For over one hundred years, St. Joseph Church has served the Gowanda area.
Our beginnings go back to 1855 when a Franciscan Friar arrived from Ellicottville to offer Mass with the four Catholic families living in the village. This was celebrated in the home of Daniel Hurdley by rev. Pamphilius, a Franciscan Missionary.
In 1861, the Passionist Fathers from Dunkirk established St. Paul of the Cross in Dayton, which also embraced Gowanda. From time to time, Mass was also celebrated in a hall owned by Peter Rink, a native of Germany and a successful Gowanda businessman. In 1884, Mr. Rink donated land for Holy Cross Cemetery and, in 1888, helped finance the building of St. Joseph church on Erie Avenue. Gowanda was to remain part of the Dayton parish for the next ten years.
In 1898, the pastor of St. Paul of the Cross Parish, Fr. John Tracy, transferred his residence to Gowanda, and St. Joseph Church became the center parish. Services were held regularly every Sunday and Holy Day.
On August 1, 1990, the Rev. P.J. Enright was assigned to St. Joseph Parish. A colorful and energetic man, he did much to build up the parish, both spiritually and materially. The church was enlarged and Fr. Enright was instrumental in having the wooden tower and bell from the old Dayton church placed atop St. Joseph Church in Gowanda. This bell is still in place in the school building.
The Rev. J.E. Rochford became resident pastor in 1920.
1925 proved to be another milestone in the growing parish when a High Mass was celebrated on September 8 for the opening of St. Joseph Parochial School. Sisters Fidelis and Elma were the first resident sisters teaching a total of fifty four pupils. Then in 1928 the auditorium was opened. The little school now had eight grades and five resident Sisters of the Order of St. Francis of Penance & Christian Charity of Stella Niagara, NY.
The decade of the 1930’s provided many years of continued growth. New organizations were formed – the Holy Name Society and the Daughters of St. Joseph. The parish grew and the current church building became too small. Rev. Henry Shaw was the pastor at this time.
Rev. Patrick Tobin was the next pastor. Mass was celebrated now in the school auditorium. Then first Mass there was offered by Msgr. John J. Hash on December 17, 1940.
The school continued to thrive in the 1940’s. There were over 100 pupils, seven sisters and a Kindergarten as well as a library and cafeteria. The Mother’s Club was formed during this time.
Rev. John Hennessy was pastor during this time and since the mortgage on the church school was satisfied, there was a mortgage burning.
In 1951, under the pastorate of Rev. Denis Donovan, the Altar-Rosary Society was formed. The founders and first officers of the society included Mrs. John Gernatt Sr., Mrs. Frank Bowen, Mrs. Gerald Kewley, Mrs. Dan Gernatt Sr., Mrs. Leonard Miskie, Mrs. Anton Stang and Mrs. Kenneth Purdy.
Father Guinessey was pastor in 1954 when some of our St. Joseph School graduates began to attend Cardinal Mindszenty High School in Dunkirk.
In 1955, Fr. George Freeman was named pastor and in September of 1956, plans were made for a new church. “We shall endeavor to build a new church with consideration for the future.” On Sunday, June 23, 1957, the ground was broken for the new $250,000 church. Very Rev. Msgr. Alfred Hagemaier, Dean of Southern Erie County, officiated with the assistance of Fr. Freeman, his assistant, Father Gene Kaczmarek and local priests. On Thursday, June 12, 1958, Bishop Leo R. Smith, Auxiliary Bishop, presided at the laying of the cornerstone. The first Mass was celebrated in the new church on Christmas Eve.
During the 1960’s, the Mother’s Club became the Home-School Association. Lay teachers appeared in the school.
The George Massar family donated the bells and carillons for the church.
Rev. Theodore Rog was appointed to our parish as an assistant for Fr. Freeman. In 1969, Fr. Freeman celebrated his 40th Anniversary in the priesthood.
After the passing of Fr. George Freeman in March, 1975, Rev. Paul J. Whitney was named pastor.
Under his guidance, the Parish Council and St. Joseph School Board were formed. The school began to charge tuition as a way to help cut the cost of parish subsidy. The church underwent an extensive renovation project during this time.
In April, 1982, Rev. Lawrence Milby was named pastor. In 1990, we purchased a 19 rank pipe organ. This instrument was built in 1905 by Clarence Morey, an organ builder from Utica, NY. A group of volunteers dismantled the instrument and brought it to our church. It was rebuilt and restored to its original glory and now sound the praises of God each week.
In an extraordinary act of generosity, Mr. & Mrs. Daniel R. Gernatt, Sr. donated to the parish the construction of a new rectory. Work began in the spring of 1992 and was virtually completed by the end of that year. The outstanding quality of the building is a sign of Mr. & Mrs. Gernatt’s commitment to the life of our parish. Today, this beautiful residence/office provides the parish with facilities to better serve our people.
In 1998, St. Joseph Parish celebrated its 100th Anniversary. This was highlighted by a parish celebration on October 24, 1998 with a Mass celebrate by Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell, Bishop of Buffalo and our pastor, Rev. Lawrence Milby.
The year 1999 marked the first year that our parish was not a home for the Sisters of St. Francis. With their declining population, their services were required in other areas of the diocese. However, we continue to maintain strong ties with our Sisters of St. Francis in Stella Niagara.
In April, 2001, St. Joseph School hosted a 75 Anniversary celebration beginning with an Open House, continuing with the celebration of Mass and culminating with a dinner attended by many Sisters of St. Francis, priests, faculty, alumni and friends. Specially remembered was Sr. Elma who helped to open St. Joseph School back in September of 1925 and who had just celebrated her 80th anniversary of her religious profession.
In January, 2002, after almost 20 years of service to St. Joseph Parish, Fr. Milby was reassigned to Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Orchard Park.
Rev. Daniel Walsh, a Salamanca native, was welcomed to St. Joseph Parish in January of 2002 as our new pastor.
Fr. Dan has been instrumental in starting a Youth Group in the parish.
In the Fall of 2012, Rev. Daniel P. Walsh retired. In December, 2012, Rev. Joseph D. Porpiglia was appointed pastor and remains in the role today.
In June, 2014, St. Joseph School was closed by the Diocese of Buffalo in a revitalization plan for area Catholic Schools. Also in June, 2014, a final graduation and alumni reunion were held at the parish/school.
Today, our parish continues to grow and welcome all new members and visitors. For more information, please contact the rectory at 532-5100.