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May 28, 2008 > History: Holy Spirit Church

History: Holy Spirit Church

Much of the spiritual and social life of the Portuguese living in Centerville in the 1880's centered on St. Joseph's Church in Mission San Jose. While Portuguese immigrants made up over 95% of the population, there was no Portuguese speaking priest, nor was there a Catholic church in Centerville.

Father Domingos Duarte Governo, born in Portugal and educated in Lisbon and Ireland, was ordained in 1879 and immediately assigned to St. Joseph's. Within five years, sufficient donations had been made to erect a church in Centerville. The cornerstone for Holy Ghost Church - costing $12,000 and capacity of about 400 - was laid in March 1886 and dedicated six months later.

The first Holy Ghost Festival in Centerville was held in 1887 in thanksgiving for the church. It was a simple celebration with a small parade, games for the children and raffles for the adults. The queen was Mary Silva, representing the revered Portuguese Queen, Isabel, loved for her devotion to the poor.

Religious training was an important facet of life in the parish. Children were taught by the Dominican Sisters who lived in a building on the mission grounds owned by the order. Two of them met weekly with the children in the church. As the parish grew, more classes were added; boys and girls taught separately.

After almost 30 years in Centerville, the beloved Father Governo died in 1913. Appointed to succeed him was Alfredo Mariano de Sousa, also Portuguese, born in Flores, the Azores. He immediately set about improving the parish, selling some parish property to build a hall that would serve all members of the parish. When he arrived in 1913, the bank balance was about $102. Two years later he'd built a lovely hall.

His greatest challenge came in 1919 when the church was destroyed by fire possibly caused by a forgotten candle after a funeral. The flames spread quickly and there was no source of water sufficient to save the church. Catholics in Centerville were left with only the parish hall in which to attend mass, conduct weddings and carry out the many religious and social activities of the parish.

Little money was available to begin rebuilding. At that time the Catholic population of Centerville stood at about 2,100 people, 2,050 of them were Portuguese. Thanks to the leadership of Father de Sousa, in just over two years they had a new church and rectory. Everyone in the parish helped. Men, leaving their regular jobs, gave time to the effort. Women held bazaars and sold tickets door to door on hand-made items. Donations were made in memory of family members for stained glass windows - in place today -representing founding families and fraternal groups.

Through the years, Holy Ghost celebrations became the highlight of the year. Under Father de Sousa, other events were regularly celebrated, particularly Feast Days honoring favorite saints. Each autumn the women of the parish held a bazaar featuring home-grown and hand-made items. As the need for religious training grew, arrangements were made for the Sisters of the Holy Family to provide religious instruction to the children.

Monsignor de Sousa, in poor health, retired in 1946, ending 60 years - one half of the parish's existence - of leadership by two Portuguese priests. At that time, Father Thomas O'Kane arrived as administrator - the first of a series of Irish priests to serve the parish.

The growth that began in the early 50's affected the church as it did all facets of society. Within a few years, the parish grew from 500 to 2000 families. The school, which now has an enrollment of about 310, was completed in 1956 and staffed by Sisters of the Holy Names. Tuition was $5 per family. A new hall comprised one wing of the school.

A new rectory was built in 1961. Small expansions had been done earlier, but the greatest change to the church came in 1969 with an addition that increased capacity from 750 to about 1100. The church now has an open design highlighted by a magnificent stained glass window. In that same year, the name was changed from Holy Ghost to Holy Spirit. The Parish Center was completed in 1975 and has been in constant use ever since.

Many activities marked Holy Spirit's centennial year in 1986. One project was publication of the book, One Hundred Years in the Spirit. The past 22 years have seen more growth, construction and activity.

Today, some descendents of those early Portuguese families still attend Holy Spirit regularly, but reflecting the make-up of the community, there is a very diverse congregation of approximately 5,000 families. They are active in some 50 organizations within the church - a very vibrant church community.

The Holy Spirit staff is led by Father Mathew Vellankal and Fathers Joseph Tran and Johnson Abraham and Deacons Rudy Brazil, Bill Drobick, Steve Taylor and Richard Yee.

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