St Joseph's Church after it was moved to its current site in Greyville around 1905.
St Joseph's Church after it was moved to its current site in Greyville around 1905.

Then & Now: St Joseph’s Church, Greyville

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Nov 28, 2020

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Durban - The picture of old Durban this week comes from a postcard and shows St Joseph's Church in Stamford Hill Road in Greyville. Next to it is St Agnes School, which was a junior school for girls and boys run by the Holy Family Sisters and opened in 1905.

Local historian Gerald Buttigieg, himself a parishioner in the 1960s, tells the story of St Joseph’s during those years, when it was a thriving parish.

St Joseph’s Church was the original Catholic Church in Durban, built in 1865, and was moved from where it stood on the corner of West and Broad streets and rebuilt brick by brick on the current site.

The church’s name goes back to the very beginning of Catholic missions in Durban. In 1851, the Bishop of Marseilles, Eugene de Mazenod, initiated missionary work in Natal. Bishop Jean Francois Allard led the mission, which arrived in Durban on March 15, 1852. A few days after the party’s arrival, Allard rented a small house in Smith Street and turned the largest room into a temporary chapel, celebrating his first Mass on March 19 - a day celebrated in the Catholic Church as St Joseph’s feast day.

A rudimentary chapel was opened in 1853, but soon needed repairs.

The original St Joseph’s Church on the corner of West and Broad streets in the late nineteenth century.

In 1861, a bell was acquired and a belfry added. Father Jean-Baptiste Sabon, who was part of the original Allard mission and appointed Parish Priest of Durban, then embarked on raising funds to build a proper church. On October 29, 1865, St Joseph’s Church was opened in West Street.

With the building of the Roman Catholic Cathedral - the foundation stone was laid in 1902 and the Cathedral opened in 1904 - St Joseph’s Church was subsequently moved to its current Stamford Hill Road site. The picture on the postcard was probably taken soon afterwards with St Agnes School also visible.

The first convent school in Durban was St Joseph's primary school and dates to 1876. It fronted Smith Street, behind the convent. But the school quickly outgrew itself. The property bought in Stamford Hill Road could accommodate both. Incidentally, St Agnes School is bounded by De Mazenod Road.

Today, Sao Jose Church is home to the Portuguese community.

In the 1970s, the church changed its name to Sao Jose and became a church mainly for the Portuguese Catholic community with services in Portuguese. In 1975, the new St Joseph’s was built in Florida Road after the area around the old St Joseph’s had been transformed into a business area. The Florida Road St Joseph’s became the third church with this name.

Our photographer Shelley Kjonstad’s picture this week shows the facade of the buildings substantially changed, although parts of the original church and bell tower can still be glimpsed.

The Independent on Saturday

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