Between 1960 and 1970, I was a parishioner of St Joseph’s Catholic Church which is located in Stamford Hill Road and the property included the corner, Argyle Road and Stamford Hill Road. It was then a thriving parish. It, at one time, also had a small church at the back of the property called St. Paul’s which was a separate entity and served mainly the Black community.
In the early 60s, the church bought a property in Argyle Road directly opposite the church and built there on a magnificent church hall facility which included a fully functional stage, a large hall, a projection room and a fully fitted kitchen . Adjacent to the church in Stamford Hill Road was St Agnes School which was a junior school for both girls and boys. The school was run by the Holy Family Sisters. From a Convent school magazine, I have ascertained that St Agnes School dates back to 1905.
Whilst a St Joseph’s parishioner, I had learned that the St Joseph’s Church had actually been moved to where it stood at some point in its existence from another location in Durban. As I understood it, the church had been relocated and rebuilt brick for brick. Recent posts on FAD about St Joseph’s School and my reading of a book by Dr. J. B. Brain called “Catholic Beginnings in Natal and Beyond” ( Published by T.W. Griggs and Co. 1975 now out of print. ) recalled my memory of the church in Greyville being relocated so I started gathering facts and I think I have managed to put the story behind the relocation together.
A bit of the background history of Catholicism being established in Natal. The initial party sent out from France were Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). The founder of the order, Bishop Eugene de Mazenod , Bishop of Marseilles, responded to a call from Rome to initiate missionary work in Natal as well as to minister to the Catholics living in and around Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The first group consisted of Bishop Jean Francois Allard, the designated Vicar Apostolic for the Eastern Vicariate which included Natal, Father Jean-Baptiste Sabon, Father Lawrence Joseph Dunne, a deacon about to be ordained priest, Julian Alphonsus Logegaray and a lay brother, Joseph Compin. The missionaries left Marseilles on November 13th 1851 and arrived in Cape Town on January 19th 1852. They had to wait 6 weeks before they got a passage to Port Natal on the cutter, GEM, leaving on 26th February 1852 and arriving at Port Natal on March 15th 1852.
A few days after the party’s arrival, Bishop Allard rented a small house in Smith Street. He turned the largest room into a temporary chapel and celebrated his first Mass on March 19th 1852. ( March 19th in the Catholic Church is celebrated as St Joseph’s feast day; St Joseph , spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church. I would venture to say Bishop Allard knowing this would have borne it in mind when a proper church was to be built and dedicated in the future).
Two years prior to this, a Father Thomas Murphy had been sent to Natal by the Vicar Apostolic for the Cape, Bishop Devereux on a 6 month visitation. He was investigating the number of Catholics in and around Durban and Pietermaritzburg and as to the viability of opening missions to the Zulus. He approached Governor Pine with regards to allocating land for churches and schools in Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Land was allocated in Pietermaritzburg and a verbal promise made that land in Durban would be made available.
On arrival Bishop Allard pursued the matter of land being allocated to the Church and this was finally acceded to. Father Sabon was appointed Parish Priest of Durban. A rudimentary chapel was opened in 1853 but soon needed repairs. In 1861 a bell was acquired and a belfry was added to the building. Father Sabon then embarked on raising funds to build a proper church and on 29th October 1865 with a large congregation attending, St Joseph’s Church in West Street was opened. I would surmise that Bishop Allard recalled his first Mass was said on St Joseph’s feast day and hence put Durban’s first church under his patronage.
The first clue about the location of the original St Joseph’s Church lies in the actual dust jacket of the book I mention above. It shows an old painting of West Street, Durban, with a Church on the right hand side and in the distance on the left hand side, the former old City Hall, now the Post Office. Significantly, attached to the church is a bell tower which looks very similar to the bell tower presently attached to the existing Emmanuel Cathedral in Cathedral Road. The dust jacket states: “West Street Durban in 1890 with the spire of St Joseph’s Church in the foreground. The original painting is in possession of Maritzburg College to whom it was presented by R.D. Clark, a former headmaster.” The painting therefore refers to the original St Joseph’s which was somewhere in West Street and nowhere near where the Cathedral is today.
The next clue came from the book, Origin of Durban Street Names written by John McIntyre. These are notes given for Cathedral Road : “runs from West Street to Queen’s Street. Takes its name from the Roman Catholic Cathedral built there on the removal of St Joseph’s Church from the corner of West Street and Grey Street ( now Broad Street) to Stamford Hill Road about 1904-1905”.
This ties in perfectly with the dust jacket painting. This site would therefore have been the original one offered to Father Murphy. In the book it is mentioned that Bishop Allard purchased adjoining ground and it can be surmised that this was towards the Smith Street side because of the existence of Convent Lane. The notes written up for Convent Lane read thus: “runs from Broad Street to Russell Street – situated between the Convent of the Holy Family and the Roman Catholic Church of St Joseph, the latter having been transferred to Stamford Hill Road in the 1900s when the Emmanuel Cathedral was erected”.
From another source, I have ascertained that the Convent of the Holy Family Sisters in Convent Lane in Durban dates back to 1875/1876. This would have been the time when the Sisters started expanding following their successes in Lesotho. The Holy Family Sisters were sent out to help the Oblates with the mission they established in Roma, Basutoland.
After two failed attempts to establish missions in southern Natal, the Oblates turned to Basutoland where they had great success. Following this success the Holy Family Sisters spread through to the main centres in South Africa. The first school the sisters established in Durban was St. Joseph’s Primary School. This dates to 1876 and the school fronted Smith Street. The sisters convent was behind the school and one assumes the convent adjoined the church.
