Saint Joseph Catholic Church began as a mission church of Saint Bartholomew in Elberta in 1926 when a little heart-pine chapel was built on two acres of land purchased for $500 from the German Recreation Home & Land Company. It was located in the woods past the end of the present Kee Street, a block north of Barclay Avenue. Priests came every fifth Monday to say Mass and administer the Sacraments. A few of the founding parish families were Mullek, Valer, Peiler, Fell, Yankovitch, Koehler and Peschel. Paul Peschel was the first person baptized at Saint Joseph Mission Church.
In 1941 the chapel was moved to the corner of Highway 98 and Santa Piedro on a property donated by the Michael Schnatz family. This structure was renovated and furnished by parishioners.
At that time we were under the Mobile/Pensacola Diocese. When the church was dedicated by Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen on November 28, 1941, it became a mission of Little Flower Church in Myrtle Grove, Florida, for many years. Fr. James E. Smith was appointed pastor on April 1, 1942, followed by Fr. Hinton Lipscomb. His nephew, Oscar Lipscomb, Archbishop Emeritus of Mobile, was an altar server for his uncle in Lillian on several occasions.
Appointed as pastor in August 1962, Msgr. Maurice Shields became our first resident priest in 1967 when the present rectory was built, with the men of the parish doing a great deal of the work.
Fr. Clarence Meyer, OSB, a Benedictine monk from Saint Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama, was appointed pastor in 1971. The current church was built during his pastorate. At the new church’s dedication by Archbishop John L. May on November 4, 1973, Abbot Hilary Dreaper, OSB, gave the homily, little dreaming that one day he would be pastor at Saint Joseph Church. We were faithfully served by the Benedictines for many years. Following Fr. Clarence were Fr. George Salem, Fr. Mark Mages, Fr. Charles Reiner, Abbot Hilary Dreaper, and Fr. Edward Markley. Fr. Joseph Mudavankunnel of the order of Missionaries of Saint Francis de Sales became our pastor on December 1, 2008. On June 6, 2015, Rev. Saleth Mariadoss of the order of the Heralds of Good News was assigned as our present pastor.
The original chapel is still on the corner of Santa Piedro and Highway 98. In the past, it has served as a “beginning” for the Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians until they could build their own churches. The chapel also served as our parish hall until the new Immaculate Mary Hall was dedicated in 2002.
Immaculate Mary Hall provides parish offices, a library, rooms for religious education, a large hall with kitchen facilities for dinners, musical programs, meetings, receptions, and other parish and community activities.