On August 12, 1848, the Sisters of Providence agreed at the request of Father Simon Lalumiere, our first pastor, to open Saint Vincent Academy for Girls on the corner of Fifth and Walnut Streets. At this site there was a small two story brick building that had served for some years as a one-room schoolhouse with living quarters on the second floor. The sturdy little brick building needed renovation and expansion, but Father Lalumiere hoped to raise the needed funds by subscription. However, Catholics were few and most of them were poor. Mother Theodore and her council recognized that they would need to share the financial responsibility for the school and they agreed to furnish the school and the living quarters for the sisters. In addition, the records show that Mother Theodore on several occasions forwarded cash to assist in the purchase of materials for the building. Difficulties slowed the progress of the school and it was not ready for occupancy until late December of 1848. A sturdy and attractive building, it withstood the wear and tear of daily use for ninety-four years and was finally razed in 1940.
The building of the first railroad in 1852 brought many immigrant families to Terre Haute. An addition was made to the church and a rectory was constructed. Religious education during those years took many forms, including lyceums, academics, elementary and secondary schools, which existed in the parish until the late 1950s.
Originally, diocesan priests served the parish. They were followed by Jesuits and then by Benedictines. The rich heritage of St. Joseph’s has been further enhanced by the presence of the Conventual Franciscan Friars since 1872.
The cornerstone of the present church was laid in 1910, with the cost of the building recorded at $60,000. A disastrous fire in 1934 caused extensive interior damage but within 11 months repair work was completed, the church reblessed, and the altar consecrated by Bishop Joseph E. Ritter. During the next half century, the parish experienced periods of both growth and decline as world events such as World War II, the Second Vatican Council, and local events affected the life of the community. The 1987-1988 year marked the Sesquicentennial of Saint Joseph University Parish. This was followed by a complete renovation of the church in 1991.
For the past 50 years, St. Joseph has moved beyond the confines of a typical parish and sought to provide a warm welcome to the academic communities of Indiana State University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. St. Joseph’s was designated as the official University Parish in the 1960's and in 1973 it was determined to be in the best interest of the students to combine the operation of The Student Center, previously located at Fifth and Mulberry Streets, with St. Joseph University Parish. The Campus Center is currently located in the Parish Center building next to the Parish offices.
As our number of parishioners continues to increase, we have a growing religious education program and other ministries. We are in the process of renovating our buildings to meet building codes and to provide amenable meeting spaces for our ministries. St. Joseph University Parish is alive and active as we continue to serve the needs of our members, the poor of the Terre Haute area, and our sister parish in Honduras. As the parish continues to celebrate its rich heritage, it also looks toward the challenges of continued growth in faith and living out the Gospel message in today’s world.