THE ORIGINS OF THE COMMUNITY
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By the end of the 1920 s, in the southern part of the island, a new community was forming that would grow deep roots. In 1929 at Castleburg, we don t know the day nor month, a small group of Catholics got together to celebrate the Eucharist for first time.
This community was born as church should be, a pilgrim, since there was no fixed place to meet. For some time, they meet to celebrate the mass at the Great House in Estate Adventure. Then they changed their location to Estate Big Diamond , where the mass was celebrated at 10:00 a.m. After a period of pilgrimage they met a Estate Lower Love. The mass was celebrated at 9:00 a.m. at Kofresi at the residence of the Rodríguez family who are still living there. During that time the mass was celebrated at both places by the Redentorist fathers of St. Patrick. although on some occasions priests of Holy Cross assisted. This is attested by Mrs., Inez Williams, Mrs. Vicenta Monell, Mrs. Joan Sackey and Mrs. Julia Rodríguez, who are still active members of the community of St. Joseph. It is safe to believe that the origins of our Christian community of St. Joseph goes as far back as the year 1929.
NEED TO CONSTRUCT A CHAPEL
Towards the year 1940, people from adjacent areas fathered to hear the word of God. There were also many Hispanics who participated in the celebration. Mrs. Vicenta Monell tells us that for a period of time she was responsible for preparing the altar for the celebration of the mass, a service she still renders on occasions. The idea to build a new church became stronger as the community grew and did not have an appropriate place to celebrate the Eucharist. Moved by this reality, in January of 1941, the Redemptorist fathers decided to purchase two acres of land at Estate Lower Love for the future chapel. The cost at the time was $100.00 per acre. The project continued, but the purchases land was not the most favorable place for the Catholics that lived in this part of the island. Our Father God, who constantly guides His people, enlightened them to find a solution to the problem. The V.I. Company owned land in Mount Pleasant. Father Knoll, because of his acquaintance with the Gaffney Ramily, explored the possibility of exchanging the land. The V.I Company accepted. In this way a central location was found for the Catholics of this part of St. Croix to come together to celebrate with great joy their faith in God the Lord.
To ensure that the place was the most appropriate, in November of 1946, the visiting viceprovincial vicar of the Redemptorist fathers came to Mount Pleasant to inspect the proposed site for the construction of the Church. The Redemptorist Journal noted: In November, our viceprovincial vicar is visiting with us. He also visited Mount Pleasant to inspect the site that has been proposed for the chapel, and which has been spoken of for the past 10 years (10 years before 1945-Coulter). Those who are optimists believe that we can have a church very soon. Truly, the work was realized with great speed because seven months later, the construction was completed.
At the beginning of 1946, the dream that began 17 years before had become a reality. The interest of those brothers and sisters blossomed and the project of constructing the chapel began rapidly. Father Knoll assumed the responsibility of this great task and asked Mr. Henry D. Brown (now deceased), carpenter and contractor, to take charge of constructing the chapel.
THE FIRST STONE
In a very emotional celebration with many in attendance, Father Mark Knoll celebrated the Sunday mass on May 5, 1946, and then blessed the first stone. The following day, the construction of the chapel of St. Joseph began at Mount Pleasant, under the direction of Mr. Brown. This was the fourth and last site.
The first time that any newspapers article about the building of our chapel appeared in the St. Croix Avis was on June 3, 1946: A New Catholic chapel, which will become a part of the St. Patrick s Parish of Frederiksted, is begin build at Estate Mount Pleasant, adjacent to the Centerline Highway. The chapel will be about 70 feet by 28 feet and will be built of concrete blocks. The spire will rise approximately 20 feet form above the roof of the building... The chapel is being built from funds donated by parishioners and others, and form the proceeds of programs and entertainment s... Work on the chapel was begun on May 6th and the foundation is now complete.
The blocks used in our chapel were fabricated next to the atrium of St. Patrick s temple. The work moved rapidly that the foundation was completed by the end of May. The completion of the chapel was planned to the month of August, unless delayed by lack of necessary materials. No name has as yet been decided upon.
The foreseen deadline to Finnish the chapel was not met. It was precisely in the month of August 1946 that the construction had to be stopped because the materials did not arrive on time. The boat transporting the aluminum was deleted due to a strike: Progress on the new chapel in Mount Pleasant has been hindered by the serious lack of material. It is very difficult to obtain enough material of any kind. An order of aluminum from New York has been delayed due to the present maritime strike.
(Redemption Journal, August 10, 1946).
After this interruption, the material finally arrived and Mr. Brown immediately continued the work. This time there were no more obstacles stopping the construction. Therefore, the work continued until the chapel was completed. Despite the delay, the chapel was completed in seven months.
