Among the first settlers of the town in 1871 were several Catholic families. In the beginning, all would go to Sutton, just East of Harvard, where Fr. Ferinand Lechleitner (pastor in Crete) would offer Mass in the house of one of the faithful. In 1874, he travelled to Harvard for a baptism and a wedding. After this, he would come to Harvard to offer Mass once a month in one of the homes. In 1878, Fr. George Glauber (pastor in Hastings) gained Harvard as part of his mission territory. During his administration, money was collected for the construction of a church. After the materials were purchased, they went to another project and the church was never built.
Mass continued to be held at the home of the Dieringer family. In 1881, Fr. James Simeon became pastor in Hastings, with Harvard as one of his missions. During his time, the parishioners learned that a small Presbyterian church was up for sale, and they bought it. After some renovation, it became St. Joseph Catholic Church.
In 1893, with the help of parishioners, A. H. Pontius constructed the new St. Joseph Church, where it currently stands. The church was dedicated by Bishop Bonacum in June of 1893. Most of the furnishings for this second St. Joseph Church were donated by parishioners, including a chalice, two sets of vestments, and the Stations of the Cross.
As time went on, pastors came and went, but it remained a mission parish. Then in 1897, Fr. Michael Shine moved into a rental house near the church and became the first resident pastor of St. Joseph, officially making it an independent parish (as opposed to mission territory). He also arranged for the Redemptorist Fathers to conduct their missions here beginning in 1898. Fr. Paul Brounts came to the Parish in 1899, and one of the first improvements was the purchase of some land on which stood a house. He renovated and furnished the house, freeing it of any debt before leaving in 1901.
In 1927, a fire began in the basement of the church, reducing it to ashes. Before the new, brick church was constructed in 1928, Mass was celebrated in a hall on Main Street. In 1929, the parish suffered yet another fire, this time in the rectory, and the rectory was badly damaged, especially the second story.
In 1949, the church was renovated and rededicated, with all of the artwork, pews, altar, and tabernacle being donated by the people of the parish. Almost a decade later, in 1958, the parish hall was built for about $11, 500.
Then in 2006, with the roof of the church in bad shape, the church was once again renovated and the roof (which was on the verge of caving in) was completely replaced. The project was overseen by Fr. James Benton, who was pastor in Harvard from 2005-2013.
At present, the parish consists of about 70 registered families, and is continuing to grow. More and more young families are moving into the parish and the town is slowly getting younger, as is the parish.
Sources: Sister Loretta Gosen, C.PP.S., History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Lincoln: 1887-1987 (Lincoln, The Catholic Bishop of Lincoln, Inc., 1986), 142-143.
St. Joseph Catholic Church Scrapbook celebrating 125 Years. Compiled by Fr. James Benton and Parishioners.
Fr. Ferdinand Lechleitner: 1873-1878
Fr. George J. Glauber: 1879-1881
Fr. James Simeon: 1881-1888
Fr. John English: 1888-1890
Fr. John Caraher: 1890-1894
Fr. Richard Fitzgerald: 1894-1895
Fr. Frank Loughran: 1895-1897
Fr. Michael Shine: 1897-1899 (FIRST RESIDENT PRIEST)
Fr. Paul Brounts: 1899-1901
Fr. Bernard Ulbrick: 1901-1902
Fr. P.S. McShane: 1902-1904
Fr. David Cronin: 1905-1916
Fr. Jeremiah Cronin: 1916-1917
Fr. Cornelius McTeague: 1917-1925
Fr. Joseph Keany: 1925-1931
Fr. Patrick A. Ford: January-November 1931
Fr. John J. Carey: 1931-1933
Fr. Joseph Ress: 1933-1936
Fr. John P. Murphy: 1936-1939
Fr. Walter M. Sherry: 1939-1946 (Died 10 Feb. 1946)
Fr. Leo Hoying, C.P.P.S.: 1946
Msgr. Sylvester Wagner: 1946-1952
Fr. Anthony Gruesser: 1952-1960
Fr. Victory Derwinski: 1960-1969
Fr. Clarence C. Stirn: 1969-1975 (Retired 27 Oct. 1975)
Fr. Clement A. Siwinski: 1975-1976
Fr. Lawrence Gyhra: 1976-1981
Fr. Stephen Cooney: 1981-1985
Msgr. John J. McCabe: 1985-1986
Fr. James C. Schader: 1986-1990
Fr. William D. Grant: 1990-1992
Fr. Douglas Morin: 1992-1994
Fr. John Rooney: 1994-1996
Fr. Bernard Lorenz: 1996-2002
Fr. K. William Holoubek: 2002-2005
Fr. James Benton: 2005-2013
Fr. Julius Tvrdy: 2013-2018
Fr. Christopher Stoley: 2018-Present
Fr. Eugen Rhullier: 1879-1882
Fr. O. N. Turgeon: January to May 1885
Fr. F. X. Schraffl: 1885-1888
Fr. F. M. J. Hayden: February-March 1888
Fr. J. J. Loughran: June-July 1888
Fr. Thomas Corcoran: 1889
Fr. Patrick Costello: 1889
Fr. Nicholas Stolz: January-May 1890
Fr. J. A. Acorsini: May-August 1890
Fr. Christopher Kubat: 2004-2005