Portuguese and Azorean pioneers flocked to the Freeport/Clarksburg area in the 1850’s. Their grit, religious beliefs, quiet and noble character, coupled with their willingness to embrace the grueling work necessary to improve life for their families, made them true heroes.
The Azores consists of nine islands in the Atlantic Ocean, one thousand miles west of Portugal and two thousand miles east of Newfoundland. These beautiful farming and fishing islands are volcanic and very much subject to eruptions and earthquakes.
Azoreans came to the Freeport/Clarksburg riverbanks for it’s fine water and fertile lands, following their family members who had pioneered the way. The early male immigrants came on whaling ships to New Bedford, Massachusetts. Many then crossed the continent by rail, while others made their way around Cape Horn, landing in San Francisco. The trek from San Francisco to Freeport was made in one of the numerous riverboats that traveled up and down the river at that time.
According to the parish baptismal records, five hundred and ninety-one families from the Azores had children baptized here between the years 1893 and 1951. Three hundred and four parents came from Pico, one hundred and thirty-five from Faial, eighty-eight from Sao Jorge, twenty-four from Terceira, twenty from Sao Miguel, eleven from Santa Maria, and nine from Flores.
Engaged primarily in fishing and farming along the banks of the Sacramento River, these pioneers built a strong and vibrant community. Cultural traditions were very important to them. In 1893 the I.D.E.S. (Irmandade do Divino Edpirito Santo) Hall was built on the Yolo County side of the river, about half a mile north of St. Joseph’s Church. The main purpose of the organization was to carry on the traditions of the “Festa do EspiritoSanto” (Festival of the Holy Spirit).
For over one hundred years, the Freeport/Clarksburg“Festa” has taken place every year on Trinity Sunday. The day begins with a procession from the I.D.E.S. Hall to St. Joseph’s Church. During Mass a girl dressed in a beautiful handmade cape and gown, representing St. Isabel, is crowned. After the church ceremony the procession returns to the hall where everyone is fed a meal of the traditional “Sopas e Carne” (bread and meat). The festivities continue throughout the entire afternoon.
St. Joseph in the Delta
The Delta, which begins about ten miles south of the city of Sacramento, consists of three quarters of a million acres of flatland, one thousand miles of waterways, fifty-five man-made islands, seventy bridges and lots of meandering embankments. Discipline and hard work turned this once chaotic swamp of levees and sloughs into some of California’s most fertile farmland, producing all kinds offruits, grapes, vegetables, grains and grasses.
1893 – The church was established by Portuguese Catholics, the vast majority of whom came from the Azore Islands, and erected literally on the banks of the Sacramento River, directly in front of present location.
1924 – Because of levee renovations, the rectory and church were relocated. The rectory was moved to its present site and a new church was built using lumber from the old one.
1941 – The original I.D.E.S. Chapel, which was also built in 1893 on South River Road north of the Church, was moved to St. Joseph’s grounds where it still serves as the parish hall.
1993 – The Parish celebrated its Centennial Anniversary.
St Joseph Parish Clarksburg
Succession of pastors
- 1893-1900 Fr. Gabriel F. Soares
- 1900-1922 Fr. Seraphino G. Soares (younger brother of Fr Gabriel F. Soares)
- 1923-1931 Fr. Joseph Cunha
- 1932-1936 Msgr. Patrick Donnelly
- 1937-1941 Fr. William O’Toole
- 1942-1943 Fr. Patrick F. Keane, Adm.
- 1943-1949 Fr. Gottfried H. Kirchbichler
- 1949-1952 Fr. Edward Bardon
- 1953-1960 Fr. Edmund A. Gray
- 1961-1974 Msgr. James T. Mulligan
- 1974-1981 Fr. Joseph Carton
- 1982-1986 Fr. James Murphy
- 1986-1989 Fr. Leo McAllister
- 1989-2014 Fr. Dan Madigan
- 2014-2016 Fr. Robert A. Copsey
- 2017 – Fr. Santiago Raudes