Saint Joseph Catholic Church of Mechanicsburg, one of the largest Catholic churches in the Harrisburg Diocese, stands as an answer to a young girl’s prayers in the 1860’s. Mary Moriarty Brindle, the 15 year-old daughter of an Irish immigrant father and a Philadelphia Presbyterian mother (who were in all probability among the original settlers of Mechanicsburg) was the only Catholic in town. She led devotions in her home for years for the few Cumberland Valley Catholics, but she persistently visited and wrote to the bishops of the Harrisburg Diocese urging them to supply the small Mechanicsburg group with priests for Mass and to provide a permanent place for worship. After twenty-one years of praying, visiting, and letter writing, in 1879 the first Mass was celebrated in a local home in Mechanicsburg for a group of sixteen people.
However, Mass was never held on a regular basis, and ten years went by until the diocese paid $350 for a plot of land (a few blocks west of the present site) to build a chapel. Due to a lack of money and priests, the ground remained untouched for another ten years. In that period, the group met at various rented rooms in downtown Mechanicsburg. Finally, in 1900, Mary Brindle’s forty years of persistence resulted in a permanent home for the Catholics of Mechanicsburg—a chapel on Arch Street to accommodate 125 people. The chapel’s name was Saint Joseph. It was certainly fitting that the first Catholic Church in Mechanicsburg, a town founded by a group of mechanics who mended wagon wheels for settlers going west, be named for Saint Joseph, the patron saint of laborers.
In 1910, the Catholic community, numbering twenty-five, attended Mary Brindle’s funeral. At her request, they sat one to a pew so the tiny chapel would appear full. Also in that year, Saint Joseph became a mission of Carlisle with Mass celebrated once a month. By 1925, the Catholic population was increasing and Mass was celebrated twice a month. By 1929, there were three Masses a month; and in 1936, seventy years after Mary Brindle’s weekly meetings, Mechanicsburg Catholics had weekly Mass.
Although Saint Joseph remained a mission for forty years, in 1950 it was announced that it could become a parish in its own right. A plot of land was purchased for a new church and school, and they were dedicated in 1953. The church accommodated two hundred people. However, the Catholic population was increasing rapidly. What was designated as the social hall and cafeteria in 1958 became the oratory of the church in 1962 and accommodated three hundred more people for Mass. By 1977, quarters were so cramped that a sister parish was created, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. Although that parish drew five hundred to six hundred families from Saint Joseph, overcrowding was still a problem.
In 1980, ground was broken for the present house of prayer. Although the church seats about one thousand, increasing Catholic population forced the creation of the second sister parish, Blessed Katharine Drexel (now Saint Katharine Drexel), in 1989.
No longer are parishioners asked to sit one to a pew to make the church look full. Saint Joseph’s pews are comfortably filled several times over every Sunday, and it is “standing room only” for Christmas and Easter Masses. No longer do people in Mechanicsburg have to wait a year to hear Mass. To accommodate the 2,700 families who belong to Saint Joseph Parish, a Pastor and a Parochial Vicar, with the assistance of a deacon, celebrate four Masses each weekend in addition to two daily Masses; and the Catholic population is still growing. In addition to welcoming the many Catholic families moving into the area, Saint Joseph has about one hundred babies baptized each year and encourages non-Catholic adults to participate in the Rite of Christian Initiation.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, “The reign of God is like a mustard seed which someone took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest seed of all, yet when full grown it is the largest of plants.” Mary Brindle, as the only Catholic in Mechanicsburg in the 1860’s, planted mustard seed prayerfully and waited patiently. Mary Brindle had quite a green thumb!