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Portuguese Footprints -- The Churches

The Church has been an important comfort for the immigrant.

Years:  1878 — 2015

An important pillar of the California Portuguese community is the Catholic Church.  The process of uprooting, moving vast distances and re-establishing a life is one of the most traumatic events in the human experience.  The Church has been an important comfort for the immigrant, helping to re-establish social ties and to recover from the wounds of transplantation.  As soon as the immigrants survived the early trials of a new life, they quickly applied their resources to the one institution that could create a new equilibrium for them in America – the Church.

Soon after the wave of immigrants arrived, following the lure of the Gold Rush, they turned from gold to God.  The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Hawkinsville, dedicated in 1878, was the first church in California built for and by Portuguese immigrants. 

The wave of immigration soon became a flood, and by the end of the 19th century, thousands of new immigrants felt the need for their own houses of worship.  Throughout California, churches inspired and built by the local Portuguese communities sprang up in places like Sacramento, Oakland, Centerville (Fremont), San José, Buhach (Merced), the West Valley (Newman), San Diego, and Livermore.

After 1900, immigrants began arriving in even greater numbers. In San José, Artesia, Turlock, and East Oakland, Portuguese churches were built to serve the new communities.  The 1957 submarine volcano and earthquakes in the central islands of the Azores gave rise to the last large wave of immigrants, and a new hunger for the spiritual comforts of the Church arose. 

Many old churches were refurbished and new ones bult, such as those in Newman, Gustine and Hilmar. Shrines and places of worship were also constructed in Thornton, Turlock, Watsonville, Hanford and Tulare.  All this new activity culminated in the magnificent Our Lady of the Assumption of the Portuguese Church in Turlock, completed and dedicated in 1998.

The life of the Church, based on sacrament, divine word, and communal worship, offers stability in the face of the unknown.  It quickly became a haven of comfort for the new parishioners as they sought to re-focus their lives and to create a sense of familiarity in a strange new land.  These churches became the symbols of the life of the Portuguese people in California, a life of hard work, sacrifice, spirituality, family, and dedication to the community.

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