Pocket area’s St. Maria Church is Portuguese landmark
Among the many historic sites of the Pocket area, the St. Maria Church on Pocket Road is a very important part of Portuguese heritage.
Constructing the church
Constructed in the Carmichael area in 1897 for the Associacao Azoreana do Divini Espirito Santo (Azorean Association of the Divine Holy Spirit) – AADES, Grant – the organization utilized the building for its meeting hall.
The structure was also used for the storage of religious artifacts such as flags, banners and the crown for the Portuguese Holy Ghost Festa – a religious festival in honor of Portugal’s 13th century queen, Isabela, who later became a saint.
The decline of the Portuguese population in the Grant area resulted in the relocation of the Portuguese lodge to the Riverside area, which had developed into a Portuguese settlement.
The move was prompted by Francisco J. Luiz (later Frank J. Lewis, Sr.), who with his neighbor, Antonio Pereira Rodrigues (later Antone Rodrigues Perry), traveled from the Pocket area to the Grant area to attend the AADES lodge meetings.
In order to persuade the AADES, Grant members to relocate, Luiz proposed that two acres of his land be used for a move and expansion in the Riverside area.
Additionally, Luiz offered to move the lodge building to his property.
AADES members voted and agreed that Luiz’s offer was best for the future of the lodge.
In 1909, the building was cut in half, transported via large wagons and teams of horses and reassembled on the land that Luiz had offered.
The relocation of the structure proved to be a profitable endeavor for the lodge in that it attracted many Portuguese from the Pocket and city areas.
As a result, the AADES treasury increased to an extent that the lodge was able to construct a two-story hall adjacent to the clubhouse.
With the building of the hall, which was completed in 1913, the clubhouse was converted and remodeled into a church, which was necessary for the establishment of the Holy Ghost Festa.
Around this time, the AADES, Grant ceased to exist and instead became AADES, Riverside and the church was established as the Igreja de Santa Maria (later known as St. Maria Church).
In the will of Frank J. Lewis, Sr., who passed away on Sept. 13, 1918 at the age of 61, the land, which he deeded to AADES, was required to be used specifically for the lodge’s hall and church and the holding of the Holy Ghost Festa. If this agreement was not fulfilled, the property, according to the will, would revert back to the Lewis heirs.
Celebrations and ceremonies
With the hall and church in place, the first Riverside Holy Ghost Festa was held in conjunction with the church’s dedication on May 31, 1914.
Through the establishment and dedication of the church, it became a parish of St. Joseph Church in Freeport in the historic postal area of today’s Clarksburg in Yolo County. The St. Joseph Church was founded by the Portuguese in 1893.
The Portuguese priests from St. Joseph Church in Freeport would cross the Sacramento River via a platform, cable ferry to Riverside to celebrate Mass at the newly dedicated church.
To carry on the Portuguese customs and traditions in their own language, Portuguese priests from St. Joseph Church, until 1922, continued to baptize and perform communion at the Riverside church and in the homes of people who were unable to attend Mass due to health reasons.
Following this time, Portuguese-speaking priests were mostly unavailable, so the church resorted to priests of other nationalities. But on occasions when a Portuguese-speaking priest was needed to perform baptisms, the Portuguese priest from St. Elizabeth Portuguese National Church on 12th and S streets came to St. Maria Church.
Also during the early years of the Riverside church, young Portuguese men from the Riverside-Pocket area, including Frank J. Lewis, Sr.’s grandson, John Lewis, and the sons of Manuel and Mary (Dutra) Rosa, Martin and Michael Rosa, became alter boys.
Additionally, Portuguese women from the area performed maintenance duties in care of the altar.
Mary Florence, the daughter of Frank J. Lewis, Sr., was the first to perform these duties, which included crocheting altar doilies.
Many marriages were also performed in the church, including the marriages of Manuel and Mary (Dutra) Rosa and King and Beatrice (Mauricio) Silva. King was a member of one of the prominent Silva families of the Pocket area.
Remaking and rebuilding
The church had various remodels throughout the years, including the addition of a bell tower, a widening of the building to accommodate side aisles, additional small sections of pews, the construction of a double-door entry and the revision of the altar, so that the pastor faced the congregation.
The construction of Interstate 80, necessitated the move of the Portuguese association, the Ordem do Divino Espirito Santo, Sacramento, located at 5th and W streets.
In the early 1960s, the Portuguese organization merged with AADES, Riverside and the new name of the organization became Sacramento Portuguese Holy Spirit Society.
Jack Lewis, the grandson and heir in the will of Frank J. Lewis, Sr., instigated the signing of a release, along with the other heirs, for SPHSS to receive clear title to the acreage.
Although the old church still stands, the original hall was demolished and a new hall was built in the exact location. The new hall was dedicated on Oct. 21, 1967.
St. Joseph Church administered to St. Maria Church until 1974 and Father Brenden O’Sullivan, pastor of St. Joseph Church, was the last pastor to celebrate Sunday Mass on a regular basis at St. Maria Church.
Since St. Joseph Church no longer administered to St. Maria Church, pastors from St. Elizabeth Portuguese National Church celebrated Mass at St. Maria Church.
Pastors during this time included: Valdemiro Fagundes, Jose Rebeiro and Eduino Silveira.
The church now
Today, the church building, which comfortably seats 300 parishioners and is hardly recognizable as the wooden, rectangular building of the days of old, is owned by SPHSS. The release in ownership was designed to avoid any future challenge of ownership of the land, which included the St. Maria Church.
The festa continues at St. Maria Church each year under the direction of Antonio Luiz Dos Santos Medeiros, one of the Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata with contract to assist St. Elizabeth Portuguese National Church.
It is unknown if Medeiros will continue to perform this service following this year’s festa in May, since the contract for this assistance will expire in mid-July 2010.
Pocket native Dolores Greenslate said that as a person of Portuguese heritage, she is proud of the history of St. Maria Church and its accompanying hall.
“It is an important part of Portuguese history in the area,” Greenslate said. “So much has changed in the Riverside-Pocket area, but the church and the hall remain and it gives me great happiness to see them.”
E-mail Lance Armstrong at email@example.com.