The history of Saint Joseph Church began more than 150 years ago with a small group of catholics who resided in the area of the Village of Middletown. They were few in number, but strong in their faith. In 1848 a Mass was held at Tandy Lodge, located on Academy Ave. and East Main St. with seven people in attendance. For the next nine years Masses were held at Burke's Assembly rooms on Union and Franklin Streets every four to six weeks. There was no priest assigned to Middletown at the time and the nearest Catholic Church was St. Johns Parish located in Goshen. The Rev. Benjamin O'Callahan was the mission priest assigned to Goshen and he traveled to the surrounding areas to say Mass.
In 1859 the Saint Joseph Society was organized in Middletown with plans to build their own church. A lot was purchased on the corner of Linden and Wickham Avenues and Joseph Crawford was hired to lay a stone foundation ninety by fifty - two feet. Michael Mahoney, John Kearns, and Terrence Costello, officers of the Society, decided to halt building during the Civil War. From the inception of the Saint Joseph Society to the conclusion of the Civil War, the Catholic population of the Middletown area continued to grow and it was decided that the church under construction would not be adequate. This land, with the foundation, was sold and became Slauson Hall, later renamed Linden Hall.
In January 1865, the Saint Joseph Society sent a request to John Cardinal McClosky, Archbishop of New York, asking permission to establish a parish in Middletown. The Cardinal granted this request and assigned the Rev. Andrew O'Reilly of Newburgh as rector of Saint Joseph Parish. The following month thirteen acres of land was purchased on Cottage St, the outskirts of the village, for $7,000 from Judge John G. Wilkins. The wood frame house on the property was remodeled for use as a rectory at a cost of $2,500. This was financed by the $2,000 realized from the sale of the Linden Ave. property and contributions of the parishioners. During this period Mass was held at Gothic Hall at 54 North Street.
A wood frame church was built at a cost of $7,000 a few feet north of the present building. It was a long narrow structure about half the size of the present church and had a seating capacity of 400 - 500. This building was financed in part by $1,060 earned at achurch fair held in April of 1865. On October 2, 1867 Archbishop McClosky dedicated the new church and blessed the cemetery which opened the same year. Father O'Reilly remained in Middletown for nine years as Pastor of the parish and was replaced by the Rev. Richard O'Gorman, who was administrator until September of 1875.
In 1875 St. Joseph's received its second pastor, the Rev. Peter J. Prendergast. He was born in County Tipperary, Ireland and all six of his brothers became priests. One brother eventually became the Archbishop of Philadelphia. Father Prendergast was joined at St. Joseph's by the Rev. John Patrick McClancy in 1877. Both priests realized that the church building was inadequate for the growing population of St. Joseph's. The building itself was in disrepair and large beams that looked like telephone poles had been installed to support the walls. These were referred to as, "the pillars of the church." A building committee was formed and Mr. Arthur Crooks was employed as the architect for the new building.
Messers Magill and Binnie, stonecutters from the city of Brooklyn, were hired to construct a foundation of Ohio Bluestone measuring 130 by 62 feet for the fee of $1,900. Messers Malcolm and Russell, masons from Newburgh, were contracted to lay the brick and complete the plastering of the new church for $5,700. Mr James Thompson, a carpenter from Clifton, NY was hired to set the window frames, raise the roof, slate and tin the roof and lay the floor. His fee was $9,550 and he employed a number of carpenters and joiners to work on the building. Father Prendergast engaged the firm of Aicken and Godwin of Philadelphia to install the stained glass windows. He had, no doubt, appreciated the windows this firm had installed in the Cathedral in Philadelphia while visiting his brother, the Archbishop.
The specifications called for onw window in each of the lower side sections; ten in all, eight in the clearstory, five in the front gallery, two in the lower front gallery, three in the sacristy and one between the side porch and sacristy; twenty nine windows in all. They were to be of the finest stained glass thoroughly glazed and put in lead sash. The windows were to be supplied with double non-iron galvanized spring locks. These twenty nine windows, designed and installed, would cost $909 when completed.
