HISTORY – St. Joseph Church, Tampa
One of the oldest churches in Tampa, St. Joseph parish was established in 1896 when the Sisters of the Holy Name founded St. Joseph’s School in a converted cigar factory in the city of West Tampa located at North Albany and Spruce Streets. In 1895, Bishop John Moore had asked the sisters to establish a school in West Tampa. The sisters facilitated purchase of the brick structure from Macfarlane Investment Company for $3,600.00 on December 9th, 1895. Sister Mary Emeline and Sister Mary Hubert were the first teachers in the school. On September 14th, 1896 the school officially opened with 10 students, 6 girls and 4 boys. The school was named The Academy of the Holy Names. On November 29th 1896, the Jesuit Fathers celebrated the first mass in the school building with seventy people present. The collection taken up was one dollar and fifty cents. Jesuit Father William Tyrrell, S.J. served as celebrant. Father Tyrrell was a visionary priest with organizational talents already well-known for his work at St Louis Parish (which became Sacred Heart Church) who also spoke Spanish and recognized the need for a Catholic church in West Tampa. The first funeral held in the combination church-school building was on November 27th, 1897 for 8-year old Amparo LaPaz. On May 29th 1898, the first Holy Communion was celebrated with five children. Later that year the U.S. Army took over the building as a hospital for wounded soldiers during the Spanish-American War. The diary available makes clear the role of the school sisters in charge of the school, who in one day alone served meals to over 800 soldiers. On May 15th 1899 the first confirmations were administered to 13 parishioners by Bishop Moore.
The first church was a wooden structure located at the corner of North Albany Street and Walnut Street with a bell tower and choir loft constructed at a cost of $15,000.00 and completed in six weeks time, on May 3rd, 1903. The church seated 200 comfortably and was dedicated on May 24, 1903. The first pastor was Father Benjamin Roydhouse. The convent was a wooden former cigar factory at the corner of Spruce and Armenia Avenues.
The Jesuit Fathers turned over the church to the Salesian Fathers in 1928 with Father Luis Conde taking up residence in a small room located on the 2nd floor at the rear of the church building. He was the first bi-lingual priest in West Tampa. Father Conde ministered to the factory workers in West Tampa to try and renew their faith by speaking their language.
In 1930 the Salesian Sisters took charge of the school and it was at this time that the school changed its name from Holy Names School to St Joseph School. In 1934, the Redemptorist Fathers accepted care of the church with the appointment of Father Michael Braun and Father Matthew Tobin. At this time there were 150 children in the school. The school was then purchased from the Sisters of the Holy Name for $4,000.00 by the church.
In 1941, a short-lived high school was established on the third floor of the school building. Although a building fund had been established for a new school, the arrival of WWII brought an end to that effort. After one graduation of six students the high school was discontinued.
In 1946 a large parcel of property was available at auction and the Redemptorists secured this property bounded by Cherry Street, Gomez Avenue, Lisbon Street (now MacDill Avenue) and Walnut Street. The purpose for this purchase was to make plans for a new school and convent for the sisters with the possibility of building a larger church next to the school. At this time in 1946 enrollment at the school was 450 students.
The first construction on this property occurred in February of 1951 with completion of a new two-story concrete block convent for the school sisters. In 1953 Father Dennis O’Dwyer was appointed Pastor and he joined Father John Doherty and Father James Malley to form the staff.
On September 1st 1955, the parish celebrated opening of the new school buildings, followed by construction of a new rectory completed later that month. The new school was dedicated on December 2nd, 1955 by Bishop Hurley. The church community now had on their new property, a convent for the sisters, a rectory for the fathers and a school for the children; but no parish hall and an inadequate church. The pastor at this time Father Dennis O’Dwyer voiced his concerns for the needs of the parish. Father Doherty arranged for purchase of materials to construct a multi-purpose building called the Butler Building. Father Robert Smith organized the manpower for this parish hall. The men of the parish constructed the entire building, which was dedicated in 1959 and used as a second mass location to accommodate the growing number of parishioners and also served as a school cafeteria. That same year Father John Doherty, Pastor organized plans for construction of a new church. An architect was hired and the new church was designed at a cost proposed of $125,00.00. At this time Sunday masses were still being held in the old wooden church on Albany Street and at the new parish hall building to accommodate the growing number of faithful attending mass.
