Monday, September 03, 2007

Sacratissimus Crucifixus to Holy Cross: Northside San Jose Church History

This article was published in the Fall 2005 issue of the Northside Newsletter and in two installments in the Valley Catholic newspaper of the Diocese of San José, on September 20 and October 18, 2005, with some edits in each publication. I've updated the Latin names of the Church, which were incorrectly copied from the parish record book in the earlier draft.

Holy Cross Parish on East Jackson and North 13th streets, in the Northside neighborhood of San José, began celebrating its 100th anniversary this past September [2005] with a multi-ethnic parish festival called the Kermess de la Santa Cruz (Feast of the Holy Cross) in the Scalabrini Hall.

The Kermess, which literally means "parish festival," raised more than $20,000 for parish upkeep through the sale of food, games and raffle tickets. In the months before the Kermess, boys and girls competed for the title of king and queen, not on their popularity, but on how many raffle tickets they sold. The winners were crowned and given scepters and capes.

On Sept. 14 after a Mass held in honor of the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, the parish's special feast, a priceless restored crucifix from the earliest days of the parish was unveiled. [See Holy Cross' Historic Crucifix Restored for details about the crucifix.]

The anniversary celebration will continue for a year and will conclude on December 10, 2006, almost exactly 100 years after the first church building for the parish was blessed on December 8, 1906.

The first parish church was built to serve the many Italian immigrants in the Northside San José neighborhood. The parish has evolved with the neighborhood’s changing demographics to serve Mexicans, Filipinos, and others from many varied national and economic backgrounds who make their homes in the area, including many who have been attracted by the number of well-kept Victorians and Craftsman-era bungalows and the chance to live in a safe, pleasant neighborhood near the city’s downtown.

Today the regular weekend schedule includes three English Masses, two Spanish Masses, and one Italian Mass. Multi-ethnic Masses are held on major feasts of the Church year, when the diversity of the parish is even more apparent. Parishioners parade into the church in procession, wearing native dress, carrying flags from their nations of origin, from Mexico, Italy, the Philippines, Portugal, Vietnam, Korea, Fiji, Canada, Brazil, and Malta, along with the flag of the U.S.A.

Holy Cross parish was first staffed by Italian-speaking diocesan priests and then by priests from the Jesuit order. Since 1961, starting with Father Joseph Bolzon, Holy Cross has been staffed by members of the Missionary Order of St. Charles Borromeo (C.S) founded by Blessed John Baptist Scalabrini, whose members are commonly called the Scalabrinians. The church hall is named after the order's founder. Since the central mission of the Scalabrinians is to serve immigrants, migrants, and refugees, their presence at Holy Cross could be seen as a providential fit.

In its long history, the parish has gone through three name changes. In the 1906 pages of the parish record book, the name was written in Latin as Sacratissimus Crucifixus, which can be translated as Most Holy Crucified or Most Holy Crucified One. Between 1912 and 1914, a second Latin name, Pretiosissimus Sanguis, Most Precious Blood, started appearing. The final name change to the English name Holy Cross was made in 1927.

According to an article published in the archdiocesan newspaper The San Francisco Monitor on 9/11/1911, the first “neat little Italian church … was built in the memorable year of 1906.” A typewritten history of the parish written in the 1930s, which was found in the Diocese of San José’s archives, stated that the church was built for “the convenience of the Italians living in St. Patrick’s parish” by the St. Patrick’s pastor Father J. Lally. Since San José was at that time part of the San Francisco archdiocese, Archbishop Montgomery, coadjutor of San Francisco Archbishop Riordan, formally blessed the new church on December 8, 1906.

Left:  Photo is from The Monitor article from 9/11/1911 captioned “Church of the Precious Blood (
Italian), San Jose." The church had been changed from being a mission of St. Patrick’s parish to being a parish church by the time this photo was published.

Father Lally’s completion of the  Sacratissimus Crucifixus Church is especially noteworthy considering that his own St. Patrick’s Church was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake two months earlier in September. (St. Patrick’s was replaced by a wooden structure dedicated in April of 1907 by Archbishop Riordan.)

Father Clair Antonio Orso, C.S., the current pastor of Holy Cross, found the first baptism in the earliest record book of the parish, September 9, 1906, which was recorded and witnessed by the parish’s first priest, Father Ser. Scanavino. Father Scanavino was the assistant at St. Patrick’s Church, and he continued to live in the rectory at St. Patrick’s Church a mile away on 389 East Santa Clara Street while he celebrated a Mass every Sunday, held evening devotions, gave religious education classes, presided at marriages and baptisms, anointed the sick, and held funeral services at the new church.

