Compiled from Chancery Archives ~ Archdiocise of Los Angeles
“Fillmore, a sleepy little town nestled in the upper reaches of the Santa Clara River Valley, typifies an idealistic aspect of life that is rapidly disappearing from the California scene. Once a part of the gigantic Sespe or San Cayetano land grant, issued in 1833 by Governor Jose Figueroa to Antonio Carrillo, the area in and around present-day Fillmore is served by a parochial complex under the patronage of Saint Francis.”– Delegation of the Archdiocesan Board of Consultors, October 1971.
The Early Day
Fillmore, California Fillmore was founded in 1888 by Jerome A. Fillmore, General Superintendent of the Southern Pacific Railroad. 1889 saw the first commercial orange grove planted in Fillmore. During the “orange rush” of 1897, the Fillmore Citrus Fruit Association was formed and would eventually become Sunkist Growers. Fillmore’s first orange packing house was built at the corner of Sespe Avenue and A Street, on property purchased for $50 (source: Fillmore Chamber of Commerce).In 1914 Fillmore was a mission of St. Sebastian Parish in Santa Paula, ten miles west of Fillmore. The priests from Santa Paula offered Holy Mass in backyards and classrooms, and helped the small but growing number of Catholics raise funds through fiestas, bazaars and raffles. In 1924 they petitioned Bishop John J. Cantwell to provide a priest and church for Fillmore. The Bishop had a great concern for the spiritual welfare of his people. Over a period of 30 years, Bishop Cantwell created 50 parishes and missions as the seventh Bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles and San Diego. In 1926, by God’s grace, the tiny church located at the corner of First Street and Central Avenue in Fillmore was one of them, serving the community as a beacon of faith. Numerous baptisms, weddings, funerals, confirmations and first communions were celebrated there, as well as daily and Sunday Mass for the growing number of the devout. Documents from the AALA reveal touching glimpses of life during the early days of Saint Francis of Assisi Church, Fillmore: 1928, Fr. Onesimo Sansol wrote this letter (pictured) to the Chancery Office: “May I have permission for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, during the whole day, on Sunday May 13, 1928. Those who were almost visited by death in the flood wish to spend that day in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament for their loved ones.” 1931, Fr. Sansol wrote the Chancery Office for permission to have the local Mexican band play in the church to honor the feast day of Saint Cecilia, patroness of music. Fr. Sansol noted that while he knew it was against diocesan statute for a band to play in the church, he would appreciate it very much if the secretary “would ask the Right Rev. Bishop for special permission to do so, just once, on Sunday November 22.” Bishop Cantwell wrote back, granting permission. Members of the Fillmore Citrus Association Mexican Band (pictured) switched to orchestral instruments – cellos and violins – to perform with St. Francis’ choir during Holy Mass. 1934, Fr. Sansol asked the Chancery Office to pay $2.00 a month in gas money for the Sisters who were driving from Santa Paula to teach the children of Fillmore and Piru, because the church of Fillmore was “absolutely unable to do so.” 1934, Fr. Luis Fernandez wrote this letter (pictured) on stationary from the Fillmore Inn, operated by George M. Graham: “I arrived in Fillmore Dec. 8th and the following morning I offered the Holy Mass, giving my salutation to the people; I left after to Piru for the second Mass and I met the people, too. I like the town and his surroundings.” The Fillmore Inn stationary advertises: “Two minutes’ walk to the Stearns’ Theatre; two minutes’ walk to garage, all-night service; two minutes’ walk to Pickwick Stage Depot; one block to both Union High and Grammar schools; three churches in our block; cool in summer; warm in winter; running water in all rooms; clean all the time.” 1935, Fr. Joseph Feehan reported: “During the past windstorm a part of the cross on the steeple of the church was blown to the ground. It may be expensive to replace because of the height of the steeple. Would you kindly refer this to the Insurance Company and I shall await their recommendation, if the church is insured against such damage.” As the community grew, Saint Francis’ little 180-seat church could not easily accommodate the 250 children enrolled in religious education. Sisters of Our Lady of Victory traveled from Santa Paula to Fillmore to hold classes in the church, in the choir loft, as well as in homes and garages. The Sisters taught an additional 130 children at the mission in Piru. On February 24, 1956, Fr. Joseph Alker purchased an adjacent lot occupied by the Presbyterian Church for $8,500. St. Francis gave a new lease on life to this building, which had been one of Fillmore’s oldest private residences and, at one time, a mortuary. As a catechetical center, it was spruced up with a new room and paint job, and blessed by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre on February 20, 1957. Monsignor Jon K. Clarke, Archdiocesan Director of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, preached the sermon. On December 13, 1961, Cardinal McIntyre appointed Reverend Cornelius Ravlic as Administrator of St. Francis. Fr. Ravlic wasted no time in assessing the needs of the worshiping community. A building fund had already been established, and Fr. Ravlic encouraged parishioners to undertake fundraising through fiestas, raffles, formal dances and family functions. In 1962, after reviewing available properties, Fr. Ravlic and 200 registered parish families purchased ten acres of land belonging to Ed Burson Ranch at the southeast corner of C Street and State Highway 126. Meanwhile, a small stone church in Piru was showing cracks.
