In the late 1800s, newcomers from many European countries arrived in the United States. Each ethnic group settled in neighborhoods where they could continue using their native languages and retain the same culture with which they were accustomed. This also meant that churches often reflected the same makeup of these neighborhoods. Very late in the 19th century the neighborhoods in Bridgeport, CT, began looking and sounding more and more like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Hungary, Denmark and, to a lesser extent, Syria and Lebanon.
By 1899 there were about 1,000 Polish immigrants who organized a Roman Catholic parish in their neighborhood. The parish church provided a place where they could pray, hear sermons and receive religious instruction in the Polish language. It also became an important center of social and political life. The church also served as headquarters for mutual aid societies.
The pastors of such ethnic parishes needed to be fluent in the language of those congregations. They also needed to share the desire and commitment of their parishioners for maintaining the respective customs and traditions in those parishes. Pastors also needed to be sympathetic toward the difficulties their church members experienced as newcomers adjusting to a foreign land that was now their new home.
After having a beloved pastor replaced for no given reason by the Bishop of Hartford, the ethnic Pole parishioners of St. Michael’s in Bridgeport, CT became frustrated. Dissatisfied with the treatment they received from the Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchy, they turned to an alternative, Polish National Catholic Church that had gained a foothold in Eastern Pennsylvania. And so the St. Joseph’s era that has lasted over 100 years began, with the congregation working to express its one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith ever since.
On March 5, 1907, a certificate of organization with the state of Connecticut naming the new parish St. Joseph’s Polish National Catholic Church was filled.
A lot that was purchased on California Street overlooking Bridgeport Harbor in the spring of 1907, and a wooden church was dedicated on July 18, 1909. Also six acres were purchased in the Lordship section of Stratford for use as a cemetery. The site now includes the present church complex
On July 23, 1929, the parish bought a block of land at the corner of Barnum Avenue and Harriet Street and began a fundraising campaign to build a new church. The new church was consecrated on July 4, 1937.
On Dec. 30, 1988, St. Joseph parish completed 81 years of existence in the city of Bridgeport. It was decided that the parish should continue to carry its mission from a new location in the Lordship section of Stratford, CT.
In 1989, the parishioners voted to make English the official language of the liturgy.
1-Herbert F. Geller, Ethnic History Series, THE SUNDAY POST; Dolores Liptak, European Immigrants and the Catholic Church of Connecticut, 1870-1920.
2-Rev. Stephen DiGiovanni, The Catholic Church in Fairfield County, p. 57.