It’s hard to imagine that the origins of our parish were rather simple and most humble. The earliest records of the parish to date go back to 1848, as German refugees, fleeing from political and economic upheavals, began to settle and organize themselves in north Hudson County, in a small Catholic community named Guttenberg.
The first Mass in the community was celebrated at the home of Jane Minnix somewhere in 1848. Although there may have been only a few people present, they were very committed in their faith. By 1864, as the community grew larger, Masses were celebrated in the town hall and local schoolhouse.
The first official document testifying to the parochial work for the Catholics of Guttenberg comes from a baptismal register in 1863. Soon attention was given to building a permanent Church structure for the community. The cost was estimated to be approximately $10,000, a very large sum of money back then.
So great was the presence of the Parish in the 1880’s for the community that there was a need to build the first parochial school and convent. The Sisters of St. Francis, of Peekskill NY, conducted the needs of the local children, while the Passionist Fathers established a school in Union Hill called Holy Family. It’s believed that the sisters established a small school in North Bergen at the foot of what is now Hudson County Park.
By the early 1900’s, with the creation of the town of West New York and the steady increase of the population in the region, it was decided to relocate St. Joseph’s to a land purchased in 1902 from Mr. Herman Walker, former Mayor of Guttenberg, in Palisade Avenue between present 64th and 65th Streets.
Eventually, under the supervision of Rev. William Keyes, the construction of a larger school had to follow. The land for the new school was purchased on Palisade Ave across from the Church. By 1929 the school had a peak enrollment of 1200 pupils, and subjects such as math, reading, writing, religion, music and theatre, were initially instructed. Development for athletic facilities, high school classes and a school library followed.
On December 13, 1953, the Astor Theater, between 76th and 77th Streets in North Bergen, was purchased, renovated, and converted into the “Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel.”
Since the 1960’s, St. Joseph’s parish has received a large number of Catholics from many Latin-American countries, mainly Argentina, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. As a result, the St. Joseph’s Spanish Center was established in 1962. Currently, the parish is 75% Hispanic in origin, and celebrates Masses both in English and Spanish. In cooperation with referral services, the parish also gives assistance with housing, employment and legal status issues.
On August 16, 1982, a fire broke out late at night inside the church, causing damage inside the walls and damaging the mural of the crucifixion that covered the domed area over the main altar. As major repairs were necessary, the newly renovated church reopened on March 19, 1984.
More recently, some of the improvements that have taken place within the parish include: Its removal from being subsidized by the Archdiocese since 1999; the elimination of almost $1 million dollars of debt; the renovation of the Christian Brothers residence; the renovation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Chapel; the development of the International Food Festival for fundraising and better integration of the parish groups; development of the High School Scholarship Fund for needed families and students, and much more.