Mission: San Salvador
Mass for the faithful of Piru was originally held once a month in the chapel at Rancho Camulos, one of the locations where Helen Hunt Jackson researched her novel, Ramona. As early as 1918, there was talk of starting a building fund for a church in Piru. In the 1920s the faithful met at an old public school building as well as the backyard and hotel of W.W. Lechler, and eventually, in this unique stone church: “Every stone in the church was laid by the hand of one man, a stone mason named Juan Villa. During construction [September 23 to April 1924] it is said that Villa would permit no person other than himself to lay a stone. He had one helper, Trinidad Fernandez. His only tools were a trowel and a string by which he kept the walls straight … It is believed that the Piru church is the only one of its kind, architecturally, in Southern California except one at Corona, which was built by the same stone mason.”– The Piru News, Vol. IV, No. 38, October 1930
When cracks began to appear in 1960, Fr. Joseph Alker informed the Archdiocese that an examination of the mission church in Piru had been completed by a structural engineering firm: “I humbly suggest that the mission church should be vacated as soon as possible, because the cracks are becoming larger per week due to everyday blasting operations in the nearby hills, together with sonic vibrations emanating from the operation of jet aircraft over the neighborhood. If an earthquake should occur, God forbid, the mission church would crumble.” On January 13, 1961, one month after Fr. Ravlic’s arrival, the Chancellor for the Diocese ordered the demolition of San Salvador Mission.The 150 families of the parish mission in Piru celebrated Holy Mass in an abandoned Southern Pacific Railroad Depot adjacent to the church, donated by George E. Bushnell in December 1961. On March 25, 1960, the diocese had purchased 3.26 acres at the corner of North Orchard and East Center Street for $28,000 to develop a new mission church, approved by Monsignor Jacobs. From 1962 to 1964, parishioners raised $15,000 to purchase 5 acres of land about half a mile from the center of town. On February 5, 1964, Fr. Ravlic petitioned Cardinal McIntyre for permission to build a new parochial mission in Piru: “People are clamoring for a new church. They are willing to sacrifice and help in construction of a church.” Much discussion occurred between the diocese and St. Francis as to which location the new parochial mission would be built.On Saturday, April 3, 1964, Bishop Manning, then Secretary to Cardinal McIntyre, visited Piru. The Bishop was not pleased with the abandoned railroad shed, deeming it unworthy for the people. Bishop Manning surveyed both properties and noted that the lot near the cemetery was too far from town and on a dead-end street, beyond which there could be no further development. He endorsed the 3.26 acre lot on Center Street: “It is a beautiful site, looking up to the city park. There is no hazard whatever from the river.”On November 9, 1965, acting on Bishop Manning’s advice with the approval of Cardinal McIntyre, the Board of Consultors authorized construction of a new mission in Piru. The building fund continued and parish families were extremely supportive: A new mission church and hall would soon become a reality, at an estimated cost of $109,110. Cardinal Manning dedicated San Salvador Parochial Mission, completed and furnished by the families of Fillmore and Piru on Sunday, February 1, 1975. The Archdiocese approved a classroom addition in March 1979. Today we are blessed to have a religious Pastoral Associate at the mission, Sister Guadalupe Zozaya S.S.N.D., who organizes a variety of pastoral and social activities there. A vocation from the mission is Deacon Manuel Martinez, presently at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral.
