For about one hundred years before the Parish of St. Joseph’s was established and before the church was built in 1859, there had been no Catholic Church to serve the Catholics of Gateshead.
Gateshead was once the dwelling place of holy religious, for the Venerable Bede, in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People), mentions a certain Utta, as the illustrious abbot of the Monastery of Gateshead. This Monastery, with all its influence in the neighborhood, was in existence until the dissolution of the monasteries. After the Dissolution this estate came into the possession of the Riddell family. Mass was said (in secret) in the chapel of this estate and it was there that the Rev. John Ingram was martyred for daring to fulfill his priestly functions. He was martyred in front of the Riddell’s mansion just near the church of the Trinity on Gateshead High Street on 25 July 1594.
The Chapel on the Riddell’s estate continued to be served by priests until it was sacked and burnt in the year 1746 along with their mansion. For one hundred years Gateshead was without a Catholic church, chapel or priest, until St. Joseph’s was built in 1859.
It was in 1850 that Bishop Hogarth appointed Father Betham, a curate of St. Andrew’s Church, Newcastle to make preparations for starting a parish in Gateshead. He proceeded to send a very formal letter which was headed ‘to the faithful Catholics of the parish of Gateshead’, asking them, among other things to start a fund for the building of a church, he described himself in the letter as parish priest elect of Gateshead. The parish actually started in 1851 when Father Betham took up his residence at 51 St. Catherine Terrace. Its first name was Our Lady-and St. Wilfrid’s, and the temporary chapel was in the top storey of a warehouse in Hillgate.
Father Betham left in 1853 and then the parish was served by the priests of St. Mary’s, Newcastle. After the fire of 1854 the Assembly Rooms of the Queen’s Head Hotel on Bottle Bank were used as a chapel till St. Joseph’s Church was opened. Under the first parish priest, Father Edward Consitt, the parish came to be known as St. Joseph’s and not as originally intended Our Lady and St. Wilfrid’s.
On 25 May 1858 the foundation stone was laid, by the Bishop of the Diocese, Bishop Hogarth, with Father Edward Consitt as the parish priest, the architect appointed to complete the church was Mr. Archibald Dunn, and the contractor a Mr. Hogg. Over a year later on 5 July 1859,’Bishop Hogarth came again and opened and blessed St. Joseph’s, Bishop Briggs of Beverley was present at the ceremony together with a distinguished number of clergy and laity including consuls and titled people.
In 1864 St. Joseph’s School was opened on what is now the site of the Emmaus centre and car park and Father Thomas Matthews, the fourth parish priest of St. Joseph’s built the present presbytery. After Father Matthews came the gentle and kindly Father Green, remembered by the older members of the parish, for his love of the poor. Then after him, the simple and forthright Father Newsham, who following in Father Matthew’s footsteps, built the Blessed Sacrament School. He only left St. Joseph’s on pressure from his bishop to build and reconstruct schools in Newcastle. After Father McDermott, who had to leave on account of ill health, Father Bull was appointed parish priest and he built the schools at All Saints’. Father Farrow followed later, who by his piety and strong faith deepened the piety of St. Joseph’s people.
When St. Joseph’s was first made a parish, the first Catholic parish in Gateshead, there were only about 3,000 Catholics in the town. In 1959 when the church celebrated its centenary there was seven Catholic parishes with about seven times as many Catholics.
The current Parish priest is Father Michael Brown.