There has been a Catholic Christian presence in the vicinity of our parish from at least the sixth century. We are blessed to be able to treasure in our sister parish of St. Mahew’s a church that was in use all those centuries ago and, after the vicissitudes of history, was happily restored to Catholic worship in 1955. Within the boundaries of our parish, at Faslane cemetery, stand also the ruined remains of St. Michael’s church which dates back to the twelfth century (See image below). Other venerable chapels were located in Rosneath, Cove and elsewhere in the surrounding area. Our community gathers today in an area where devout Christians prayed and celebrated the sacraments some fifteen hundred years ago. We cannot but be conscious of the graces and blessings wrought through the devotions of our ancestors in the faith and we can be sure that their prayers and love are with us still.
Early enough in the life of the town, Helensburgh in 1865, had a Catholic parish established. Bishop Murdoch gave permission for the purchase of a cottage and joiner’s workshop, with a view to these premises being converted into a place of Catholic worship. Fr. John Macdonald from Dumbarton celebrated the first Mass in the parish known then as St. Bride’s. Ten baptisms had taken place by 1866. In the following year, Bishop Gray assigned the parish to the care of the Passionist Congregation. A Passionist saint, St. Paul of the Cross, had recently been canonised and the parish was re-dedicated under this patronage.
In 1878, Fr. Louis J. MacIntyre was appointed to the parish and very quickly sought permission from Archbishop Eyre to open a school and in the following year the same priest secured a new site on which to build a new church and school, in Grant St. Within a year preparations had been made and in June 1880, the new chapel-school was opened under the patronage of St. Joseph. The school could accommodate some 200 pupils. The parish saw continued growth and in 1908 permission was given to Fr. Angus Mackintosh to purchase Lomond Cottage and its grounds. In 1910, Fr. Mackintosh, with the extraordinarily generous financial support of Mrs. Rosina Blair, applied for and received permission to build a new substantial church at the corner of East King St. and Lomond St. The ambitious project was taken forward by the renowned Belgian architect, Charles Menart, who had designed the prestigious St. Aloysius’s Church in Rose St., Garnethill. The building began as soon as plans were approved by the Dean of Guild Court on 1st May 1911 and the formal opening was presided over by Archbishop Mackintosh on 6th August 1912. Interestingly, the tower planned to sit above the cross of the nave and transepts, never was realized. Artists’ impressions alone remain tantalizingly.
The new church had scarcely been completed when the Great War broke out. Records indicate that around 300 parishioners were involved in military service during that conflict. Those who lost their lives are commemorated in a fittingly noble memorial plaque situated inside the entrance porch. Thirty-one names of the war-dead are recorded on this poignant memorial. Many of the dead were between 18 and 21 years of age. This must have been a loss sorely felt by the entire parish.
As was usually the case, there was a considerable delay before the final consecration of the church. This took place on 28th April 1965 and Archbishop Scanlan officiated. To mark the occasion, His Grace donated an elegant chalice to St. Joseph’s, with an inscription to commemorate the event.
With the course of time, a number of significant changes have been made to the interior of the church. The sanctuary had to be adapted to suit the liturgical changes which took place after the Second Vatican Council. A free-standing altar facing the congregation, an ambo for the proclamation of God’s Word and the relocation of the Baptismal Font, all were done thoughtfully and tastefully, leaving an overall impression of a truly worthy setting for the sacred liturgy.
A further significant alteration was the extension of the vestibule area, toilets and a new stairway to an enlarged choir-loft, a new organ and P.A. system. This work was completed under the direction of Mgr. Maurice Ward and was made possible by the generous legacy of René and Leda Taverne (deceased in 1993 and 1999 respectively).
The most recent refurbishment of the church took place in preparation for the centenary of the building. A Centenary Repair and Refurbishment Group was formed and a very substantial amount of money was gathered, along with a grant from the Scottish Churches Architectural heritage Trust. Significant work was carried out and the church was fittingly embellished for the centenary.