Shortly after completion of the San Salvador Mission church, Fr. Ravlic wrote Cardinal McIntyre in October 1968 for permission to begin construction of a new church in Fillmore on the ten-acre lot purchased in 1962. The diocese advised him to begin zoning procedures and general planning, but felt it would be premature to begin construction at that time; that there remained a need for the old church on Central Ave. Fr. Ravlic didn’t give up. Three years later he wrote Archbishop Manning about the need for construction of a new parish complex, including a multi-purpose building with church seating, classrooms and offices to accommodate Fillmore’s current and projected growth. A delegation of the Archdiocesan Board of Consultors visited Fillmore in October 1971, reporting that: “Saint Francis parish is presently served by a wooden frame church, erected in 1926, with a seating capacity of 198 persons (plus another thirty in the choir loft) … Four Masses are celebrated to accommodate the Sunday crowds which number about 900 souls … Fr. Ravlic is well aware of the financial problems that would ensue were the parochial facilities at Fillmore to be replaced or even appreciably expanded. Nonetheless, in his pastoral solicitude for the needs of his people, the affable priest has proposed to the Archbishop of Los Angeles that some long-term thought be given to the needs of the Fillmore area.” A man of vision, Cardinal Manning was always interested in the future of the church, and encouraged Fr. Ravlic to continue the building fund. Excitement grew as parish families continued to hope, pray and band together to organize fundraisers and special collections. Construction was completed three years later, in time for St. Francis’ 50th anniversary.
On February 1, 1976, His Eminence Cardinal Manning dedicated the new St. Francis of Assisi Church: All of the Liturgical furnishings for the church were donated by parish families and groups. The marble altar is from the old St. Vincent’s Hospital, and the statues and crucifix were handmade in Italy. The Stations of the Cross have family named etched at the bottom, as does the large Stigmata of St. Francis visible when entering the church from the vestibule. The baptistery window of Christ’s Baptism offers an iridescent glow during the day. The bell system was a gift from the Gurrola family in loving memory of Esther. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an exact replica of the original in Mexico.The Brendan Construction Company built a modest rectory for the parish priests in March 1979, along with a four-classroom CCD instruction facility on the east side of the rectory in March 1981. In 1990, Monsignor Sylvester O’Byrne petitioned the Archdiocese to build four additional classrooms to meet the needs of the rapidly growing religious education program. For the next eight years, the parish continued to raise funds with pledges and a capital program. Jesus Reyes Cruz received the Papal Award in 1990 for his untiring service as sacristan. In 1994, Fillmore woke up to the terrible Northridge earthquake. Downtown Fillmore was hit particularly hard and many people along the river valley fault lost their homes. Saint Francis survived with only minor cracks on the walls, and was immediately called upon by the city of Fillmore to become a FEMA relief center. Fr. Norman Supancheck organized pastoral staff and volunteers to distribute the truckloads of blankets, clothing and resources that came pouring into St. Francis. Construction of the new Pastoral Center and classrooms began the following year. Monsignor John Hughes of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Camarillo offered the parish a loan of $250,000 to be paid back in five years, and on August 5, 1995, the Pastoral Center was a reality. In 1997 Saint Francis received a new pastor, Fr. Joseph Hernandez, and a new associate, Fr. Blas Hernandez. Father Joseph immediately addressed the $180,600 debt owed by the building fund, and began repaying the loan with the parish family’s support of monthly second collections. In less than three years, the parish paid off the building fund. With the debt under control, new projects emerged. In 1998, new computers, software and a modern security system were installed. The church’s sound system was overhauled in the fall, and by winter a memorial rose garden was planted on the west side of the church in honor of Rossana Porras, with the Knights of Columbus undertaking the care of this beautiful area. The archdiocese rewarded St. Francis’ fiscal turnaround by freezing interest penalties on the balance owed. Fr. George Punchekunnel became the associate pastor, coming to us all the way from his hometown of Kerala, India via Bolivia, Boston and Rome. On All Souls Day, 1998, St. Francis of Assisi Parish revisited its own history by celebrating Mass at Rancho Camulos Chapel. Monsignor Ravlic returned to St. Francis the following year, in 1999, for a catered luncheon. Prior to the celebration, a special award was presented to the dear Monsignor for all his record-breaking years of untiring dedication. In 2000, Father Joseph petitioned the archdiocese for permission to install air conditioning and heating for San Salvador Mission, made possible by the generous pledges of the faithful in Piru, who had been without a working system for eight years. Solid wooden benches were finished and installed at St. Francis Church for the upcoming 75th anniversary. On September 29, 2000, Bishop Curry presented the Papal Award to Yvonne Meyers and Joanne Arnold for their countless acts of charity and generous works.
