St. Joseph Church at Night

Photo courtesy of
Mike Carello.

Photo courtesy of
Jonathan Lewis.

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St. Joseph Church, The Building

St. Joseph Church Today A Brief History

St. Joseph Church was the first Catholic Church in Bristol, Connecticut. It was built in 1855, but from the 1840's Mass had been celebrated in private homes. The parish was founded on October 1, 1864, having been previously a mission of St. Mary's Parish in New Britain. It then extended from Farmington to Watertown. Rev. Luke Daly, the first pastor of the New Britain church ministered to the Catholics in Bristol during those early years. From the 1840's Irish immigrant families settled near the copper mines on the Farmington side of Bristol. Most of the first Catholic families in Bristol were employed in the mines. Father Daly visited the mines one Sunday each month to celebrate Mass in one of the cottages of the miners. Catholics walked in groups to the mines from Bristol, Plainville, Terryville and Thomaston. Shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, the mines ceased operations and most of the miners moved to the center of Bristol where they found employment building the New England Railroad.

The first St. Joseph Church was erected in 1855 to serve 200 Catholics. The first resident pastor was the Rev. Michael Roddan in 1872 to stay for 29 years. Although the small wooden church was enlarged in 1879 to serve the growing Catholic population of the area, by 1920 the parishioners realized that a new and larger church was needed. The present church was built by Fr. Oliver T. Magnell and was dedicated on August 9, 1925.


Description of the Church

The present church is built in the English Tudor Gothic style. It is constructed of granite from Weymouth, Massachusetts. Its two towers soar an impressive 96 feet above the Federal Hill Green. The nave is 170 feet long and the church is 65 feet wide. The architect was Joseph A. Jackson of New Haven and New York. George LaCourse, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church, was its builder.

The interior of the church features a priceless set of stained glass windows, valued at over several million dollars. Because many of the founding families of the parish were immigrants from Germany, the world-famous Von Gerichten Studio of Munich, Bavaria was commissioned to design and install the windows.

Victor Gulielmo, one of the best ecclesiastical sculptors in America executed the Stations of the Cross in the 1920's. Mr. Gulielmo was a graduate of the Munich Academy. The Stations of the Cross were restored in 1994 using the original antique colors of their artist.

All the marble in the church was designed in Italy. Most of the marble comes from Dalmatia and from Carrara quarries.

In 1989, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of St. Joseph Parish, the interior of the church was completely renovated to bring the worship space up to the requirements of the Second Vatican Council's vision of a renewed liturgy. During this renovation every effort was made to preserve and use the original marble and carved wood treasures of the building. The altar was relocated in a newly designed sanctuary to be closer and more visible to the assembly. The original side altars were converted to shrines honoring the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph. The impressive reredos was retained to become the backdrop for the new Blessed Sacrament Chapel. A Reconciliation Room was added to the side of this chapel to facilitate the celebration of the sacrament according to the revision of the Rite for Reconciliation.

From 1994 to 1997 the exterior of the church was repaired, pointed and water-proofed to preserve the structure for future generations who will build upon the Catholic legacy in St. Joseph Parish.

Stained Glass Window at St. Joseph Church

The following is a guide to the images on the stained glass windows and other works of art in the church.

The Front of the Church

  • At the very top, a statue of Joseph and the infant Jesus

  • Over the doors (left to right) two Greek letters representing "CHR" for Christ, a relief picture of Mary as Queen with the Child Jesus, and the Greek letters representing "JES" for Jesus.

  • Flanking the main door are the statues of St. Patrick (with shamrock symbolizing the Trinity) and St. Boniface (showing how he was martyred with a knife cut through his bible). These saints are the patron saints of the two main ethnic groups in the original parish.

The Vestibule and Upper Choir Room

  • The windows flanking the main door: Peter (with keys) and Paul (with the Sword of the Spirit)

  • The four windows facing across the vestibule: The Four Evangelists

  • The upper room over the stairs: St. Cecilia and St. Gregory (the patron saints of music), and in front, St. Patrick and St. Boniface.


View from the Choir Loft

The Nave, looking from the back

  • The first five windows on the left side, starting from the back, represent the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary (the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation, and the Finding.)

  • The Sorrowful Mysteries are represented by the sixth and fifth windows on the left side (the Agony in the Garden and the Scourging at the Pillar), the fifth and sixth windows on the left side (the Crowning with Thorns and the Carrying of the Cross) and the picture window over the altar (the Crucifixion). Note there is no depiction of the Burial of Christ.

  • The Glorious Mysteries are found in the first five windows on the right side (the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles, the Assumption and the Coronation of Mary as Queen of the Angels and Saints.)

  • The last two main windows are the marriage of Joseph and Mary, and the Baptism of the Lord

  • The Shrines on the front wall flanking the Blessed Sacrament Chapel are Mary and Joseph.

  • Decorating the reredos (from left to right) an angel with the anchor of hope, St.Peter, St. Matthew, St. Mark, Christ crucified with Mary and St. John standing, St. Luke, St. John, St. Paul, and an angel with the message of "caritas" or love.

  • The Ambo: four western doctors of the Church and St. Paul.

  • The other statues: on the left, the Sacred Heart and on the right, St. Francis of Assisi.

  • The high window in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel: On the left, the thorns with the nails and the veil of Veronica. On the right, the pillar of scourging with cross and crown of thorns.

  • The upper windows over the main stained glass windows on the left have symbols of Mary (from back to front): "Sedis Sapientiae" or "Seat of Wisdom" with the incense of Prayer, the crown and the lily, the well and the fountain, and finally the sun and the heart pierced with a sword.

  • The upper right windows (from back to front): the olive branch and the lily of the valley (peace and purity), the moon and the star, the tower of strength and the mirror of justice, and finally the untouched garden and the ark of the covenant.

  • The rose window in the choir loft: King David with harp is in the center, and below is the death of Joseph with Mary and Jesus present.


Altar at St. Joseph Church
  • On the altar: the Lamb of God in the Book of Revelation.