Some of the older Italian families in the Northside might remember the names of the parents and godparents of the first child to be baptized, Ignatius Cortorice was born September 7, 1906 [the day after the earthquake] and baptized when he was only two days old. His parents were J.B. Cortorice and Maria Labarbera. The godparents were Salvatore Guadino and Lorenz Labarbera.

Sacratissimus Crucifixus Church continued as a mission of St. Patrick’s Parish until it was changed in 1911 to an Italian national parish at the same time as its name was changed to Pretiosissimus Sanguis.

The first pastor installed in 1911, Father Egisto Tozzi, according to the previously-mentioned SF Monitor article, was “noted for his scholarly attainments and devout piety.” Father Tozzi rented “a nearby cottage,” since a residence for priests had not yet been built. He celebrated two Masses every Sunday, one in English and one in Italian. The article also praised the work of the Sisters of the Holy Family who continually helped the people of the parish for sixty-six years, from 1907 until 1973.

“The parish is populous but very poor owing principally to the fact that the people own no property and have very large families to support while obliged to work for low wages. The Sisters of the Holy Family do much in the way of caring for the little ones in the absence of their mothers and instructing them in their religious duties. The present indebtedness amounts to $4063.47. In time this may be paid off and the people of the parish will have one of the neatest and most artistic church in San José.”

After a new, larger stucco church was dedicated in 1920 (during the pastorate of Father A. Bruno), the old church was used for catechism classes and parish offices for many years.

1920 Stucco Church as it appears today

Parishioner Mae Ferraro, who is 85 and lives on E. Taylor Street, recalls taking catechism classes as a child from the Holy Family Sisters in the old church building. Mae says that even though the church’s address has been always listed as 560 or 580 North 12th Street the first church was on the corner of East Jackson and North 13th Streets and the new church was built to the right of it on the corner of East Jackson and North 12th Streets. The original rectory was also on North 12th.

[Ferraro, who is a lector and a Eucharistic Minister and distributes Communion to many who are homebound, is secretary of the Italian Catholic Federation Branch 4 at the parish, and is involved daily with innumerable parish and other projects and organizations in Santa Clara Valley, including the University of Santa Clara Catala Club. Ferraro was born in the parish of an Italian mother from Trabia and an Italian-American father from San José. Her life and the parish are intertwined, since it is where she was baptized, received her First Holy Communion and Confirmation, was married 66 years ago, baptized her two sons, and where the funeral Mass was held for her husband Nick last year.]

Mae Ferraro with her 1927 First Communion photo

No one I talked to remembers what happened to the original church building. It may have been razed in the early 1970s after the parish purchased adjacent properties and tore down several buildings to clear the way for a new convent and the present classrooms, which were dedicated as a CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) center on May 23, 1974.

[The current term in use for those who teach the faith in parishes is “catechetical ministers,” so for those who may not remember the term CCD, the following information from the dedication booklet for the CCD center might be of interest. CCD was a lay organization created in 1605, and it eventually gained the status of “the Church’s official parish society devoted solely to the religious education of all children and youth not enrolled in Catholic schools, and of adults, both Catholic and those outside the fold.” CCD was approved by St. Pius V in 1581, and in 1905, St. Pius X ordered that it be established in every parish.]

Holy Cross parish, aside from being an Italian mission church that evolved into a parish for the immigrants from many nations, is noteworthy for its religious education complex. Although the parish has never had a school, Holy Cross is the only church in the area that has dedicated classroom space for teaching children who do not go to Catholic schools, according to Brother Charles Muscat, C.S., Director of Religious Education at Holy Cross.

The parish is also noteworthy for its bingo night. Long after most parishes have given up bingo as a money-raiser, Holy Cross still has a big sign on the corner of its parking lot on 13th and Jackson Streets advertising BINGO MONDAYS in large red letters, and on Monday evening every week the parking lot is jammed with bingo players’ cars.

[With bingo still an important fund-raiser for the church, it was cause for a smile to find in the church’s archives this clipping from the San Jose Mercury News classifieds in the mid-1970s: “SPLIT POT BINGO GAMES every Wed. afternoon at 1:30 p.m. Also Bingo every Mon. night at 7:30 p.m. Holy Cross Church Hall, 13th & Jackson St. San Jose.” The clipping accompanied a handwritten note to Chancellor Monsignor Daniel F. Walsh from someone in the Chancery Office (initials BR?) complaining about the ad, “Nobody asked me, but I think this is in poor taste. If the only thing we have to put in the paper is a paid bingo ad, we aren’t doing our job.” Chancellor Walsh jotted down a reply on the same note: “Father Nalin strikes again! I will give him notice!” Also included was a copy of a subsequent letter from the chancellor asking the pastor to stop placing the bingo advertisements because “it does hold the Church up to some criticism when they actually advertise bingo.”]
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