The steeples of St. Joseph Catholic Church have stood tall over Shelbyville for generations as beacons for those that share in the Catholic faith.
The church’s story is one of strength and resilience.
Though construction began in 1866, Catholic families across Shelby County gathered in homes for worship long before the current structure was built.
It is believed that the first official Catholic mass in Shelby County was held in the log cabin of Thomas Worland in 1828, led by Reverend George Elder who was visiting from Kentucky.
St. Vincent De Paul Church had opened on Michigan Road in 1839, but over the next several years, more and more Catholics settled in Shelbyville and it became clear that a Catholic church was needed in the heart of town.
The pastor of St. Vincent’s, at the time, Reverend John Gillig, rented a hall in 1865 so services could begin and then purchased a lot on East Broadway Street.
On August 6, 1866, construction began but the project was plagued with delays. St. Joseph Catholic Church officially opened in June of 1868 but faced great financial hardship. Due to increasing debt, the church was to be sold in a Sheriff’s sale in 1873.
Father Rudolf of France was able to purchase the building, saving the future of the church.
The following year, Father Rudolf purchased the tract of land next to the church and began teaching children in a large home on the property. The congregation remained small but faithful. Finally, the turn of the century brought a manufacturing boom to Shelbyville and church membership began to rise.
The church broke ground on the current structure on September 8, 1902. This same growth was also seen in the school. With the purchase of two adjoining properties, a new school building was built in the 1920’s and expanded to include a high school in 1925. The growth continued, and the 1950’s was a decade full of expansion and remodeling for both the school and the church.
Today, 150 years after the church began, St. Joseph Catholic church remains a place of comfort and worship for countless Shelby County families.
More of their story can be found at Grover Museum in the History Gallery from now until December 2018.