Church services for Catholics in Brazos County began well over a century ago when traveling priests from the Diocese of Galveston began visiting the area. Beginning in 1860, Mass was offered in private homes at various locations around the county.
Millican was the terminus for the railroad from 1860 to 1866 - a center for trade, and the home of a Catholic Church. By 1869 Millican had a residential priest, a young Frenchman from Lyon, France who was ordained on 21 December 1867 by Bishop Dubuis at St. Mary's Cathedral in Galveston. Father Bussant was only 22 years old when ordained and his first assignment was at Hidalgo Prairie in Washington County. He moved north to Millican where he remained five years, then moved still further north to Hearne.
In 1866 the railroad reached Bryan, bringing increased trade activity to this area. A church building was erected in 1871 but was soon destroyed by fire and not rebuilt. Mass was celebrated in a store building until a site for a new parish could be found.
An outbreak of yellow fever in Galveston led to the migration into the country of several young seminarians studying for the priesthood. The influx of these students plus the continued rapid growth of Catholic families in the area led to the founding of St. Joseph Parish of Bryan in 1873. Father C. Clair, born 15 January 1845 at Roanne, Loirs, France and ordained a priest at St. Mary's Cathedral in Galveston by Bishop Dubuis on 17 December 1870, was the first full time pastor. He established residence at St. Joseph in 1877. Mass was still celebrated in area homes, however, until 1878 when the new parish dedicated its first church, a remodeled two-story public school building, on one city block. During this time Father Clair also took care of Millican, which now is a mission.
The same block of land where St. Joseph's Church stands today, purchased originally for $500, was the site for this first church building. It was succeeded by a new frame-structure church in 1904; the year Father J. B. Gleissner was appointed pastor. Father Gleissner was born 31 October 1865 in a little town in Bavaria, Germany on the Mein and was christened John Baptist. He was ordained a priest at St. Mary's Cathedral in Galveston by Most Reverend N. A. Gallagher. Later elevated to Monsignor, Father Gleissner served the catholic community of Brazos County and Texas A & M University for 49 years, from 1904 - 1953.
Education was viewed as a high priority in the developing Catholic community and accordingly, the first parochial school was established at St. Joseph's in 1894 under the leadership of Father Joseph Pelnar, pastor. Six years later in 1901 the Villa Maria Academy was moved to Bryan following a Galveston hurricane. The Ursuline Sisters were in charge of the school. The Villa Maria Convent was built on St. Ursula's Hill, a mile northeast of St. Joseph. In 1926 Villa Maria Academy was closed after 25 years in Bryan, and the Sisters of the Incarnate Word of Houston succeeded the Ursuline Sisters as teachers at St. Joseph's Parochial School. Meanwhile, at St. Joseph's parish, the influx of many new Catholic families highlighted the need for additional classrooms to the parochial school and for the building of a new church. The present structure at the intersection of East 26th Street and Preston was dedicated in 1960.
In the 1870's, a substantial number of Italian families entered the area, actively participating in St. Joseph's Parish until a new parish was created in 1896 named St. Anthony's. In 1926, Father Gleissner constructed and dedicated St. Mary's Chapel for Catholic Aggies, which remained a Mission of St. Joseph's Parish until the 1960's. In 1940, the Hispanic community formed St. Theresa Church. From 1942 - 1960, African American parishioners formed Immaculate Conception Church in Bryan. In 1980, the families of Catholics in College Station formed St. Thomas Aquinas Parish.
St. Joseph's Parish continues to grow and expand. The school expanded with additional classroom space in 1985 when the two portable buildings for four additional classes were constructed. In 1988, the two-story addition of four classrooms was completed.
The number of parish organizations now exceeds the number of those earlier settlers who first assembled for Mass in 1871. In terms of numbers, St. Joseph's Parish has over 1800 registered families. Because of the need for additional space for meetings, classrooms, and various activities, ground was broken in June 1988 for a Parish Activity Center, which was completed in February 1989.
The most striking feature in St. Joseph Parish's long history is the fact that it has survived so many difficulties. It is a testament to God's care and blessings and the dedication and determination of faithful parishioners.
St. Joseph Parish has grown from a little frontier mission to a large, urban parish with a church that stands tall and beautiful on the exact bend in the road where the little Church once stood, modest and hopeful.