With the architects fee, the total building cost was $18,500. An additional $7,500 for furnishings brought the total cost to $26,000. Later the tower was built to house the first set of chimes in Middletown and an organ was purchased. The new building had a seating capacity of over 1,000 due to the Gothic style wood braces that supported the roof. There was only one other building constructed in this manner at the time. A small chapel added to the rear of the church was the last piece of construction which had taken almost a year to complete. In 1884 a stone school was added for the church Sunday School at a cost of $1,100.
During this time, Father Prendergast was not only concerned with the building of the new church, but continued to look after the spiritual welfare of his congregation. In 1876 there were 1,500 communicants in the parish and 245 members pledged 50 cents a month toward the building fund. In 1876 a July Festival was sponsored by the church in order to aid the funding. The local paper ran an article at this time informing the community that Father Prendergast had prohibited round dancing at church picnics and festivals. He went on to say that people who indulged in this behavior did so against his wishes. The paper agreed with him saying while it was possible for some to dance round dances without harm, it was impossible for people with ungoverned passions to indulge in it with perfect freedom from impure thoughts and harmful results.
In December of 1876 Father Prendergast was again in the news. The local paper commented on his ability to sleep soundly. Burglars ransacked the rectory while the pastor was asleep in his room. They entered through an unlocked window and took three dollars in coins that were on his desk. Another large desk, having many small drawers, was removed from the rectory and later found in a garage one block away. After ransacking the entire house, except for the room with the sleeping priest, they adjourned to the cellar and split a bottle of altar wine, which came from the Jacques Brothers Winery of Washingtonville. When the left they took a second bottle. The following day Father Prendergast told the police he had removed all bills from the collection and stuffed them into his pants pockets. The thieves got only a small part of the collection, which was described as "substantial".
The Rev. John Patrick McClancy was born in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland on December 17, 1844. Following the great famine and the growing political unrest in that country, his family came to New York in 1850. John McClancy attended Catholic Schools graduating from Manhattan College in 1866 and was ordained by Archbishop McClosky at St, Joseph's Seminary in Troy, New York on May 22, 1869. Father McClancy's first assignments were St. Joseph's and St. Peter's, both in NYC. On September 17, 1877 he arrived in Middletown to assist Father Prendergast. CArdinal McClosky sent him to Father Prendergast for one month. That month lasted fifty-seven years.
On July 27, 1879 The Most Reverend Bishop O'Hara of Scranton, Pennsylvania traveled to Middletown to lay the cornerstone for the new St. Joseph Church. The guest speaker was to be the famous Father McGlynn of New York City. He was one of the country's most noted speakers of the time and a large crowd was expected to attend. Charles Jones, a Western Union messenger, arrived at the rectory on the morning of the ceremony with a telegram for Father Prendergast. Father McGlynn would not be able to arrive in time for the ceremony, The pastor informed his young assistant that he would be the speaker for the ceremony which was to take place in less than two hours. Father McClancy, almost unprepared, spoke eloquently and won the reputation of being one of the finest orators in the nation. For the remainder of his life, he would be asked to speak at prestigious gatherings and even for non-Catholic groups.
On May 9, 1880 The Most Reverend Patrick Neilson Lynch, D.D. Archbishop of Charleston, South Carolina dedicated the new Saint Joseph Church. Father Prendergast remained pastor of the parish until 1888 when he was reassigned to Kingston. The Reverend John P. McClancy who had assisted Father Prendergast for eleven years, was appointed Pator of St. Joseph's by the Archbishop of New York.
The year before Fr. Prendergast left Middletown he realized the need for religious training of the young people of the parish. In 1886 he made arrangements with the Archbishop to buy the Hulse property next to the church and renovated the house on the property for use as a school until a more adequate building could be erected. The school had three classrooms on the first floor and two on the second. A group of Ursuline nuns came to Middletown from St. Teresa's Academy in New York City to teach in the school. Father Prendergast aslo bought the Baird Property on East Main Street between Grand and Prospect Aveenues for use as a residence for the nuns. Mother Ursula Hughes became the first Principal of the parish school and the first class graduated in 1892. After completing the course of study at St. Joseph's school, some of the students went on to Saint Teresa Normal School in New York City which prepared them to teach in public schools. As the population of the parish continued to grow , the old school soon became in adeqaute . Father McClancy raised money and built the present school building in 1900. Mother Berchmans Gorman became the new principal. The convent on East Main Street was expanded in 1910 to house the Ursuline Academy which became the High School Department to the parish school.