The original St. Joseph Church was known as the “Church of the Irish.” When it was dedicated, it became the fourth Catholic Church in the city of Charleston.
The original building was built in 1852 and was used by the Zion Presbyterian Congregation. The building was bought at auction by the Diocese of Charleston, The church was dedicated by Bishop Patrick N. Lynch on May 5, 1861. The Reverend Patrick Ryan an assistant at St. Mary’s Church, is given credit for urging the establishment of the church, realizing the need for a church for the poor Irish immigrants of the “borough” in 1860. The Reverend Leon Fillion was the first rector.
Six months later, fire destroyed the kitchen and stables; but the rectory was saved and became the residence for the Bishop when a fire destroyed the Cathedral in December 1861. During the siege of Charleston, only St. Joseph’s and St. Patrick’s Churches remained open, as St. Mary’s was damaged and St. Paul’s was closed when its pastor joined the Confederate Army as a chaplain. St. Joseph Church survived some near misses by artillery shells and suffered a loss of the north wall, shattered windows, and smashed harmonium. Upon the death of Fr. Fillion in 1865, St. Joseph Church was temporarily closed.
Father Charles Crogan succeeded Father Fillion shortly thereafter and oversaw extensive repairs and redecoration of the church. Father Crogan also began a short-lived school for boys in 1867. In 1883, under Father Francis Shadler, the church was completely rebuilt with only the original sidewalls remaining; and the church was rededicated on December 16, 1883. St. Joseph Parochial School was opened in 1887, and it operated until the early 1950’s.
Father Shadler died in 1892 and succeeding St. Joseph pastors included:
- The Reverend John Weddenfeller, 1892-1899
- The Reverend P. L. Duffy, Vicar General, 1899-1919
- The Reverend J. W. Carmody, 1919-1920
- The Reverend Dennis Lannigan, 1920-1921
- The Reverend Nicholas Murphy, 1922-1925
- The Reverend Cornelius A. Kennedy, 1925-1939
- The Reverend Alexis Westbury, 1939-1951
- The Reverend St. John E. Patat, 1951-1962
- The Reverend Peter K. Berberick, 1962-1965
St. Joseph, at this location, closed in 1965 with Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler being the final Celebrant at St. Joseph’s Anson Street Site.
With the increase of the Catholic population in the West Ashley area, a new church was sorely needed. St. Joseph Parish was established in West Ashley on October 22, 1966 by the Most Reverend Ernest L. Unterkoefler, Bishop of Charleston.
Our church was supported by the community before and during the construction period, with Masses being held in different locations in the West Ashley area. The first mass, Midnight Mass, was held in 1966 in a garage on Belgrade Avenue. The Reverend John A. Haack was the Celebrant. Sunday masses were held at the Belgrade Avenue location from 1967-1969, while weekday masses were held in the rectory at 1839 Mepkin Road, which is across the street form the present church location. At times, mass was also held in the Chapel of the Charleston Home for Children on Ingram Road.
Our mother parish, Blessed Sacrament Church, provided St. Joseph with a dowry to establish the new parish; and ground-breaking for the current church was held in the fall of 1968. Our new church was built in one year, and the first mass was held in the new St. Joseph Church on October 5, 1969.
In August 1980, the church building underwent significant restoration to repair building and design defects. During the two-and-a-half-year period, masses and church services were held on the Hope Center on Sam Rittenberg Blvd. Parishioners returned to the present church building on Raoul Wallenberg for Easter Vigil Mass on April 2, 1983.
The church and its grounds have continued to be improved over the years. These improvements include a new rectory on Montclair Street in 1991; a beautiful stained glass window placed behind the altar in 1995; a soothing reconciliation Chapel replaced the confessionals in 1996. This area was further renovated in 2015 to add a rest room. The Tabernacle was moved to its present alcove in 1997. Additional stained glass windows continued to be installed from 2006 through 2008.
The major addition to St. Joseph parish in recent years has been the Family Life Center with its classrooms for Religious Education, the Church Hall for parish and non-parish events, and the Gymnasium. Groundbreaking for the Family Life Center was September 13, 1992. Construction began in May of 1993 and was completed on December 18, 1994. The covered walkway between the Church and the Family Life Center is dedicated to Rev. Msgr. J. Fleming McManus, the founding Pastor of St. Joseph’s. In December 1996 the gymnasium was dedicated in honor of Fr. Gabe. The Family Life Center is utilized by parishioners of St. Joseph and for community activities.
The Pastors of St. Joseph’s West Ashley site have been:
- Msgr. J. Fleming McManus, 1996-1972
- Msgr. Donald C. Hamburger, 1972-1973
- Msgr. E. Christopher Latham, 1972-1979
- Msgr. John A. Simonin, 1979-1982
- Msgr. J. Fleming McManus, 1982-1989
- Msgr. Robert Kelly, 1989-1990
- Msgr. Louis F. Sterker, 1990-1991
- The Reverend Gabriel Smith, 1991-present