Our mission is to pray for vocations by making Jesus present in our sacramental and liturgical life. Allowing the love for God to grow with an open heart. Serving with joy our community formed by the parishes of St. Joseph and San Clemente. “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” - Matthew 9:37-38
Although there is some variance in documentation as to the exact date that Saint Joseph Church was erected to the status of Parish, April 16, 1907 is the accepted date that Bishop Conaty of the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles announced the change in status from mission to parish. Bishop Conaty was the forth Bishop of Monterey-Los Angeles, within which lies the territory of the present day Diocese of Fresno. Rev. Eugene Heffernan was appointed the first pastor of St. Joseph Church and was installed on April 19, 1907. Father Heffernan served as Pastor of the newly formed parish for two years, until his transfer to San Diego in 1909. During his assignment Saint Joseph assumed responsibility for St. Mary’s (Delano) and St. Mary’s (Taft). His successors would be given responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the residents of the Kern River Valley (St. Jude’s, Wofford Heights) and the tuberculosis hospital in Keene, the present location of the UFWU (United Farm Workers).
On February 6, 1922, under the direction of Fr. Patrick O’Connor, construction of Saint Joseph School was begun. The school was completed in early 1923, although it was not opened until September 8, 1925 with the Sisters of Mercy as the first teachers. Saint Joseph School, with numerous additions throughout the years, remained in operation until June of 1960. The Sisters of Mercy would continue to administrate and teach at St. Joseph School and St. Lawrence School until the closing of the latter in 1971. The last principal of Saint Lawrence School was Sister Mary Timothy, RSM.
On December 31, 1923, Fr. O’Connor purchased the land for the current site of Saint Joseph Church, the northeast corner of Baker and Pacific Streets. Construction of the second St. Joseph Church began in the late summer of 1926 by then pastor, Father (later Monsignor) John Gavin. The cornerstone of the church, described as Spanish Colonial in architectural design, was laid by Bishop John B. McGinley of the Diocese of Monterrey-Fresno on September 26 of the same year.
On May 2, 1925, Fr. Galvin bought two residences on Baker Street, converting 1402 Baker Street into a new rectory. That rectory was in service until it was replaced in 1941 with a new one next door to the church, the current parish office building, by Monsignor P.J. McGrath.
On November 4, 1943, Reverend Thomas Early became the 12th pastor of St. Joseph Church. Father Early immediately set out to liquidate the appalling parish debt, stated at $44,000.00 at that time. His assignment at Saint Joseph would be a productive one for the Catholic community in Bakersfield. On June 28th of 1945, he acquired 20 acres of land, which was later doubled to 40 acres. This acreage would later become the site of Garces Memorial High School. In May 1945 five acres of land was secured on Berger Street, between Water and Heights Streets, for a “Catholic Center.” The future San Clemente Mission was born. In February of 1947, an Army Chapel at Gardner field was acquired for the Catholic Center. August 22, 1952 proved a disastrous day for the city of Bakersfield, and for Saint Joseph Church. Approximately one month, and 18 aftershocks, following the July 21, 1952 Kern County earthquake (7.5), a large aftershock (5.8) struck at 3:42PM. Saint Joseph Church did not collapse, but like many other structures that had endured the earlier earthquake and aftershocks, it was severely damaged. Subsequently the church was deemed inadvisable to repair, due to its brick and hollow tile construction. The third, and current, Saint Joseph Church was completed in June of 1953. According to news accounts of the day, the church is of a Romanesque-Gothic style with a seating capacity of 800 people, including the side chapel and the choir loft. The stained glass windows of the main church, as well as the Stations of the Cross, the oak pews and some of the roof tiles were salvaged from the old church. October 1957 saw the beginning of a fund drive for a new school; although the construction of the 178 freeway is often cited as the reason for the need of a new school, the reality was quite different. The original St. Joseph School, which had a maximum capacity of 300 students, had 450 students in attendance when it was decided to build a new school. Plans for the new school actually began in 1956 with the acquisition of five acres of land on Niles Street near Morning Drive. One of the last acts of Reverend James Maloney, as pastor of St. Joseph Church, was the September 1958 ground breaking ceremony for the new school. The estimated cost for construction, given at the time of the beginning of the fund drive, was $105,000. The actual cost of construction eventually exceeded $225,000. The school was completed by the parish community, under the leadership of Monsignor Roger McCann. Rechristened “St. Lawrence School,” the new school opened for the school year of 1959. One year later, the old St. Joseph School closed its doors for the last time. St. Lawrence remained in operation until 1971 when it was closed by Monsignor Patrick Hannon due to what was then termed financial difficulties and a lack of teaching personnel. The entire school and property were eventually sold. It now operates as Carden School. Beyond the opening of St. Lawrence School, the pastorate of Monsignor McCann also brought about the construction of the parish hall, Bishop McGinley Hall, in 1968. Monsignor McCann died in1969, the second pastor to die while in office. The first was Monsignor P.J. McGrath in 1943. The 1970’s were a time of experimentation within the church, a natural consequence of the Second Vatican Council. St. Joseph’s was no exception. The old, ornate pre-Vatican II altar was replaced with a simple table, and colored geometric patterns adorned the walls of both the main sanctuary and the side chapel. The church went though several interior re-decorations, a trend which continued until the pastorate of Monsignor John Esquivel. Monsignor Esquivel arrived at St. Joseph Church in the spring of 1983. His pastorate would be marked with a renewed sense for growth. The main parish plant doubled in size during the eleven years that he served the parish community. A new rectory was created out of an old apartment building, the old rectory was converted into the Alvaro Ramos Parish Office Building, and two houses on acquired property were converted into the Spanish Ministries Office and the Youth Office. A new educational center, now bearing his name, was constructed in 1989. Monsignor also expanded parish programming to include elementary Spanish CCD, and begun outreach to the Spanish speaking community by adding a Spanish Mass on Sundays. His long-term goal was the re-acquisition of St. Lawrence School. Reverend Robert D. Wenzinger, arrived on July 1, 1994. He was considered the logical successor to Monsignor Esquivel, whom he served from 1986-1989 as associate pastor of St. Joseph Church. Fr. Wenzinger immediately set about to eliminate the large parish debt that had accumulated during the expansion of the parish facilities and land, to re-establish financial stability, and to begin a program of revitalization and beautification of the parish facilities. To date, approximately 1 million dollars over the past 12 years have been raised and expanded to achieve this goal. A new residence for the pastor was acquired, and the lower section of the rectory converted into offices and conference rooms for the expanding parish ministries and programs. Old properties on Baker Street were also re-acquired. Two more Masses in Spanish have been added, without the reduction of English Masses, New programs and ministries have begun, both in Spanish and in English, with special emphasis on social outreach and concern. When one considers all that which has been accomplished through the years, the construction of three churches, two elementary schools, five rectories, numerous convents, acquisition of land for Garces Memorial High School and so much more, the picture of St. Joseph Church is one of a glorious past, and with the grace of God, a promising and bright future.