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Xavier Timoteo Martinez
Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California



Mexican War
World War II
Chicano Movement

Historic Sites
Selected References


A History of Mexican Americans in California:

Holy Cross Cemetery/Archbishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany, O.P.
Colma, San Mateo County

The sepulcher of Archibishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany is located in the central apse of the mausoleum that is reserved for burial of Archbishops of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The mausoleum is located in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, San Mateo County.

Catalans played a significant role in exploration and settlement of California during the Spanish period, and in the development of cultural, social, religious, and educational institutions during the post-1850 period. But while the secular and religious contributions of early Catalan explorers and missionaries, including Gaspar de Portola and Father Junipero Serra, have generally been acknowledged, the assumption all too often has been that Catalan influence in California terminated with the advent of statehood, at least, if not with the cessation of Spanish control. Documentary evidence, however, effectively refutes this belief.

American California's first three bishops, Joseph Sadoc Alemany, Thaddeus Amat, and Francis Mora, were all Catalans. They exhibited a progressive, far-reaching attitude toward the establishment of educational institutions at every level: orphanages and day-care centers to meet the needs of the state's abandoned or neglected children, and auxiliary religious organizations to serve as a focus for social and cultural endeavors. As Francis Weber succinctly points out:

California Catholicism owes a great debt of gratitude to its Spanish forebears from the ecclesiastical Province of Tarragona in the Principality of Catalonia for no other area in all the world has given so freely of its leaders than this 12,464 square mile gem of the Iberian Peninsula. ( Francis Weber, Readings in California Catholic History, p. 90)

The work of Joseph Sadoc Alemany, a native of Vich and the first Archbishop of San Francisco, exemplifies the impact Catalan bishops had on the state's religious and secular life. An indefatigable worker, Alemany traveled to outlying reaches of his diocese to assess the needs of his flock, to provide encouragement and reassurance, and to exhort those who had strayed to return to the Church. The year after his arrival in California in 1850, for example, Alemany traveled to New Almaden to bless the cemetery that had been established for the "many Catholics who work there in the mines." (McGloin, p. 122, quoting Alemany's Liber Visitationis Episcopalis) He made a number of trips through the Sacramento Valley to the Mother Lode, where he baptized, confirmed, and buried parishioners, and dedicated a number of churches, including St. Rose of Lima in Sacramento, the Immaculate Conception Church at Goodyear's Bar, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in Downieville.

A simple, unpretentious man, Alemany was highly regarded by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, although when the Catholic Church in Drytown, Amador County, was burned in 1855, someone in the crowd, noticing the curate's presence, suggested hanging him. Fortunately, the man's suggestion was not taken, and Alemany continued to work in California for another 30 years.

Alemany was responsible for bringing the first religious order of women, the Dominican Sisters, to work in California. Establishment of the Dominican Convent Santa Catalina in Monterey in March 1851 was followed by founding of a convent by the Sisters of Notre Dame in San Jose in July of that same year. Under Alemany's auspices, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul also came to California to establish a convent in San Francisco. The arrival of these dedicated pioneers permitted th founding of schools throughout the diocese, such as St. Catherine's Female Academy at Monterey, staffed by Dominican Sisters, and the Female Academy at Pueblo (San Jose), supervised by the Sisters of Notre Dame. Additional schools were opened after the arrival of two more teaching congregations in 1854, the Sisters of the Presentation and the Sisters of Mercy.

Alemany's great concern with education was manifested not only in the concrete measures he undertook to assist and promote parochial education, but in his life-long ambition to establish a missionary college in Spain to train people to work in areas then or formerly under the control of Spain. He particularly believed that such an institution could help to meet California's need for priests, the number of which was never sufficient to minister to California's rapidly growing Catholic population. According to church records, that population more than doubled in the 15 years between 1859 and 1875. Although Alemany never had the time or the opportunity to establish such a college, his ambition testifies to his interest in California's educational and religious development.

The Archbishop's concern for the children of California led to formation of the Sisterhood of the Holy Family in 1872, when Alemany persuaded Elizabeth Armer, a resident of San Francisco, to abandon her intention of joining one of the existing orders and to establish instead a religious community devoted to caring for children of working parents.

Despite the large percentage of working-class parishioners in Alemany's diocese, San Francisco s Archbishop did not hesitate to denounce the excesses of Denis Kearney's Workingmen's Party during the late 1870s. "While freely admitting that the flood of Asiatic immigrants let loose upon California had grievously afflicted the workingmen of his flock, Alemany insisted that lawful redress must come from the government. . . ." (McCloin, p. 294) In 1878, Kearney's continued rabble-rousing finally prompted Alemany to prohibit Catholic participation at all rallies the Archbishop termed "seditious, anti-social, and anti-Christian meetings." (Ibid., p. 295) Alemany's opposition to Kearney's movement did much to undermine the Irishman's support and dissipate the movement's cohesiveness.

Alemany's long and faithful service in California ended when his resignation as Archbishop was accepted by the Holy See in December 1884. The necessity of arranging for a smooth transfer of duties prevented his departure from San Francisco until May 1885. After 34 years in California, Alemany retired to Spain and settled in Valencia, where he died in 1888. His final request, to be buried in the Church of Santa Domingo in Vich, his birthplace, was granted.

Alemany's labors in California, however, prompted a number of petitions to permit transferral of his remains to San Francisco "so that the church there might properly honor in death the Catalan prelate who had given it such laborious years of service." (Ibid., p. 393) But it was not until 1965, after prolonged negotiations with the Spanish government, the authorities in Vich, and the Alemany family that the remains of Joseph Sadoc Alemany were finally transferred to the sepulcher in Holy Cross Cemetery.

A staunch proponent of education, a humanitarian, and a man who profoundly shaped the consciousness of California Catholics, Alemany, a naturalized American citizen, was first and last a Catalan who brought the best of his province's heritage to his adopted country. His guidance tempered and elevated the lives of California's inhabitants at a time when men of vision were desperately needed to help mold a raw frontier society to meet the demands of the future. While his influence permeated Northern California's educational and social institutions, the obvious choice for a memorial plaque is in Holy Cross Cemetery, Alemany's final resting place.


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