Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Saint Joseph’s Church, Downtown Rochester

April 20th, 2015, Promulgated by Bernie

Saint JOseph's Rochester“St. Joseph’s was Rochester’s oldest Catholic church and a longtime landmark when it went up in flames nearly 40 years ago.

“Known as “the mother church” for all local German Catholics, St. Joseph’s was built on Franklin Street in the 1840s, just a few years after Rochester was established as a city. Downtown Rochester grew up around St. Joseph’s, which became a so-called ‘oasis of grace’ amid the hustle-bustle of… “ READ MORE (Alan Morrell 7:16 a.m. EDT June 14, 2014, Democrat and Chronicle)

Saint Joseph’s, in downtown Rochester (NY), was an architectural gem of the Rochester Roman Catholic Diocese. Only the facade and some walls remain, the whole campus turned into a park.

If you have been following my series on “Church Architecture Styles” you will recognize Saint Joseph’s as an example of the ‘baroque’ style. It’s called “Greek Revival” on several internet sites but I suppose they mean, “Neoclassical”. Either way I think those sites are wrong. There is no emphasis on Greek columns or on a Greek temple porch. Both are major aspects of Neoclassicism.

The building does have certain classical features: the Roman triumphal arch theme of the portals in the front facade, the division of the facade into roughly square units by horizontal and vertical lines, and  a concern for classical proportion. But, the downward sweeping roof lines to the right and left of the bell tower suggest the baroque style. In addition, the upper tower is obviously more sculptural and elaborate than the lower facade. The cupola at the very top is in the Renaissance style, also commonly employed in the baroque style.


If there is any doubt about the architectural style, however, we merely need to examine the interior to confirm my judgement. An old photo of what the interior looked like removes any doubt. The reredos is sculptural, an elliptical space is part of the plan, and the space is elaborately decorated. A prominent cornice tops off the walls but a curved surface transitions to the center of the ceiling. The emphasis is on an overall impression of unity with all elements working together to create a dramatic, emotional atmosphere.

I think I worshiped in Saint Joseph’s once –my wife tells me I did. I have a vague memory of sitting on the right side of the nave. We lost an architectural gem when it was consumed by fire. We now can see only a shell of  Saint Joseph’s former glory. Thankfully some civic leaders and preservationists made sure that we could have at least that!


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6 Responses to “Saint Joseph’s Church, Downtown Rochester”

  1. christian says:

    Thank you so much for posting a photo of the inside of St. Joseph’s Church, Downtown Rochester, before the fire which destroyed most of the church building. I have always wondered what it looked like inside. You are right, it really was a gem, and thanks to civic leaders and preservationists we at least have the front remaining walls standing and the surrounding area designated as a park.

    I notice that the choir loft balconies are on either side of the church. I am aware that this set-up can occur in other styles, but I have noticed in movies depicting the baroque period, the choir balconies are on either side of the church. Is this feature a prominent design of baroque architecture?

  2. Choir says:

    Here is a link to some further information about St. Joseph’s

  3. jimsheflin says:

    High school Sodality Sunday evening Benediction at St. Joseph’s with my group of friends from St. Michael’s. My first full time job downtown – noon Mass on Holy days at St. Joseph’s. My wife to be attended those Masses with me, eventually converting to the Catholic faith. We lost a beautiful church in the fire, but I ache a bit inside contemplating what else has been lost over time.

  4. Choir says:

    Some more information I dug up on the internet.

  5. christian says:

    Choir -Thank you for posting those links to more history and information complete with photographs of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Downtown. I have found them very interesting and informative.

  6. christian says:

    Here’s another interesting link – Rochester Roots – which combines part of the photo from yesteryear and the other part from today. You have the option of seeing the entire photo from yesteryear or the entire photo from today. There is a write-up with and also a narration:

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