Land at Kangaroo Point was first subdivided and sold in the 1840s. By the 1850s, there were some eighty to ninety houses on the peninsula, including several fine residences. Various industries also operated in the area from this period, including a boiling down works, a soap and candle factory, ship building, foundries and sawmills. Residential development was consolidated during the boom of the 1880s with the result that the area surrounding the site of St Joseph's was quite densely settled by the 1890s, with working class homes in the lower regions, and more elaborate residences on higher ground.
Prior to becoming a parish in around 1880, Kangaroo Point was included in the parish of St Stephen's Cathedral. The parish of St Joseph's, Kangaroo Point, originally included East Brisbane and extended beyond Balmoral and Holland Park. St Joseph's is significant as the "mother parish" of several other parishes, including Coorparoo (1913), Annerley (1916), East Brisbane (1917) and Buranda (1937). The first parish priest of St Joseph's was Father Breen who served the parish from 1880 to 1915. After his death, the new church of St Benedict at East Brisbane which opened in 1917 was dedicated as the Father Breen Memorial Church.
The first Catholic church at Kangaroo Point was a timber church-school built by parishioners on a large block of land donated by Brisbane landowner, James Toohey, in 1886. This weatherboard church served as the parish church until it became too small, and a stone church designed by renowned Italian architect, Andrea Stombuco, was opened in 1887 by Bishop Robert Dunne.
The original parish priest of St Joseph's was Father James Benedict Breen who served the parish from 1886 to 1916. Initially Father Breen resided in a presbytery located at
St Killian’s College which operated on the site of the present St Laurence’s college until fire destroyed the school in 1899. Also destroyed in the fire were Father Breen’s residence and his personal library.
Following this loss, the parishioners of St Joseph’s contributed to the construction of the current timber presbytery. Mr Modini supplied plans and Mr Burleigh carried out the construction at a cost of £600. The presbytery was extended at the rear in 1932, with additions costing £300. The presbytery is still used as the home of parish priests.
The first Catholic school was established at Kangaroo Point in 1881. Sisters of St Joseph taught the local children from the 1870s, but, after a disagreement with Bishop Quinn, were replaced by the Sisters of Mercy. In 1889 the convent was established and a timber school was opened in 1892. It was later demolished to make way for the school building designed by Frank Cullen which opened in 1950. The convent has now been redeveloped as part of the “Lockerbie Residences”.
For the first two decades of the twentieth century, Kangaroo Point and nearby Woolloongabba continued to develop as a residential and industrial district. The end of the Depression of the 1930s brought major changes to both Kangaroo Point and the parish of St Joseph's. The opening of the Story Bridge in 1940 transformed Kangaroo Point into a major transport route. At the same time, industry intensified because of Australia's involvement in World War II, with Evans Deakin building minesweepers and other vessels at their Kangaroo Point shipyard. It was during this period that the third St Joseph's Church was built.
Towards the end of 1939, the existing church was in a state of disrepair, with damp in the walls, borers in the timber, crumbling brickwork and an unsound roof. As the necessary renovations were estimated to be considerably more expensive than the construction of a new church, it was decided at a parish meeting on 21 October 1939 to demolish the church and construct a new building. Demolition of the church began a few days later. Services were held in the original timber church, then being used as a schoolroom, until the new church was opened.
On Palm Sunday, 17 March 1940, Archbishop Duhig laid the foundation stone of the third St Joseph's Church. There was a large attendance at the ceremony, and more than £1,000 was collected, testifying to the importance of the Catholic Church to this community. The building was constructed by builders Hutchinson and Sons at a contract price of £7,883. Additional costs brought the total cost of the church to £11,203. A sum of £1,500 was subscribed at the opening ceremony, which was, as the Courier Mail noted, "an achievement...all the greater because St Joseph's was a parish of working people". As was noted by Duhig, a great deal of money was also being subscribed to World War II funds. The total amount received towards the cost of the church by midday on the day of the opening was £4,226/15/2.
The church, which could seat 500 people, was designed specifically to suit the tropical Brisbane climate, with large folding doors in the bays of the nave. In keeping with the sense of tradition of worship at Kangaroo Point, stained glass from the previous church was used in the sanctuary of the new church. The church bell in the tower had been presented in 1929 by Dean O'Connell, the second parish priest of St Joseph's, in memory of his mother. Gifts for the new church included Australian marble, used in the High Altar and reredos, given in memory of Mr T.P. Morahan. A feature of the church was a large rose window depicting the four apostles.
St Joseph's Church represents more than a century of worship and education provided by the Catholic Church for generations of Catholic families at Kangaroo Point and the surrounding area. It has also long associations with the Hibernian Society, established at St Joseph's in 1886 with prominent Brisbane retailer T.C. Beirne as president. The erection of such a substantial church in a predominantly working class parish during wartime is evidence of the commitment to their faith by this Catholic community.