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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, December 7, 2023


With their own toil and sweat, the parishioners of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church have built a beautiful new "old church."
That’s how St. Joseph’s associate pastor, Fr. Charles Crespo, described the proud new parishioner-built church just off Queen Mary Highway in Mt. Pleasant. The idea for the 7,200-square-foot building was initiated about eight years ago by the church’s former pastor, Fr. Jose Herrera, who saw the need for a larger place of worship than the original 200-person church.
"It certainly was the most modest of all the Catholic churches in the Virgin Islands," Crespo said of the 55-year-old church. "It was basically a concrete box with a few windows."
The new 500-seat church towers over the old, with magnificent 125-year-old stained-glass windows that tell the story of the Gospel. The 18 towering leaded-glass panels were given by the bishop of the diocese of Fall River, Mass.
"They got here with only two damaged," Crespo said. "It’s a miracle they’re in such good shape. This is really museum-quality art."
While the windows are breathtaking, Crespo said they do more than just add beauty. Centuries ago, when many churchgoers were illiterate, windows were used in conjunction with sermons as teaching tools, he explained.
"What you see here, as you go through the church, is the story of Christ. Birth to Resurrection."
The story of how the new St. Joseph’s Church was built is also one of biblical proportions. When the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands was asked about help, church officials told parishioners they had to come up with 25 percent of the costs. For a congregation of working-class people, that was too much. So they set out with bake sales and their own skills to get the job done.
The ground-breaking for the new, million-dollar building was three years ago. The church was dedicated and anointed on Sunday by George V. Murry, bishop of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The final cost was about $400,000.
"This parish is the most economically distressed. There are only a handful that are more than working class," Crespo said. "Most of the construction was done by the parishioners with their own hands. They came on Saturdays and weekdays after work to lay a tile or a concrete block. We relied on the talent of our parishioners."
And what they wrought is a striking edifice, which Crespo said is getting raves from people of all faiths who are used to modern churches resembling multi-purpose structures.
"We’ve built an old church," Crespo said. "It’s a new church with an old design. This really looks like an old-fashioned church."
The larger church will likely act as a magnet for St. Joseph parishioners who had gone to some of St. Croix’s other Catholic churches to escape the heat and overcrowding in the old building. Crespo and Fr. Cecil Corneille will continue to hold four masses each Sunday.

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