The Catholic Community of the Virgin Islands was indeed fortunate when in 1754, the Royal Danish permission was granted to practice religion freely, to build Churches and bring to the Virgin Islands priests to minister to the Catholic community.
There have always been Catholic residents on St. Croix dating back to 1685. This very small Catholic Community made very little progress until the Island was purchased by the Danish Government in 1733.
It was a desire for religious freedom which brought Mr. Nicholas Tuite of Montserrat to settle on St. Croix in 1752, with his family, friends, relatives and servants. He obtained Royal Danish permission and in 1755 built the first Catholic church in Christiansted. From this date onward the Catholic Community started to flourish.
The English Jesuits came for a time to help serve the Catholics of the island. However, they were forced to leave because of political difficulties. Then came the Irish Dominicans who worked zealously for the good of the small Catholic population.
Mr. Tuite approved Fr. Christopher McEvoy, O.P. as plantation Chaplain. When Fr. McEvoy was appointed by the Vatican as Prefect of the territory, he was also asked to be pastor of Holy Cross Church in Christiansted, the Capital of the Danish West Indies. Fr. McEvoy served as Prefect for ten years. He was an excellent organizer, visiting all the Islands and making a thorough report to Rome.
One Irish Dominican, Fr. Hyacinth Kennedy, O.P. writing to his headquarters in Rome, April 2, 1760 stated: The chapel in Christiansted is a large and spacious one, but in no way finished inside as yet. No altar, nothing but a table. I live at Mr. Tuite’s estate about three miles from town.” On July 20, 1760 he continues, “There are no stairs at any of three doors of the Church. In a word, it is roofed, floored and that is all.”
Fr. Matthew Herard, O.P., a French emigre, arrived in St. Croix on July 18, 1793 and two days later was appointed as Pastor of the Catholic Church in Christiansted. At the same time he was also appointed Vice Prefect of the Danish West Indies. During his tenure he did great things for God and the Church on St. Croix.
The Irish Dominicans finally left St. Croix and were succeeded by secular priests of various nationalities both English and French until the Holy See turned to the Redemptorists in 1858.
It was in 1848 that Fr. Thomas E. Butler, Pastor of the Christiansted church, undertook the first renovation and addition to the present church. An addition was built over the cemetery which was on the north side of the Church. Many of the old tombstones, among which is the grave of Fr. Desmond dated 1811, may still be seen under the floor of what is now the main body of the Church. During the enlargement a cornerstone was placed, inscribed in Latin as follows; The Holy Catholic Apostolic Church of the Holy Cross erected in the Year of our Lord 1849.
It was through the recommendations and intercessions of Msgr. George Talbot, a Papal Legate in 1855 that the Holy Father Pius IX joyfully accepted the proposal that the Redemptorists be asked to accept the Mission on St. Croix.
Fr. Joseph Prost, C.Ss.R., one of the early pioneer Redemptorists in America, was the first to arrive on St. Croix in 1858 at the age of 53. Upon his arrival he had to sign an oath promising obedience to the Colonial Government in St. Croix. Christiansted was the Capitol of the Danish West Indies when Fr. Prost was assigned as pastor. He served in this capacity until October 1860; this was the end of the Redemptorist mission in Christiansted. Forty years later the Belgian Redemptorists would return to Christianted to staff Holy Cross Church once again. The year was 1897.
As the years passed various repairs and improvements on the present Church were made. Fr. Joseph De Stoop, C.Ss.R. built the Baptistry on the southeast corner of the Church, and later the altar boys and priests’ sacristy were added. In 1947 a new aluminum roof was installed on the main part of the Church and the exterior painted.
It was during the tenure of Fr. Joseph Hart, C.Ss.R. in 1950 that a new ceiling was installed, the interior painted and asphalt tiles laid in the sanctuary and aisles of the Church.
Suddenly, on Sunday evening, December 2, 1956, shortly after the evening devotions, a mysterious fire swept through the Church. The entire contents of both sacristies, the beautiful murals on either side of the High Altar, the entire ceiling, and the venerable pipe organ were destroyed, and the interior of the Church completely disfigured.
The original estimate of the damages made by the Fire Chief and the Commissioner of Public Works was placed at $60,000. At first, this figure was considered by some to be too high; but the final cost of repairing the damage and replacing lost articles proved the original estimate to be very realistic. Due to lack of necessary funds, work on the restoration of the Church was delayed. In October 1957 the Pastor, Fr. Mark Knoll, C.Ss.R., authorized the contractor to begin the repairs which were completed in 1958. Holy Cross Church was rededicated on September 28, 1958.
The next improvements to Holy Cross Church took place when Fr. John O’Toole, C.Ss.R. was Pastor in 1975. The roof was replaced and new doors and windows installed.
Within a year after becoming pastor of Holy Cross Church, Fr. Joseph Bertrand, C.Ss.R. undertook the most extensive renovation of the Church since its inception with the assistance of Fr. Robert Gaugler, C.Ss.R., the official building supervisor for the Baltimore Province of Redemptorists. This renovation returned the Church to its original impressive dignity while adapting it to the requirements of the revised liturgy.
In 1989 Hurricane Hugo not only destroyed much of the island of St. Croix but also damaged Holy Cross Church, especially the roof. During the tenure of Fr. Al Bradley, C.Ss.R., extensive repairs and a new roof brought Holy Cross Church to its present beauty and dignity. Also the parish rectory and McAlpin Hall were renovated along with the addition of a new Good Shepherd Center.
There are three religious communities of sisters residing in the parish: the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the Missionaries of Charity and the Dominican Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. The major educational apostolate of the parish has always been St. Mary School which still thrives within the parish.
God has truly blessed Holy Cross Parish over the years. May Our Blessed Mother continue to watch over it.
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