This indicates that the area between West and Smith Street fronting Broad Street belonged to the Catholic Church. Surprisingly, Maris Stella was not the second school opened by the sisters in Durban. In fact St Xavier’s School on the Bluff for African children was opened in 1878 followed by St Anthony’s Indian School which was opened in 1888. Maris Stella’s opening date is given as 1899. By 1914, St Joseph’s School had outgrown itself and the Convent School in St Andrew’s Street was opened. St Agnes School which dates back to 1905 ties in with the relocation of St Joseph’s Church. The property bought in Stamford Hill Road could accommodate both a church and a school and this appears to have been the plan. St Agnes School by the way, is bounded by de Mazenod Road . The notes read : ” Runs from Stamford Hill Road to Oblate Road. This road derives its name from the Roman Catholic Church of St Joseph. Charles Joseph Eugene de Mazenod, Bishop of Marseilles (died 1861), was the Founder of the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate., of which Congregation the priests officiating at St Joseph’s Church have generally been Oblates.
Oblate Road also named for the order, runs from De Mazenod Road to Argyle Road”.
Bishop Allard remained as Vicar Apostolic until 1874 when he was replaced by Bishop Charles Constant Jolivet who arrived to take up his post in Durban on 4th March 1875. During the years 1878-1881 Father Sabon put all his efforts into building a new and larger church. It is surmised that this replaced the church that had been opened in 1865.
On November 13th 1881, Bishop Jolivet officially opened the new St Joseph’s Church in West Street. The rigours of raising funds and the building of the new church took its toll on Father Sabon. He died on January 13th 1885, at the age of 65 and having spent 33 years in the parish of Durban. He was buried in a small mausoleum in what was then the Catholic part of the West Street Cemetery which is now adjacent to the Cathedral.
The siting of St. Joseph’s Church in West Street did not fare well as increasing noise and the growing business area around it, worked against it. By the turn of the century, Bishop Jolivet had initiated a move to build a Cathedral to replace St. Joseph’s Church. To raise funds for its structure it was decided that the land where St Joseph’s Church stood be sold, the proceeds going to the Cathedral building and the relocation of St Joseph’s Church to the quieter suburb of Greyville. I would assume the area sold off was the corner block on West Street and Broad Street. Convent Lane would have been the boundary line, as the Convent remained intact along with St. Joseph’s School after the Church was demolished.
Eventually St Joseph’s School closed and was demolished along with the Sisters’ Convent when the property was sold and became Durdoc Centre. This occurred in the late 60s if I recall. The Cathedral foundation stone was laid in 1902 and the Cathedral was opened in 1904. The St Joseph’s Church in Greyville is dated as being 1904 so that ties in with its demolition and the building of the Cathedral. Next door to the Church, St Agnes School was built and this dates to 1905.
I am not sure when the Greyville St Joseph’s changed its name to Sao Jose and became a church mainly for the Portuguese Catholic community. It would probably have been when the “new” St Joseph’s was built in Florida Road in 1975. The area around the old St Joseph’s had changed completely with Stamford Hill Road which was once totally residential transformed into a business area. The Florida Road St. Joseph’s becomes the third church with this name and presently takes over the mantle of the original 1852 St Joseph’s.
For some time I have been looking for an elusive picture of St Joseph’s Church as it was in West Street. This prior to it being demolished and moved to Greyville. Thanks to Richard van Wyk who posted this picture on the FB site Greyville.. the greatest place to grow up in here is a copy of it. The bell tower is very similar to the present Cathedral one. Note the single tramline which at that stage was horse drawn. Not too clear from the picture but the church stood on the corner of West and Broad Street.
St Joseph’s Church West Street revisited 15/10/2018
On another FB Site remembering old Durban, a picture of a building was posted which I was not familiar with but was reported to be of the corner of Broad and West Street. It was called Atlantic Building. I could not recall it but looking at the picture it showed the upper end of West Street, namely the corner of Broad and West Streets. The coloured postcard was posted first but was not too well defined. However the poster had a black and white print as well and this was clearer and showed the buildings in better definition. The Atlantic Building is on the bottom right side and looked an attractive building. Well its locale triggered off the memory that this was the site of the original St Joseph’s Church in West Street. As in the history above it was “dismantled” and moved to Greyville when the new Cathedral in Cathedral Road was planned to replace it. The property was sold off and this is the building that replaced it. Further comment made me look into the book, Durban, a pictorial history and I found a picture showing St Joseph’s Church with its bell tower in the distance. Although not specifically mentioned in the book, the Atlantic Building is also featured on the same page (top right). I also found a picture of the same area but looking towards the east which ties in with the other pictures. I have yet to find a picture of what the St Joseph’s Church looked like from a frontal view. It will crop up some day.
The postcard that started the discussion. The Atlantic Building on the right.
The black and white copy of the above postcard. Note the corner building opposite the Atlantic Building. Many years later this became the Polar Bar with the verandah roofing removed. It was the spot where ice creams were bought when people strolled through town on Saturday or Sunday evenings window shopping.
The Atlantic Building looking down Broad Street towards the Esplanade. This was the site of the St Joseph’s Church. Possibly the roof of the St Joseph’s School or the Convent in the background.
Looking up West Street and St Joseph’s Church and its bell tower in the distance. Note how the bell tower was copied to an extent when the bell tower was built on to the Cathedral. The Atlantic Building on the top right.
Looking down West Street note Colombo Tea and Coffee building with the Knox ad on its side.
Added 30th October 2020
A much looked for photo of the original St Joseph’s Church corner West St and Broad St. This is the church that was dismantled and moved to Stamford Hill Road when the site it was on was sold . The Cathedral was at this time being built.