History of Our Church

The Methodists built the first church in Greenville in 1846 which was shared later with the Presbyterians who organized in 1859. The Episcopalians renovated the second floor of the lodge hall for their place of worship. The Roman Catholics in the area were organized in 1858 into a congregation called St. Joseph’s by traveling missionary priests and held Masses in the Lewis Caffall home. The Catholics residing across in Chicot County Arkansas were organized by missionary priest into a congregation called St. Mary’s about the same time and held Masses in the home of Mrs. Joseph B. Johnson. There was no Catholic church in Mississippi North of Vicksburg and none in Southeast Arkansas South of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Father O’Connor of Vicksburg visited Greenville twice in 1858. He reported to the Bishop of Natchez that a congregation named for St. Joseph the Worker had been organized by missionary priests in 1858. (Several years later an agreement was signed by Bishop Gerow and Monsignor Igoe agreeing that 1858 was the founding date.)

Greenville was fired upon by Union forces and burned during the Civil War

The residents took refuge with relatives elsewhere or fled to the surrounding plantations for shelter and safety. What was left of the town soon caved into the Mississippi River. Greenville was no more. Bishop Elder of Natchez was taken under cover in a mule cart out of the city and exiled for the remainder of the war as he would not offer prayers for the Union forces.

In 1866, after the War, a new Greenville was laid out in the present location a few miles upstream of the original site. Families moved into the new town and reorganized their congregations. Three priests from the Natchez Diocese visited Greenville. They urged Bishop Elder to build a church the serve the sixty adults and thirty children residing there. The bishop appointed Father Mayes in April 1867 as the first resident parish priest along the river from Friars Point downstream to Mayersville.

Father Mayes acquired property at the Northwest corner of Walnut and Central Avenue with two buildings to serve as church and rectory. Father Mayes was recalled in November 1868 and could not be replaced by the Bishop of Natchez.

In the meantime, the Bishop of Little Rock Arkansas had acquired a sizable lot in Lake Village, Arkansas for a church. Mrs. Johnson returned to her former home in New Orleans from its merchants ready to build a church for the St. Mary’s congregation. By 1869 Lake Village had a church but no rectory. St. Joseph’s in Greenville had a church and rectory by no priest. By mutual agreement between the two bishops St. Joseph’s parish in Greenville was expanded to include the area along the river in Chicot county Arkansas and a corner of East Carroll Parish (county) in Louisiana. St. Joseph’s was to serve as the parish seat

with St. Mary’s being a mission thereunder. The Little Rock Diocese continued staffing the parish until 1871. During this time an adjacent lot was purchased in Greenville to serve as a Catholic school staffed by lay teachers from Natchez.

The Mississippi River began eating the city front so the present property was purchased on January 24, 1874. A frame church of heart pine and cypress measuring forty feet by seventy-five feet with a seventy-five foot spire in the Victorian Gothic style was built on Main Street in the center of the lot. A Victorian cottage was built on the back of the lot facing Shelby Street. This church was dedicated by Bishop Elder on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1875. The bishop ordered the school closed and the old property sold to help defray the costs and the new church and rectory. The site which the first church occupied is now partially in the levee and wharf.

There being a shortage of priest in the Dioceses of Natchez and Little Rock, the bishops called upon the Diocese of Natchitoches for help. Accordingly Father Joseph Queland of St. Patrick’s in Lake Providence, Louisiana administered St. Joseph’s parish, including its missions, in 1876 and 1877. In 1878 the Natchez Diocese appointed Father F. Gasulpy to take over.

Rev. Canon Paul John Korstenbroek was named pastor in 1886 and remained until 1920. He built the two storey school and convent named St. Rose of Lima, that same year on the corner of Hinds and Main Street. Sisters of Mercy from the motherhouse in Vicksburg staffed the school. The school and convent were destroyed by fire in 1915 and rebuilt immediately.

In 1896, St. Joseph’s was relieved of the area on the West side of the river with the Bishop of Little Rock elevated St. Mary’s mission to a parish and established Our Lady of the Lake parish with a resident pastor. St. Joseph’s retained the area on the East side of the river.

Father Korstenbroek, a Dutch nobleman, who had studied architecture before entering into the priesthood in his native Haarlem, Holland designed the present church building in true Dutch Gothic style and began construction in 1907. He designed the Church with cues from his native Cathedral in his home town. With architect Theodore Brune and contractor Gus Hecker, the contract was made and it contained a provision that the foundation must lie idle for one solid year before any bricks were placed thereupon, so that any sediment in the soil would be detected before the weight of the church was constructed. Father was familiar with the soil structure of Holland which was very similar to the loess condition in the Mississippi Delta. Mr. Brune also also designed a similar church, St. Mary of False River, Louisiana North of Baton Rouge. St. Joseph’s has the interior moulding and the steeple that church was built without.

This third church of St. Joseph was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, November

23, 1908. He contributed all of his paternal inheritance of $42,000 (1908) to build the church and it was paid for before it was constructed. The art glass windows: three in the apse depicting stages in the life of Christ (The Good Shepherd, young man preaching in the Temple, and his crucifixion), the first four on the Shelby Street side (the first is signed by the artist F.X. Zettler), and the first three, fifth, and sixth on the rectory side are handpainted and set in lead from the factory of Emil Frie in Munich, Germany. These windows were executed in the Munich-Pictorial Style of window making and are known to be very complex and intricate to craft. Over the years additional windows have been purchased from this and other companies. The windows are beautiful, majestic, and fill the edifice with a wealth of soft radiance. The high altar and two side altars were hand carved in Germany and shipped to Greenville. St. Joseph soon became the mother church for the missions at Friars Point, Clarksdale, Shelby, Merigold, Shaw, and Rosedale. Placed also within the church was a 550 lb bronze bell cast by Henry N. Hooper of Boston, Massachusetts. Henry Hooper acquired the knowledge to cast bells from his teacher, Paul Revere, and later would purchase his foundry and make his own bells, one of which resides in the church tower.

On May 26, 1915 lightning struck the steeple during a severe thunderstorm. The steeple was badly damaged by fire and the vestibule and baptismal chapel gutted with water. Many of the records prior to 1875, including those of St. Mary’s mission, were destroyed.

The pipe organ was selected by Mrs. Lucille Dunn Strong, a local concert organist and parishioner, and purchased from the Kilgen Organ Company of St. Louis in 1929. Mrs. Strong was trained by the company on the proper operation of the stops and pedals. This pipe organ replaced a fine old pump organ moved from the old church. The old pump reed organ now restored, resides in the priest’s rectory.

Near the East side door the white marble plaque of the Madonna and Child was purchased in Italy by Mr. William Alexander Percy and given in the memory of his mother, Mrs. Leroy Percy.

The stained glass window over the front entrance was formerly in the old church. Prior to the installation of the pipe organ this window could be viewed from the interior of the church. The 14 Stations of the Cross, on the sidewalls, represent the path Christ followed from the time of His sentencing by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate to His crucifixion. The present ones are not original to the church.

Joseph Thomas Reilly

November 1990




To Know Christ

And Make

Him Known