The Mother Church of the Catholic community of Weston-super-Mare, Saint Joseph’s is one of the oldest in the Diocese of Clifton. When it was built, in 1858, the nearest other Catholic church was eighteen miles away in Bridgwater.

In the five decades from 1800 to 1850 the original population of 163, mainly farmers and fishermen, had increased to 4,000. The main cause was tourism which is still important to the town today.

The first record of a Catholic presence in the area since the Reformation dates from 1806 when a Franciscan, Fr O’Farrell, preached at a cottage in the High Street. The town developed as a popular Victorian holiday resort and during the summer months Jesuit priests came on Sundays and Holydays to preside at Mass in the Assembly Rooms in Regent Street which later became the Railway Hotel.

The first resident priest was Fr Van de Voorde who arrived in 1854, but it was Fr William Pippet who was the first priest-in-charge of St Joseph’s from 1858. The foundation stone had been laid by Bishop Clifford in 1855 on land given by Joseph Ruscombe Poole. The chapels of Our Lady and St Joseph were added later, as was the presbytery and the sacristy.

In 1898 the La Retraite Sisters opened a school in Quarry Road. In the beginning it was a stern test of faith and perseverance for the sisters. In addition to being pelted with mud by local roughs, only one pupil arrived for class on the first day. However, their faith was rewarded and the numbers began to grow steadily. The school moved to Carlton Street where it was used as a Mass centre.

As time went by St Joseph’s became too small to accommodate the increasing Catholic population and in 1921 a small chapel was opened in Carlton Street and given the title of Corpus Christi. This eventually grew into the present parish of Corpus Christi in Ellenb

It was not until 1958, as part of the centenary celebrations, that the church was consecrated by Bishop Rudderham.

The panels in the reredos of the High Altar were painted by Dom Theodore Baily OSB, monk of Farnborough Abbey, to commemorate the centenary.

A painting “The Adoration of the Shepherds” once thought to be by Pittoni (1687 – 1767), but now regarded as Flemish, used to hang in the church. It is now on the south wall of the chancel in St Catherine, Chipping Campden.

The parish hall was opened and blessed by Bishop Alexander in February 1999.

With acknowledgements to Rev J A Harding and Valerie Anglin.