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Catholic beginnings began with friars

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placeholder January 23, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA

A painting depicts Mission San Jose de Guadalupe, which was established in 1797 near present-day Fremont.
john wright photos
Catholic beginnings
began with friars

The Catholic presence in the East Bay can be traced to March 27, 1772, when Franciscan Father Juan Crespi, traveling with a party of Spanish explorers, celebrated Mass near a swamp that would one day become Lake Merritt in Oakland.

A quarter-century later, Franciscan Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen founded Mission San Jose as the 14th of California’s eventual 21 missions. The friars of the mission sought to catechize and educate the Chochenyo, a division of the indigenous Ohlone people who lived throughout the region prior to the arrival of the Spaniards.

The first Mass (above) in the renovated Mission Church (right) was celebrated on Easter Sunday, 1985.

Mission San Jose would remain the only Catholic parish on the contra costa, the “opposite coast” from San Francisco, for the next 64 years.

The early mission building was a thatch-roofed structure. By 1809 an adobe church had been dedicated. The earthquake of 1868 destroyed that church and many surrounding buildings. A new church was built on the same site, which lasted until 1965, when a new building was built north of the Mission cemetery.

Various preservation efforts on the remaining mission site took place through the 1950s, and in 1973, a group began looking for funds and plans to restore the mission. After a $4.5 million restoration, the mission was rededicated in June 1985.

Meanwhile, first Spain and then Mexico, which won independence from Spain in 1821, issued land grants to retired soldiers, some of whom built chapels on their ranchos where mission priests would sometimes venture to say Mass. By 1836, Mexico had secularized the California missions and parceled out most of their once-vast grazing lands.

In 1840, the Holy See established the Diocese of the Two Californias, comprising both Baja California and Alta California. Eight years later, just as the gold rush was beginning to draw thousands of fortune-seekers to the West, Mexico ceded California to the United States.

St. Joseph Parish

Old Mission San Jose 43148 Mission Blvd., near Washington Blvd., Fremont

Parish: www.saintjosephmsj.org; 510-656-2364

Mission: www.missionsanjose.org
California achieved statehood in 1850 and the Holy See established the new Diocese of Monterey, which encompassed the entire state, with Bishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany as founding bishop. In 1853, the 13 northern counties were split off to form the Archdiocese of San Francisco, with Bishop Alemany serving as its first archbishop. The area remained part of the archdiocese until a further subdivsion, in 1962, which included the new Diocese of Oakland comprisiing Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

— Compiled from the Annual Directory 2011 of the Diocese of Oakland

The museum of the Mission contains artifacts from the people who lived at and worked at the mission.

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