CONSECRATION OF THE CHAPEL
By December 0f 1946, the building and the preparations for the blessed of the chapel were almost complete. The Catholics of this southern part of St. Croix were living moments of much illusion and hope, as they saw their dream which flourished 17 years before at Castleburg, now being realized at Mount Pleasant. Their Christian life was lived with promise and fulfillment, animated by the hope and graces of God.
All things belong to God, therefore , we need to offer them to Him. The recently built chapel needed to be consecrated. Father Knoll and the community invited Bishop James Peter Davis who resided in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to celebrate the first mass and to consecrate de chapel. The Redemptorist fathers were also invited. On December 15, 1946 (in 1996, the day coincides with the date exactly 50 years ago), all the preparations were ready. The ceremony for the consecration of the chapel was schedule for 9:00 a.m. to be followed by a solemn mass. It was the third Sunday in advent which is known as the Sunday of happiness, a beautiful coincidence since all were very happy for the new chapel.
The community was assembled and awaited with great joy the arrival of Bishop Davis. Everything was ready for the celebration and the consecration would take place immediately after. By then, if was decided that the chapel would be named after St. Joseph, the spouse of Mary . The community kept waiting for some time, and there was no sight of the Bishop. After the long wait, Father Knoll decided to celebrate the mass, which would be the first to be celebrated in the recently constructed chapel. On that occasion so many people attended, that the chapel was too small to accommodate everyone.
THE PATIENT WAIT
The bishop could not arrive in St. Croix because his flight was stranded in St. Thomas. Meanwhile, the mass had ended and the fateful waited patiently for the bishop to appear. To kill some time, Father Knoll began to relate the history that had brought about the realization of this wonderful project: It has been 17 years since Father Meehan, C.Ss.R. held the first Mass at Castleburg to the time that ground was broken for this building... The bell was donated by the late Thomas Gaffney. The late Sir Arnold Gllden, Papal Night, made a gift of $500.00 toward the building of the chapel, . Father Knoll gave thanks to the benefactors and encouraged everyone by saying. The rejoicing should be all the more significant to those who have kept the faith all these years and now have a place of their own in which to worship Almighty God. (West End News, December 16, 1946) .
At about noontime, Father Knoll announced the arrive of the bishop. At that moment, the faces and hearts of everyone rejoiced and all were favorable disposed to receive the bishop. After greeting the bishop everyone participated in the celebration of the consecration. The chapel was dedicated in honor of St. Joseph, spouse of the Virgin Mary. (West End News, December 16, 1946). Today, we also celebrate St. Joseph the Worker.
This day of merriment at Mount Pleasant was very special, the West End News tell us: As the Bishop arrived on the ground of the chapel, he was greeted by a band from St. Patrick s School which struck up the hymn To Jesus Heart All Burning . The consecration ceremony was proceeded by a short procession, headed by the acolytes, the Fathers and Bishop Davis... With much solemnity and at the proper time, the blessing of the chapel took place. His Excellent first blessed the outside, then the inside of the building. The remanded of the ceremony took place at the altar .
From that day in 1929 when the first mass was celebrated at Castleburg until November 15, 1946, there wasn t an
appropriate place for Catholics to celebrate their faith, but the time had arrived. The dream had become a reality. The Catholics of the southern part of the island now had a place to come together to celebrate their faith. The Redmptorist fathers of St. Patrick always took care of the Christian community in this southern part of St. Croix.
Since that Sunday, December 15, 1946, the Eucharist has been celebrated every Sunday in this chapel of St. Joseph, spouse of our Blessed Virgin. The chapel remained under the pastoral guidance of the Redemptorist fathers of St. Patrick until 1973.
During that time, the sacrament of baptism, first communion and matrimonial were celebrated. Religious education for first communion was taught at various homes of the parishioners.- The first person to be baptized in the chapel was Mr. Mark L. Milligan in 1947, and shortly after, preparation for first communion began. The life of faith has always been alive and the Christian community has given testimony constantly of its faith and love for its brothers and sisters.
From its origin, the community of St. Joseph has been bilingual. If the priests who celebrated mass spoke some Spanish, they would say some words to the Hispanics. We were, therefore, heirs of a bilingual community tradition.
During 1930 to 1950, many people came to St. Croix from Puerto Rico, mainly from Vieques, Culebra and Fajardo to cut sugar cane, and the eastern coast. Attempts to minister to them were made. In 1950, in St. Patrick, Father Ed Hart gave a great mission in Spanish with great success and with many Hispanics in attendance. In 1957, to continue responding to the Hispanics hunger for God, Father Arthur Donnelly, parochial priest of St. Patrick, established a Sunday mass in Spanish. It is very possible that, at that time, some activities and celebration were held in Spanish at St. Joseph.
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