 1993, to consider the possibility of enlarging the Chapel. At the beginning, this plan was discussed with the parish council, and a few months later, architect Enrique Arroyo designed a plan to enlarge the church.
To continue with this new project, in September of 1994 a building and fund-raising committee were formed. In October of the same year, consultants from Rolf R. Rohn and Associates, with whom Father Jose had been in contact since 1993, were invited for a visit. These consultants, who specialize in liturgical interior design, analyzed the walls of the Chapel and recommended that a new church be built.
Further studies were conducted to determine if the walls could sustain the expansion, this time, Mr. Orlando Ramirez. The end result was that the walls could not resist and that the financial expense would be virtually futile. As a result, he too, concluded that it would be better to build a new church which would respond to the present demands of the liturgy, with the sanctuary in conformity with the guidance of the Second Vatican Council.
In early 1995, having clear plans about the construction of the new church, the priest and building and fund-raising committees, with the support of the parish council as well as the majority of the parochial community, decided to work more fervently on the project: to build a new church. With the collaboration of the consultants and architect Ramirez, a drawing of the new church and its relative related projects were presented to the parish.
The Christian community responded positively and generously. In February 1995, the campaign to build the new church was launched: “Saint Joseph the worker, building the House of the Lord.” The fund-raising committee began organizing various activities towards this end, and the community is responding favorably.
During the month of September 1995, several events occurred which changed the course of our plans. Father Jose was transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as chaplain. Bishop Elliott Thomas named me as parochial administrator affective September 1st 1995, to continue with all the pastoral ministry of St. Joseph parish. With all my limitations, especially the English language, I accepted a challenge to continue collaborating in the building of the Kingdom of God together with the Christian community. I was just beginning to assume my responsibilities of being with the Christian community of Saint Joseph and encouraging and strengthening the parochial ministry, when on the 15th of September, we received an unexpected and uninvited visitor - hurricane Marilyn. This altered the route of our parochial plans. On the morning of the 16th at about 5:30 AM, I stepped out of the house and saw many downed trees. I walked a little further, and when I looked at the chapel's roof, oh what a grief! I noticed that it did not have a single galvanized sheet left. I ran to check the interior and absolutely everything was soaked and flooded. This is the way my ministry began as Parochial Administrator of St. Joseph. Our urgent job, then, was to repair the roof of the church. On Sunday, the 17th of September, we celebrated the Eucharist on the porch of the parochial house. That same week, with the help of many parishioners - men and women - we were able to cover the roof with a tarpaulin and once again, together, we celebrated the Eucharist inside the church on September 24th. This was a beautiful sign of what the community of Saint Joseph is capable of doing when we work together as brothers and sisters.
Due to lack of funds, we could not repair the roof. It wasn't until February of 1996 that Mr. Thomas Elias, contractor, and his crew were able to repair the roof. With a helping hand from the community - men and women - we finished painting the entire church by the end of March 1996. Thanks to the efforts of everyone, on Sunday April 7th, we celebrated with great joy and love the great day of Easter the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus, and our recently repaired Chapel.
After repairing the roof of the church, the remodeling of the roof of the rectory began. The contractor completed his part in April, but we continued painting each Saturday with the help of some members of the community.
While we planned the repairs to the church and rectory in January of this year, we renewed our beautiful project for which we are all working: the construction of the new church. The project was held up because hurricane Marilyn. The work was reorganized and the two committees, building and fund raising, were combined into one. We continue our fund-raising efforts. The community has renewed its pledges for the 2nd consecutive year. The total pledges amount to $130,000. The budget for the new church is estimated at $700,000, but with manual labor from the parishioners it is estimated at $500,000.
Although the majority of us who formed a community of Saint Joseph come from diverse countries, United States, Tortola, Saint Martin, Saint Kitts, Antigua, Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Spain, Paraguay, and other places, we are all united in one faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saint Paul says “there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, and Father of all” (Eph 4:4-6). Let us continue to work as a people united for the Kingdom of God and construction of our new church so that, on the day the Lord calls us, he may tell us, “Come. You have my father's blessing! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you for the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink… as often as you do this for the least of my brothers, you did it for me” (Mt 25:31-41). May God the Father, through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ and with the light of the Holy Spirit, always guide our Christian community of St. Joseph, and may Holy Mary of Nazareth teach us to hear the Word of her son, our Lord Jesus Christ: “Do whatever He Tells you”.
Father Serapio Lopez Cruz, OFM Cap.
From the Booklet produced on occasion of the Fiftieth anniversary Dec 15, 1946 - Dec 15, 1996
BEHOLD THE NEW ST. JOSEPH’S CHURCH
November 26, 2001 - St Croix Source (https://stcroixsource.com/2001/11/26/behold-new-st-joseph-s-church/ )
With their own toil and sweat, the parishioners of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church have built a beautiful new "old church."
That’s how St. Joseph’s associate pastor, Fr. Charles Crespo, described the proud new parishioner-built church just off Queen Mary Highway in Mt. Pleasant. The idea for the 7,200-square-foot building was initiated about eight years ago by the church’s former pastor, Fr. Jose Herrera, who saw the need for a larger place of worship than the original 200-person church.
"It certainly was the most modest of all the Catholic churches in the Virgin Islands," Crespo said of the 55-year-old church. "It was basically a concrete box with a few windows."
The new 500-seat church towers over the old, with magnificent 125-year-old stained-glass windows that tell the story of the Gospel. The 18 towering leaded-glass panels were given by the bishop of the diocese of Fall River, Mass.
"They got here with only two damaged," Crespo said. "It’s a miracle they’re in such good shape. This is really museum-quality art."
While the windows are breathtaking, Crespo said they do more than just add beauty. Centuries ago, when many churchgoers were illiterate, windows were used in conjunction with sermons as teaching tools, he explained.
"What you see here, as you go through the church, is the story of Christ. Birth to Resurrection."
The story of how the new St. Joseph’s Church was built is also one of biblical proportions. When the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands was asked about help, church officials told parishioners they had to come up with 25 percent of the costs. For a congregation of working-class people, that was too much. So they set out with bake sales and their own skills to get the job done.
The ground-breaking for the new, million-dollar building was three years ago. The church was dedicated and anointed on Sunday by George V. Murry, bishop of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The final cost was about $400,000.
"This parish is the most economically distressed. There are only a handful that are more than working class," Crespo said. "Most of the construction was done by the parishioners with their own hands. They came on Saturdays and weekdays after work to lay a tile or a concrete block. We relied on the talent of our parishioners."
And what they wrought is a striking edifice, which Crespo said is getting raves from people of all faiths who are used to modern churches resembling multi-purpose structures.
"We’ve built an old church," Crespo said. "It’s a new church with an old design. This really looks like an old-fashioned church."
The larger church will likely act as a magnet for St. Joseph parishioners who had gone to some of St. Croix’s other Catholic churches to escape the heat and overcrowding in the old building. Crespo and Fr. Cecil Corneille will continue to hold four masses each Sunday.