Saint Joseph Parish was founded in 1837 by a missionary priest from Croatia. His name was Father Joseph Kundek. From the moment of his arrival, Father Kundek applied his abundant energy and dedication to building up the community of 39 families. His effort in those early years is evidenced by the following list of accomplishments which preceded his death in 1857 at the age of 47. Starting in 1841 he built the new brick church; 1844 founded the parishes in Ferdinand, Fulda, Celestine and Rockport: the coming of the Sisters of Providence to Jasper; 1845 building of the Dubois CountyCourthouse; 1854 The coming of the Benedictine monks from Einsiedeln, Switzerland, to found Saint Meinrad Abbey; 1855 Building of the rectory. Father Kundek played a role in the missionary efforts of the Church over the larger part of Southern Indiana, Illinois and as far as Chicago and New Orleans.
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The first church of the parish was a small log cabin. Within 3 years the congregation consisted of nearly 100 families and had outgrown the original facility. A new brick church was begun in 1840. The building was under roof and used for the first time on December 8, 1841. The brick Church, small in comparison to the present one, was 100 feet long and 54 feet wide.
The present church is the product of the almost singlehanded effort exerted by the fourth pastor, Father Fidelis Maute, O.S.B. Father Fidelis served as architect, contractor, foreman, laborer, fund raiser, and pastor to the new church. All the building materials and labor for the building were provided by the parishioners. The foundation was begun in 1867 and the cornerstone blessed and laid in 1868 by the first missionary to Jasper, Bishop de St. Palais. The church was completed and blessed in 1880 and consecrated in 1888. The cost of the original construction was $80,000.
The church was renovated in 1954 at a cost of $200,000. During this renovation the walls and columns were stripped of their plaster, reinforced and covered with sandstone veneer.
Fr. Fidelis finished the belfry of the tower. The tower was completed in 1904 under the direction of Fr. Basil Heusler, O. S. B. The tower now stands at 235 feet. Fr, Basil took the idea for its design from the tower that is home to Big Ben in London. There are four bells housed in the tower, weighing 12 tons with their hangings. The bells can be heard 10 miles from the church.
The 3 altars are Italian marble; the main altar has two groups of figures representing Abraham and the Melchisedech and each is 7 feet tall. The three large mosaics above the altars were imported from Austria in small sections and assembled on the location. The mosaic over the main altar represents Christ the High Priest. Above the altar on the north side of the church, the Assumption of Mary is portrayed, and above the south altar one sees the betrothal of Mary to Joseph. The stained glass windows are Swiss and were installed in 1898.
Within the church, the 14 columns supporting the roof are 67 feet high, each a single giant timber of yellow poplar cut from nearby forests and covered in plaster. From the floor to the apex of the groined naves measures 90 feet. The total dimensions of the church are 82'5" by 193'5". The walls are from 4 to 6 feet in thickness and made of sandstone.
On the south lawn of the church stands a cross which is the result of a vow made over 100 years ago. During their voyage to the United States, a violent storm threatened the lives of the German immigrants aboard. George Bauman, a stonecutter, vowed that if they should land safely he would erect a stone crucifix wherever they settled. The cross was completed in 1848 in fulfillment of that vow. Destroyed in a storm itself in 1928, the original was replaced by the present figure in 1932.
The "Plaza of Pastors" on the east lawn of the church honors 3 of St. Joseph's great pastors who served the parish for a combined total of over 100 years. Fr. Basil Heusler, O.S.B. (1898-1942) stands in the center. Fr. Fidelis Maute, O.S.B. (1865-1897), with a carpenter's square in one hand and a cross in the other, has his face turned toward the church he built. Fr. Joseph Kundek (1837-1857), the founder, looks out over the town of Jasper and the other towns in the distance which he founded. During his time as Pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Raymond A. Brenner's leadership continued the proud tradition of excellence and faith so closely tied with this church and its congregation.