In 1866, a group of East Texas plantation owners working with the Polish merchant, Meyer Levy, formed the Waverly Emigration Society. This enterprising new group hoped to bring European farmers to the Waverly area in order to replace the recently-freed African-American population that had once performed the region's agricultural labor. Hundreds of Polish immigrants soon entered the Waverly community and took up work on local farms. These laborers found a religious leader in Rev. Felix Orzechowski, who established New Waverly’s St. Joseph's Catholic Church in 1869.
St. Joseph’s was the first Catholic Church in Walker County, and it served the many Polish families who settled in the area in the 1870s. Church tradition often sustained the immigrants until they adjusted to life in their new country. Services were held outdoors or in private homes during Father Orzechowski's pastorate. Soon after leaving the parish in 1876, he returned to Poland and was imprisoned by ruling Russian officials for advocating democratic ideals.
In 1877, the congregation that Orzechowski had established purchased two lots from the Texas Land Company to serve as the site for a church building. Construction of St. Joseph's initial building was overseen by Rev. Victor Linicki. The first church building was a box-frame house, approximately 20' x 30' in diameter. As St. Joseph's congregation increased, church leaders felt that a larger church building was needed. In 1892, under the leadership of Rev. Theodore Jaron, construction of a new church building began. The new church was designed and constructed by Tom Lavandorski. Mrs. Catherine Ripkowski contributed the lumber for the new building, which was cut from trees on the land that is now St. Joseph/Elmina Cemetery. The building was approximately 40'x 68' in diameter, with 12' walls. The church was dedicated on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1897.
By 1902, St. Joseph's congregation had grown to 125 families. During this time, Rev. Thomas Aloysius Bily encouraged the congregation to construct a new church building that would accommodate the growing congregation. The church purchased the remainder of the block as well as a lot across the street. The new church was designed by the architect L.S. Green who wanted to create a grand cathedral in a traditional Gothic-style. Once constructed, the church featured large stained-glass windows, which let in the morning sun. The cruciform edifice measured 120' by 60' in diameter, and with two sections of pews, the church could seat 300 people. The new church building was dedicated on December 16, 1906. Construction lasted three years and cost $13,000.
In 1984 and 1985, St. Joseph's went through a $250,000 renovation, which replaced the tower window, eaves' crossing, and confessional. The church also purchased a new organ and nativity using donations from the community. St. Joseph's has grown considerably over the years, from 40 families in the 1860s to over 400 families today. Throughout its long and vibrant history, St. Joseph's has served a diverse parish consisting of many cultures and backgrounds. The congregation's spirit for ministry is what truly makes St. Joseph's great.