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In the late 1870s, many German Catholics came to Western Arkansas lured by the offer of cheap land and the promise of the good life. One of the attractions offered by land agents to these Catholic families was that there were priests and nuns, churches and schools in the area. However, these newcomers to the Paris area did not find a Catholic church, so those who were able traveled to mass at St. Benedict Priory, six miles to the east.

Fr. Wolfgang Schlumpf organized a church west of Paris at the log cabin home of Vincent Staus where services were held once a month. Due to increasing attendance, the congregation built a log church closer to town, slightly south of the present cemetery. Fr. Schlumpf dedicated that church in 1880.


Settlers came in such numbers that the log church was quickly outgrown. Mrs. Levise Waddill offered two lots to Fr. Felix Rumpf, Fr. Schlumph's successor, for a church and school. The land, which is the present church block, was transferred to Edward Fitzgerald, the second Bishop of Little Rock, for the sum of $1.00 on January 10, 1881. By November 25, 1881, a new 30X45 frame church, capable of seating 162, was ready for dedication by Bishop Fitzgerald.

By 1902, the church had been enlarged to form a large cross by the addition of two side-sections (transepts) and a rounded sanctuary. The old "onion" dome steeple, so familiar to the early settlers from their European homeland, was removed and a more "American-looking" tower was built.

By May 13, 1926, work had progressed to the point that the cornerstone had to be laid. At 2:00pm that day, a procession went from the rectory to the new church with the school children forming an honor guard. This ceremony was accomplished under the direction of Fr. Athanasius Zehnder who served as pastor from 1918-1928. Abbot Edward Burgert of Subiaco Abbey was given the privilege of laying the cornerstone.

The present statue of St. Joseph is the only item inside the church remaining from the pre-1925 days, so it is an invaluable link to the parish's past. An irreplaceable link to the past, though, is its set of bells, which were placed in the new "basilica" tower when it was completed in 1927. When the frame church was built in 1888, four bronze bells had been given by parishioners. They were consecrated by Bishop Fitzgerald and given the "baptismal" names still to be seen on the bells in the tower today: the largest, weighing 1200 pounds - St. Elizabeth the Queen - was given by the Wahl, Elsken and Zeller families; the middle-sized bell, weighing 850 pounds - the St. Joseph - was given by the St. Joseph's Society; the smallest bell in the tower, weighing 450 pounds - the Blessed Virgin - was given by the Gerber, Huber and Fritz families.

Bishop John Morris dedicated St. Joseph Church for use on June 12, 1927.

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