St Joseph Church, South Bend, Indiana and the Evolving Irish Community in Portage Township

On September 14, 1853, Father Sorin orchestrated construction of a church and school on the corner of Hill and Water Streets to serve the Catholics in the South Bend area. It was known as St Alexis at the time (part of the St Joseph Parish), and held services until about 1866. Many people left this congregation around 1859 when St Patrick's Church was built, providing them a closer place to worship in the western part of town. St Alexis was deemed too small to accommodate the growing catholic community so Father Sorin had a new church (St Joseph's) constructed on the southeast corner of Hill and Water Streets in 1868. The priests from Notre Dame provided services at this church until they obtained their own resident priest in 1869. A fire destroyed the new church in 1872; parishioners attended the old St Alexis Chapel until a new church was finished in 1882. (St. Joseph Parish, 1901, p. 4,7,8,10,16,22).

A census was conducted at St Joseph Church in 1874 indicating that 147 families were members of the congregation and acknowledging a large influx of Irish into the parish. In the "History of St Joseph Parish South Bend, Indiana 1853-1953" written by Rev. Edmund V Campers CSC the following description tells the story: "For the first time the following sons and daughters of Erin come marching onto the pages of our census: Martin Brennan, John Brady, Arthur Burns, Patrick O'Connor, Mrs. Cassidy, John Dwyer, Michael Dooley, Thomas Flood, Edward Fogarty, Patrick Gorman, John and Peter Talbot, Patrick Haloran, Briget Higgins, Martin and Thomas Hoban, Professor Howard, Michael Killoran, George Kelly, Edward and John Murphy, Michael and James O'Brien, Daniel and John Neenan, James McCartney, John McCaffery, Mrs. McGloskey, William Roach, James McNulty, John and Patrick Stoney, Michael Hanley, Mrs. Flynn and Patrick Tansey." (Campers, 1953, p. 61).

All four generations of my Brennan line attended St Joseph Church from Martin Brennan my second great grandfather to William H Brennan, William F Brennan and my father Robert E Brennan who also attended St Joseph elementary school. The records kept by St Joseph Church provide an amazing glimpse into family units, circles of friends and early life in the Portage Township Irish Community. If I hadn't looked at these church records I never would have discovered that my great grand uncle Michael, Martin's son, went west to "Newbraska" with his friend James McNulty and further onward during the Gold Rush.

In the following records I will do my best to document the Irish families who attended this church. They will be presented alphabetically by Surname in each section.

Irish Families Identified in the 1876 St Joseph Church Census
Irish Families Identified in the 1880 St Joseph Church Census
St. Joseph Church, South Bend Indiana Irish Family Baptisms, Marriages and Burials 1867-1914 (New)