On September 28 of the Holy Year, forty parishioners and friends of St. Francis were blessed by Bishop Curry as they departed for a Jubilee Pilgrimage to Italy. The group from St. Francis of Assisi, Fillmore, traveled to the town of Assisi, Italy, where they celebrated Mass on the feast day of Saint Francis (October 4). Another highlight was a general audience with His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, on October 12. Throughout the trip, the parish family traveled with our pilgrims in the form of a special book of petitions, currently on display at the church. Closer to home, members of the parish made a pilgrimage to San Buenaventura Mission to gain the Holy Year indulgence. There, Fr. Joseph led the pilgrims in recitation of the Holy Father’s Prayer for the Jubilee.A New Beginning For The New Millennium.
In September of the year 2001, Saint Francis of Assisi Church launched its Pre-K Academy. Families from Fillmore and Piru enrolled their children into the pre-school, taught by Bernadine Sisters of Saint Francis Paul Marie and Francis Michelle. This was a dream come true for many hardworking members of our parish, especially the Sisters, staff and families of St. Francis, whose fundraising efforts continue. The generosity of the Sisters extends beyond the pre-school to the colorful new playground visible from the parking lot. The formidable dragon slide was initially tested by Srs. Paul and Francis – photos not available! As St. Francis of Assisi Church continues to flourish in the glow of a bright future – in her service to Mother Church, as a rest stop for the soul – it does so with roots extending 75 years to the past: This History is respectfully dedicated to all those who have ever loved St. Francis of Assisi Church in Fillmore and San Salvador Mission in Piru.
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Compiled, edited and researched by Michael Lara, Lucy Romero and Richard Shore; translated by Jesus Pozo. Resources provided by Monsignor Francis J. Weber and Kevin Feeney of the Archdiocese Archival Center, Mission Hills, California. Photos by Vern and Joanne Arnold.
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Historia de la Iglesia de San Francisco de Asis en Fillmore, California Según aparece en los archivos de la Arquidiócesis de Los Ángeles
Fillmore, tranquilo pueblo en el valle del rió de Santa Clara, es un claro ejemplo de esa vida pacifica e ideal que esta rápidamente desapareciendo en California. El área de Fillmore y Piru por muchos anos era atendida por los sacerdotes de la Misión de San Fernando, que celebraban la Misa en la Capilla del Rancho Camulos, cerca de Fillmore.
Hacia 1914, Fillmore se convirtió en parte de la Parroquia de San Sebastián, de Santa Paula y los sacerdotes ofrecían la Misa en las casas y escuelas, siendo los trabajadores de los ranchos los más numerosos católicos. En 1924, la Parroquia de Santa Paula informo al Sr. Obispo, John. J. Cantwell, que un sacerdote y una iglesia parroquial eran necesarios en Fillmore.
Revisando los Archivos de la Arquidiócesis, encontramos esta información sobre el pasado:
En 1934, la Diócesis pagaba $2.00 al mes para los gastos de gasolina de las monjas que desde Santa Paula viajaban a Fillmore y Piru para enseñar el catecismo. 250 niños en Fillmore y 130 niños en Piru recibían estas clases regularmente, en la pequeña iglesia, en casas y garajes.
Fillmore siguió creciendo. En febrero de 1956, el P. José Alker compro terreno junto a la iglesia.
En diciembre de 1961, el cardinal McIntyre nombro administrador de San Francisco al Padre Cornelio Ravlic, quien viendo la necesidad de una nueva iglesia, se apresuro a comprar un terreno para la construcción de la futura parroquia.
