St. Joseph Catholic Church celebrates milestone

Published 7:00 am Friday, March 28, 2014

GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY: St. Joseph Catholic Church in Poplarville turns 50 years old this year. The church began in 1964 as a chapel on Smith Street.  Photo submitted

GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY: St. Joseph Catholic Church in Poplarville turns 50 years old this year. The church began in 1964 as a chapel on Smith Street.
Photo submitted

St. Joseph Catholic Church in Poplarville is celebrating an important milestone this year, their 50th anniversary.

The church began as a chapel in 1964, operating out of a converted medical clinic on Smith Street donated by Dr. Emile A Bertucci, Jr. M.D. and his wife Shirley, said Darrell Fuller, a 50th anniversary planning committee member.

It was through the help of parishioners and other local churches that the St. Joseph Chapel building became possible.

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Members of St. Michael Catholic Church in Biloxi donated the pews, statuary, Stations of the Cross, altar and vestments to St. Joseph’s Chapel. Parishioners who donated their time, materials and money to complete the conversion, Fuller said.

In 1969, under the leadership of Father James E. Kircher, the parishioners started planning to build a larger church.

Fuller said, during Kircher’s time as pastor, the church worked with the Star Program to provide facilities and training for high school dropouts to complete their education and receive their diploma.

Kircher is remembered as the “motorcycle priest” because he traveled to perform ministry on his Honda 750. In one year, he traveled more than 22,000 miles on that motorcycle, Fueller said.

In 1972, the church started looking for a new, larger site to build a church, parish hall, parish house, a building for classrooms and church offices.

Creating building plans began after six-acres on a hill on Highway 11 were purchased as a new site, Fueller said.

In 1981, Bishop of the newly formed Diocese of Biloxi, Joseph Lawson Howze, approved the building plans and gave St. Joseph a $50,000 Extension Society grant, which paid for the cost of the building.

In April of the same year, Father Ronal Herzog transferred to St. Joseph and oversaw the construction. The building served the St. Joseph community until 2009.

The church continued to expand its services and ministry over the next 20 years.

In 1985, the church created the local chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society under the leadership of Father William Vollor. The St. Vincent de Paul Society building, just like the original chapel, was built entirely by the parishioners and was dedicated to Father George Murphy on Feb. 5, 1987, Fueller said.

In 1994 with the arrival of Father Clark E. Bearden, the bereavement ministry was expanded. St. Joseph also created the parish life ministry and Forever Young ministry during Bearden’s time at the church.

Fueller said Bearden is also credited with starting Oktoberfest, later renamed Fall Fest, to help raise money for the building fund that was started in 1985. Father Kenneth Ramón-Landry helped finalize the festival plans in 1998.

In December 1998, Ramón-Landry formed a focus group of parishioners to research the possibility of building a new church to accommodate the growing church community.

On Sept. 12, 1999, parishioners voted to build a parish house, a new church to seat 450 people, new parking lots, a faith formation building with parish offices and start a “Capital Campaign” to raise money for construction projects, Fueller said.

By January 2004, a new parish house was constructed along with a Faith Formation building.

The Faith Formation building was dedicated to Leo A. Weyenberg, a member of the parish who oversaw all aspects of planning and building of the parish house and Faith Formation center, Fueller said.

The next year, the church suffered extensive damage due to Hurricane Katrina. The storm separated the roof enough to collapse the ceiling in parts of the church. While the church was being repaired, mass was held in the parking lot.

In the aftermath of the storm and despite damage to their own facility, the church hosted the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the Faith Formation Center where families could come and receive emergency supplies.

Construction of the new church began in 2008 and was completed in May 2009.

On June 5, 2009, the new church was dedicated.

“Dedication Day arrived and everything went as planned. Even the weather cooperated with blue skies, mid-80’s and a gentle breeze. The new church was filled, the dedication Mass was beautiful, and the evening meal was wonderful.

So the results of 30 years of dreaming and praying and planning and fund raising and hard work had finally come to fruition and taken on a physical form,” Fuller said.