Plans for the new church were underway on September 10, 1960, when Hurricane Donna struck Tampa. The Fathers, worried the old church would be destroyed, carried the Blessed Sacrament to the new rectory. In 1961, Father John Stevens was appointed pastor and the fund-raising campaign was established for the new church building fund. In the memorial campaign $113,000.00 was pledged by parishioners for the new church. Bids were received and the Bishop signed the contract for the new church on January 26th, 1963 with construction beginning one year later. At this time weekly Sunday attendance was over 1,300. Construction was completed in November of 1964 and the first mass in St. Joseph’s new Romanesque-style church was celebrated on December 20, 1964 with seating capacity for 800. The new church was officially dedicated on February 7th, 1965.
In 1966, Father John Wright established the church C.C.D. Program for neighborhood children that were not attending a Catholic school. Father Tomas Gildea established a weekly mass for the Hispanic Community in January 1967. This was the first regularly scheduled Spanish-Language mass offered at a church in the city of Tampa. Also that year the first Parish Council was established by Father Leonard Cordier, dictated by the new church norms following Vatican Council II. That same year Father Philip Bardek was appointed pastor, well-known in the Tampa Redemptorist church communities. In June of 1967 Father Bardek induced the city of Tampa to install sidewalks around the entire church and school property.
In 1973 Father John Schiminsky was appointed pastor assisted by Father Hines and Father Regensberger. Father Regensberger expanded and re-organized the church CCD Program and offered the instruction to the Spanish speaking community as well. In 1973 the old church bell from the original 1903 wooden St Joseph Church was installed in the tower of the new church. That same year organist James Leone organized a campaign to raise funds for a new pipe organ and the church proudly completed installation of the pipe organ at a dedication ceremony on September 29th 1974.
In 1978, Father John Cavanaugh was appointed the new pastor joined by Father Paul Callahan and Father Joseph Coughlin. That same year the parish celebrated the 25th anniversary of her independence as a parish.
In 1980 the Redemptorists left the nearby O.L.P.H. Church community in Ybor City and Father Walter Bueche joined the St Joseph Community. In 1981 Father Francis Donlan was appointed pastor and he led a campaign to refurbish the church and rectory buildings with new painting projects. In 1984 Father Joseph Gribbon was appointed pastor and shortly after was joined by Father Joseph Ellison and Father George Dorn. At this time the neighborhood around St Joseph’s has changed dramatically over the course of the last 10-15 years with many Catholic families moving north and west in the expanding Tampa suburbs. In 1987 Father Karl Aschmann was appointed pastor joined by Father Jerome Murphy and Father Joseph Gorney with Father Ellison remaining in residence. In 1988 Father Aschmann facilitated expansion of many church societies including the Holy Name Society and RCIA Ministry. In 1994 the church celebrated the “burning of the mortgage” on the original loan for the new church and that same year Father Aschmann facilitated purchase of the property located at the southeast corner of Walnut Street and MacDill Avenue, which was the only lot that had remained excluded from the church property bounded by Walnut Street. This property allowed for expansion of the school playground and future use of potential construction projects. That same year organist John Cinchett facilitated a fund-raising campaign to refurbish the pipe organ and build a balustrade along the organ loft for the maintenance of the organ. In September of 1995 the church began its’ Centenary Celebration with a special Mass of Thanksgiving for 100 years of service attended by numerous local pastors, Bishop W. Thomas Larkin and former pastors with over 800 filling the church to mark this momentous occasion. In 1996 Father James Geiger replaced Father Aschmann as pastor.
The Redemptorist Fathers returned care of the church to the Diocese in February 1999, after serving for 65 years. The church installed a memorial plaque of thanksgiving on the front of the church building to commemorate this historical event. The first pastor assigned under Diocesan care was Father Felix Sanchez. During his tenure as pastor, Father Sanchez coordinated some notable accomplishments, including an extensive renovation of the sanctuary with a new altar and new historic stained-glass windows all completed in 2002. In 2005 the church welcomed the addition of two historic articles from the original old St Joseph Church. The original statue of St Joseph was donated by the Madiedo Family and the original church organ was donated by the LoCicero Family. Both of these were placed in the church with memorial plaques to commemorate their historical significance. The construction of a new parish pavilion was completed in 2008 – a large open-air building used for annual outdoor events and serving as a covered basketball court for the school. Father Sanchez raised all of these funds through donations and completed all of the projects leaving the church with no outstanding loans for them. He also planned the construction of many new shrines built on the church property along with an elaborately designed landscaping of the church grounds completed in 2010.