Los fieles de Piru, unas 150 familias, oían la Misa en la capilla de rancho Camulos, y más tarde en la estación del tren, hasta que se autorizo la construcción de la nueva Iglesia y Salón parroquial. En 1975, el Cardenal Manning bendijo el nuevo templo, que fue amueblado por las familias de Fillmore y Piru. Más tarde se añadieron salones para las clases de catecismo.
Construcción de la Nueva Iglesia de Fillmore
El Padre Ravlic, que con su celo y liderazgo, consiguió la construcción de la iglesia de Piru. En 1968 de nuevo pidió autorización al Cardenal Manning para levantar una nueva iglesia en Fillmore en los terrenos adquiridos en 1962. Después de varias vicisitudes y retrasos, por fin se completo la construcción de nuevo templo, que dedico el Cardenal Manning en febrero de 1976:
Mayor, de mármol, vino del antiguo Hospital de San Vicente y el crucifijo y demás imágenes fueron hechos en Italia. Las estaciones del Vía Crucis en las ventanas de cristal policromado, llevan el nombre de las familias donantes. El sistema de campanas fue un regalo de la familia Gurrola en recuerdo de Ester Gurrola. El cuadro de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe es una replica ampliada y copia exacta de la que se encuentra en la Basílica de la ciudad de Méjico.
En 1990, Msgr. Silvestre O’Byrne pide permiso a la Arquidiócesis para construir cuatro clases necesarias para poder continuar con el programa de educación religiosa y para el Centro Pastoral.
Por fin, en agosto de 1995, el Centro Pastoral es una realidad, gracias a P. Norman Supancheck y a un préstamo de $250,000 concedido por la Parroquia de Santa Maria Magdalena en Camarillo.
En 1997, el P. José Hernández es nombrado Párroco, con el P. Blas Hernández como asistente. Además de sus tareas parroquiales, el P. José introdujo nuevos cambios y mejoras en la administración parroquial. Muchos fieles ignoraban la deuda pendiente de $180,604.58.
En diciembre de 1998, se planto un jardín de rosales como recuerdo de Rosana Porras, al oeste de la iglesia, y los Caballeros de Colon han cuidado esta rosaleda con especial interés. También en este mismo ano, la Arquidiócesis alabo los esfuerzos de la parroquia por ser finalcialmente responsable y lograr una seguridad económica. Los $132,000 de la deuda fueron congelados, sin intereses acumulados. En 1998, el P. George Punchekunnel fue nombrado asistente del Párroco.
En 1999, Msgr. Ravlic fue invitado a un almuerzo especial en la Parroquia y se le ofreció una recompensa conmemorativa por tanto anos y servicios durante su ministerio en la Parroquia de San Francisco.
En septiembre del ano 2000, un grupo de feligreses y amigos de San Francisco peregrino a Italia para ganar la indulgencia del Ano Santo, visitando también otros santuarios. Los momentos culminantes fueron la audiencia con Su Santidad Juan Pablo II y la misa celebrado por el P. José, el 4 de octubre, fiesta de San Francisco, en la humilde Capilla construida por los primeros compañeros del santo.
También en septiembre del ano 2000, Msgr. Curry presento el Premio del Papa a Ivonne Meyers y Joanne Arnold por sus incontable actos de caridad y ayuda generosa a la parroquia. Antepasado, en 1990, el señor Jesús Reyes también recibió el Premio del Papa para su ayuda como sacristán.
En 2001, la Hermana Bernardina de S. Franciso comisiono a las hermanas Paul Marie y Frances Michelle para establecer una Academia Pre-escolar para las familias de Fillmore y Piru. Así la parroquia cuenta con una escuela infantil y campo de juegos.
La Familia Parroquial de San Francisco continúa creciendo en fieles y cuenta con los dones y cualidades necesarias para acrecentar su celo, sabiduría y gracias en los anos futuros. Y nuestra Iglesia de San Francisco seguirá siendo un lugar privilegiado para buscar y encontrar esa paz y descanso para el alma que tanto necesitamos hoy y siempre.
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Traslado por Jesús Pozo