Touring the Beautiful St. Joseph Church: The Last Word
I heard some good things about a tour that took place inside Erie’s St. Joseph Church during Oktoberfest. I heard the tour was fascinating. Alas, Oktoberfest is over. I wonder if I can still take that tour.
It's my lucky day. Bill Smith, the church historian, agreed to meet me at the church. As soon as you walk into the foyer, you can see many pictures devoted to the German heritage of St. Joe's. Something else also catches your eye. Four ropes are hanging from the ceiling. Each rope is attached to a separate bell located in the belfry high above. The bells are named after Jesus Christ, Mary, Joseph, and John the Baptist. The bells have been rung manually before every Mass since they arrived in 1889. Volunteers are asked to do the honors.
"We look for little children, or younger children to help ring the bells before Mass, especially to grab that Christ Bell. Because you’ve got 2,634 pounds just lifting them up in the air. It will actually lift them up in the air,” says Bill with a smile.
There are 20 beautiful stained glass windows that adorn the church. They were designed by a man named Leo Frohe, from Buffalo, New York. There are six other stained glass windows in the front of the church that were brought over from Cologne, Germany. They were ordered just before the start of World War I. The congregation had to wait awhile before the windows were delivered.
"World War One was going on and we weren't allowed to import anything from Germany,” says Bill.
Our tour then brought us to the beautiful alter, hand carved by August Schmidt from Cologne, Germany. You can spend all day admiring his handiwork. The alter is so detailed that when it was finished in 1909, the church needed a volunteer from the congregation to go to Germany to learn how to assemble it.
Up in the balcony is the majestic pipe organ, built in Erie by Tellers Organ Company in 1915. It was the first organ that used an electric motor to pump in air, instead of a guy squeezing a set of bellows.
"It was the first of its kind in Erie” says Bill. “It started a trend, you might say, because no one wanted to sit there and pump those bellows anymore.”
Here's another fact from Bill. St. Joseph Church is Erie's oldest Roman Catholic church building that is still in use as a church today. The church is located on Sassafras Street across the from AHN St. Vincent Hospital.