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S.P.R.S.I. Fraternal Benefit Society

Original mandate was to care for church altars and render aid in time of need to sister members.

Years:  1898 — 2008

Sociability, Protection and Charity

On March 15, 1898 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, then located at 7th and Chesnut Streets in Oakland, California, a group of Portuguese Catholic women, at the invitation of Mrs. Rosa M. Oliveira, organized an altar society.  Its purpose was the maintenance and care of the church altars and the rendering of material aid in time of need to sister members.  Chosen as patroness was St. Isabel, the queen who graced the throne of Portugal in the 13th century and was canonized in 1625 for her good deeds and acts of charity for the poor and unfortunate.  The society was named “Sociedade Portuguesa Rainha Santa Isabel”, and its motto was “Sociability and Protection” (“Charity” was later added).  Its official colors were blue and white.

In April of 1900, the S.P.R.S.I. decided to expand, organizing other groups throughout California.  In May of that year, it was resolved to designate the first group “Conselho Santa Isabel No. 1”, thereby becoming a distinct entity and no longer functioning as an altar society.  From May through December that year, six more councils were organized.

On January 20, 1901, 43 delegates from the seven councils assembled at the fraternal hall in West Oakland, and the Supreme Council was established, with Mrs. Rosa M. Oliveira elevated to the presidency. Twenty-eight more councils were created in the next six months.

The S.P.R.S.I. came under the umbrella of Luso-American Financial in 2008.

Conventions

S.P.R.S.I.’s first convention was held in West Oakland on July 14-17, 1901, with Supreme Officers and delegates from all 35 councils present.  After that, conventions were held annually at various locations throughout the state.

The 1998 convention was held on March 15 in Oakland in celebration of the society’s centennial year. Five days of activities were held commemorating the anniversary, with numerous events held throughout the Bay Area, and with an eye towards the next 100 years.

Sociability

In 1936 at the express invitation of the S.P.R.S.I., His Eminence Dom Manuel Gonçalves Cerejeira, Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, presided at the Commemoration of the Sixth Centennial of the death of Queen St. Isabel.  There were special Masses, parades, and luncheons honoring his eminence. A cast of more than 80 people presented a drama of the life of Queen St. Isabel at the Oakland Auditorium.

September 6, 1939 was designated as Portuguese Day at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island.  The society was awarded second prize for its float depicting Queen St. Isabel.

Charity

It was during the 1928 convention that the society instituted the Charity Fund, and thereafter contributed to many causes, including Portuguese Missions in Europe, Africa, and China, victims of the volcanic eruption in Faial, and to members who suffered during California floods.  The society also helped earthquake victims in São Jorge, contributed to the Kennedy Library, purchased more than one-half million dollars’ worth of U.S. War Bonds, and aided Azoreans after the 1998 earthquake.  In 1935, the Government of Portugal presented the society with the Commendation of the Order of “Benemerencia“ for its many acts of patriotism and philanthropy.  The society expanded these deeds when, in 1950, the first youth scholarship was awarded to a graduating high school senior.

During World War II, the society contributed generously to the promotion, sale and purchase of U.S. War Bonds and members served as Red Cross and U.S.O. volunteers. As a member of the League of Portuguese Fraternal Benefit Societies, S.P.R.S.I. contributed toward the purchase of two 37mm anti-aircraft guns, which were presented to the War Department on behalf of the Portuguese people of the State of California.

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