Karaganda was the site of one the largest systems of collective labor camps in the Soviet Union, the KarLag. It is estimated that a million political prisoners passed through KarLag to toil in its extensive complex of mines over the decades from 1931 to 1959, including thousands of persecuted Polish, Ukrainian, German, Lithuanian and Belorussian Catholics.
"For us this church is the fruit of deep faith and heavy suffering of our people, but also of the great love of the Lord God for our people," Zinkovskiy said.
As Soviet repression of Christianity eased somewhat in the 1970s, Catholics in Karaganda asked permission from the government to build a church, and in 1977 they received a letter from Moscow authorizing construction.
The church was dedicated in 1980 as the first Catholic Church in the Kazakh SSR. After Kazakhstan obtained its independence in 1991, St. Joseph's became the cathedral of the Diocese of Karaganda in 1999. In 2012, a new cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima was consecrated on the former site of the KarLag forced labor camp.
St. Joseph's contains relics of Blessed Władysław Bukowiński, a priest who spent more than 10 years in Soviet gulags proclaiming the Gospel to the other prisoners sentenced to forced labor. Bukowiński's beatification took place at this church in 2016.
Fr. Vladimir Dzurenda, the current rector of the Minor Basilica of of St. Joseph, told CNA that the cathedral had become a "symbol of the revival of Catholics both in the period of the Soviet Union and in modern Kazakhstan."