St. Joseph's Parish
by Joan Howe
St. Joseph's Church, located on Jackson
Street between Third and Fourth Streets in South Troy, holds an important
place in the history of many Irish immigrant families. Members of
my family have been baptized, married and buried in and from that
grand structure for at least the last 140 years beginning with the
1863 burial of my Irish great-great grandparents, Edward and
Margaret (Ryan) Reardon's baby daughter, up until the present
day, with my sister and first cousin being parishioners. I hope you’ll
travel down “memory lane” with me and learn about a place
that wasand still may be a vital part of many Irish families of South
During the potato famine, as more
and more Irish settled near the iron mills of South Troy, a new church
needed to be built. In the spring of 1847, David Hathaweay, architect,
was hired by Rev. Peter Havermans, pastor of St. Mary's Church, to
draw plans for the church. Eight lots were secured from Judge
Cushman at the corner of Third and Jackson streets. On May 21, 1847,
Bishop John McClosky officiated at the laying of the cornerstone,
and in that same month, men from the Nail Factory dug the excavation
for the foundation of the church.
In February 1848, the
original plans for St. Joseph's had
to be modified by the architect to
cut cost because money was needed to
build the Cathedral in Albany and to
rebuild St. Peter's Church which burned
February 12, 1848. Interestingly, on
Nov. 1, 1848, the first Mass was celebrated
by Rev. Peter Havermans in the unfinished
St. Joseph's Church.
Finally, the magnificent
church, built to seat 2,000 people,
was completed six years later. The
$100,000 price tag included such items
as marble altar, mahogany pews, baptistery,
soaring bell tower with mounted bells,
magnificent choir loft and organ, and
breathtaking Tiffany windows. A rectory
was attached to the church, a large
parish hall built in 1897 which housed
four bowling lanes, a gymnasium, and
an auditorium. This completed the parish
St. Joseph's Church and Rectory, Third Street side, circa 1880.
Once called the "Iron Workers
Church", St. Joseph's was a proud symbol for the Irish community
a sign of their strong faith, hard work and dedication. In addition
to attending Mass and receiving the sacraments, church-sponsored social
organizations and functions would have been an essential way the parish
helped my ancestors become acclimated to their new home. Parishioners
socialized after Mass and vespers and a special services were held
on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. St. Patrick's Day brought parades,
special Masses, and plenty of friendly celebration and drinking. Those
who were Irish speakers sometimes used their native tongue and played
tunes on the Irish flute.
St. Joseph's Church facing Jackson Street, undated.
My great-grandfather John
Reardon and his brother, Patrick, would
have attended the parish school which was organized in 1861 and initially
staffed by seven Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet from St. Louis,
Missouri. The Sisters arrived at the invitation of the pastor of St.
Joseph's parish, who informed the sisters that the "unruly youth
of South Troy" were in need of their guidance. Subsequently,
St. Joseph's Academy was built in 1876, with one of the school buildings
facing Third Street and the other on Monroe Street. For many years
St. Joseph's Academy maintained a high school, which was discontinued
with the opening of Catholic Central High School in 1924.
The Sisters lived in a house at
445 Third Street until 1868 when they moved into St. Joseph's Convent
on Fourth Street at the head of Jackson Street. They operated a private
school for girls until 1883. The Sisters, needing more space, later
moved to the property of St. Joseph's Seminary.
St. Joseph's Convent, Fourth and Jackson Streets, circa 1880.
A maternity hospital
was built east of the church on Fourth
Street in 1923, on or near the site
where the first convent had been built.
When the maternity hospital closed
in 1952, the building then served as
a convent for the Sisters until 1963
when they moved to a new Provincial
House in nearby Latham, N.Y.
My grandmother, Margaret
(Reardon) Duffy, received her grade school and high school
education at St. Joseph's Academy, and my mother and her three sisters
completed their grammar school education at St. Joseph's and then
their high school education at Catholic Central, which is now West
Hall, a part of RPI's campus.
In September 1957, I was placed
into the hands of Sister Immaculata, kindergarten teacher, just in
time to enjoy the opening of the brand-new St. Joseph's grade school,
located just North of the parish hall at the corner of Fourth and
Monroe Streets. Here, the Sisters continued their quest to give students
a superior education often using methods involving corporal punishment!
The New St. Joseph's School ~ Sister
Immaculata's Kindergarten Class ~ 1957
( Fourth Street is outside the window)
In addition to learing reading, writing,
and arithmetic at school, church was an integral part of the Catholic
students' lives. Attendance at Sunday and First Friday Masses, Tuesday
Novenas, confession, May processions, Stations of the Cross, and Holy
Day Masses was required. Families attended church and celebrated the
students' reception of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. Public
school students received religious (CCD) instructions and received
the sacraments as well.
Solemn occasions were also part
of our family's life as parishioners of St. Joseph's. Before funeral
homes were common, a black cloth was draped over the front door of
the home of the deceased to indicate that a member of the household
had died. The wake was held in the front room, with refreshments served
in another area of the home. And we all know that the beer flowed
freely at Irish wakes! A few of my Reardon ancestors' obituaries state
that the funerals were to begin at their residence and thence to St.
Joseph's Church where a requiem high mass will be sung.” So
beginning with baptism and ending with funeral masses and prayers
at burial, St. Joseph's Church has been important to my family in
South Troy for almost a century and a half.
Visiting South Troy today, it is
obvious that much has changed in the area since my Irish ancestors’
early days in America. I find little evidence of many of the things
they would have seen and encountered in their daily lives. But anyone
who takes the time to open the heavy doors and enter St. Joseph's
Church will soon get the feeling that, inside that long-standing structure,
time has stood still. It's one of the few places we can visit and
feel linked to a world long gone a world that our ancestors experienced
so many years ago.
St. Joseph's Church, Christmas Season of 2003
* Source for information
is History of the City of Troy
by Weise & Bardin,
Troy, N.Y: 1877.
** Source for information
is Troy and Rensselaer County,
A History by Rutherford Hayner, Lewis
Historical Pub. Co., NY, 1925.
*** Source for church construction information was
taken from a piece of paper discovered in May 2005 in an old record
book at St. Joseph's Rectory entitled, CHRONICLES CORNER
, author unknown.