HISTORY

The oldest parish in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, St. Joseph was created as a mission of Assumption in 1817.  By 1819, a small wooden mission church was built and dedicated in honor of St. Joseph.  The location of this church was on LA 1 near the current church cemetery.   The first pastor of St. Joseph Church was appointed that same year.  Among the early pastors, Father Charles Menard (1845-1896) was best known for his work in building the Parish community and establishing outlaying parishes.  Father Menard served here and in the neighboring Lafourche and Terrebonne parish communities, including Morgan City, Gibson, Chacahoula, Bayou Boeuf, Bayou Black, Schriever, Houma, Little Caillou, Raceland, Lockport, Larose, Chackbay, St. John, St. Charles and Labadieville.

For decades all records of Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage and other vital documents for the area were recorded at St. Joseph Church.  In 1983 these documents were transferred to the Diocesan Historical Research Center, located on Nicholls State University campus.

Through the efforts of Father Charles Menard, a brick St. Joseph Church was erected in 1849 to replace the earlier wooden structure.  It was destroyed by fire in 1916, and the present day structure was dedicated in 1923.  A beautiful stained glass window commemorating this church can be found in the Co-Cathedral above the rectory side entrance.  Of further interest in this section of the Co-Cathedral is the unique bier, which survived the 1916 fire, containing relics of the French Saint Valerie.

The new church, a magnificent building in the Renaissance style, was obviously intended from the beginning to one-day serve as a cathedral.  Two new parishes were carved out of the original St. Joseph parish boundaries:  St. Genevieve became a parish in 1959 and St. Thomas Aquinas was formed as a university parish in 1970.  In addition to the church, rectory, convent, school and community center, the parish has a historic cemetery.  In 1985, a new building, St. Joseph Life Center, consisting of administration offices and a large community center, was dedicated.

In 1920, four years after the fire, Monsignor Alexander Barbier (Pastor from 1911 to 1935) initiated the construction and design of the present church.  The exterior of the church was completed in early 1923 and the first mass was celebrated on January 25, 1923.  Ornamental plaster and marble work on the interior was completed in 1931, when the church was re-dedicated.  Final painting of the interior was completed in 1954.  Finally in 1977, St. Joseph Catholic Church was named "Co-Cathedral" for the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux.  In this capacity the church now serves the bishop and the diocesan community, as well as its Thibodaux parishoners.

St. Joseph Co-Cathedral is Renaissance Romanesque in design with several major features reflecting architectural designs common to churches in Paris and Rome.  Note especially the splendid Rose Window in the rear of the church, modeled after that of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.  The three altars, those of St. Joseph, the Blessed Mother, and the main altar, are specially constructed of French and Italian marble.  The main altar base and steps are gold-veined Egyptian marble.

The unusual selection of symbols and design incorporated into the church are explained in notes taken by Monsignor Barbier up to the completion of the interior.

The following symbols and designs of interest should be noted as walking through the church:

        Above the main altar rises a 34 foot-high Baldachin, or canopy.  Along its upper edge are carvings of an angel, lion, ox and eagle.  These same images appear on every column in the church.  They are apocalyptic symbols representing the four Evangelist.  Above the canopy, in the gold dome, are images of the Tree of Knowledge, the Tree of Life, a snake, an apple, and peacocks symbolizing the triumph and glory of the risen Christ.  The seal of Pope Pius XI is also in the dome area while that of Archbishop Shaw is located under the arch immediately over the sanctuary.

        The crest that appears on every column depicts a shield with the emblems of faith, hope, charity and the Ship of Life above a cast of grapes and wheat, symbolizing the wine and bread of the Holy Eucharist.

        There are spectacular stained glass windows in St. Joseph Co-Cathedral that portray events in the life of Christ, through His Resurrection.  Those windows at the top of the church are emblems of the Seven Sacraments.  The stain glass representing baptism portrays the Baptism of Clovis, the first Christian King of France, and the other represents Father Barbier baptizing a baby.

        The exterior of the church is constructed of pressed brick with stone trimmings.  The roof features terra cotta tile work.

 

The Thibodaux parishioners of St. Joseph Co-Cathedral are proud of their beautiful and historical church.  It serves to give glory to God and it serves as a gathering place for prayer and celebration.