Church of St Joseph the Worker, Lyttelton - Canterbury’s Oldest Catholic Stone Church

by Penelope Clifford

Lyttelton’s Catholics celebrated the opening of St Joseph’s Church on the feast of Sts Peter and Paul, 29 June 1865. St Joseph’s was a Roman Catholic Church and home to those of mainly Franco-Irish origins. Rev Jean Baptiste Chataigner SM was the first of 29 parish priests to serve St Joseph’s Church over 146 years.

On 4 September 2010, an earthquake (7.1 Richter scale) damaged the south facing frontage of the church. On 22 February 2011, a subsequent huge and shallow earthquake, centred close to Lyttelton, caused the frontage to completely collapse. Another big aftershock on 13 June of that year further damaged the church to the extent that three months later, the decision was made to demolish it. 

On 18 September 2011, there was a thanksgiving and farewell ceremony for the deconsecration of St Joseph the Worker Church, with Fr Rick Loughnan and Fr Denis Nolan as celebrants. At Pentecost, on 23 May 2021, a final Mass was celebrated in a marquee on the site of the church; this was the official closure of St Joseph the Worker parish.

At this final Mass, plans and a fund-raiser for a St Joseph the Worker Memorial were launched by the Friends of St Joseph the Worker Memorial Charitable Trust. Finally, in 2023, the Memorial garden at the front of 18 Winchester Street was completed, in recognition of the rich history of the oldest stone Catholic church in Canterbury. 

The memorial garden features include the surviving heritage fabric, consisting of the original boundary walls, posts, church signage, wrought iron railings and archway. In the memorial garden is what was salvaged from the earthquake deconstruction: the original church bell, some stonework from the church, the stone cross from above the entrance porch and the wooden cross from the top of the church.

St Joseph the Worker Church
St Joseph the Worker Church

Published in Inform Issue 140 - Lent 2024