St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Parish was established in 1961. However, a Catholic faith community had existed in central Christian County, Missouri, for many years and Catholics from Ozark, Nixa, Sparta, and other communities had to travel to Springfield to attend Mass. Shortly after the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau was formed in 1956, area faithful petitioned its first bishop, the Most Rev. Charles H. Helmsing, for a Catholic parish church closer to home.
In 1959, the Stanley Chudomelka family donated 10 acres of land north of the town of Ozark to the young diocese as a site for a church. Plans for a “Mission Church” were approved by Bishop Helmsing in February 1960 and construction began in June. A grant from the Catholic Extension Society and financial assistance from the Diocesan Expansion Fund helped fund construction costs.
The name of the church was suggested by a benefactor and Fr. Thomas Allen was appointed pastor. Fr. Allen added the appellation, “the Worker,” since there were five St. Joseph parishes in the diocese and the Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, had just instituted the memorial Feast of St. Joseph the Worker in 1955.
St. Louis Archbishop Joseph Cardinal Ritter accepted Bishop Helmsing’s invitation to officially dedicate the new church and a Mass of Solemn Dedication was held on May 7, 1961. It was an historic occasion since it was the first visit of a Cardinal of the Church to Southwest Missouri.
In 1972, a new education building replaced a mobile trailer used for religion classes. The new building also contained office space and a residential room for the priest for overnight lodging.
Until 1977, priests serving St. Joseph the Worker lived in Springfield and travelled to Ozark for Mass and other parish activities. That year the parish received it first resident pastor. Two years later, in 1979, a Pastor’s residence was built next to the church in Ozark.
The population of the city of Ozark and Christian County grew in the following years and by 1987 the parish was comprised of 193 households. St. Joseph the Worker was rapidly outgrowing its 1961 church. In March 1988 plans were made for the addition of a larger worship area and construction began in early 1991. On December 9 over 300 people joined Bishop John J. Leibrecht to dedicate the new church. In 1995 the original church building was remodeled to include a daily Mass chapel, sacristy and offices.
In 2002, as Christian County became the fastest growing county in Missouri and St. Joseph the Worker neared 520 families, the Parish Council began considering another building plan to address the need for more meeting space as well as a place for meals and other gatherings.
However, that plan was put on hold in 2004 when the parish of St. Francis of Assisi in Nixa was established. The new church drew its members from Immaculate Conception and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishes in Springfield as well as St. Joseph the Worker in Ozark. At the time, the bursting community of Nixa was home to about one-third of the parishioners at St. Joseph the Worker.
Over the next several years the population of Ozark and the nearby communities of Sparta, Rogersville and Fremont Hills continued to grow and so did the parish family of St. Joseph the Worker. By the end of 2009, the parish was approaching 450 families. Once again, the Parish Council looked toward expansion and authorized the start of a capital campaign with the goal of building a parish hall.
On May 8, 2011, more than 350 parishioners, family members and friends attended a Mass of Thanksgiving, which ended a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the parish’s founding. The Most Rev. James V. Johnston, sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, was the celebrant and was assisted by Bp.-Emeritus John J. Leibrecht as well as several past pastors of the parish.
Bishop Johnston visited St. Joseph the Worker again on March 23, 2012, to officiate at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Parish Center. When construction was completed, he returned for the building’s formal dedication on September 11, 2013.
The new building is the social focal point of the St. Joseph the Worker faith community. With classrooms for the Parish School of Religion, space for youth group gatherings that can double as a gym, a stage and storage space, a large area for meetings or dinners and a new kitchen, it is a “dream come true.” It will provide for continued growth in ministry from the youngest to the oldest parishioner for years to come.