A bulwark of Mountain View's Catholic community, St. Joseph Church beckons to those who seek respite from the hectic pace of modern society. Its bell, perched in a tower four stories tall, serves as a time piece for downtown residents and merchants, most of whom were not even born when its first song echoed across the fields and orchards of old Mountain View.
The real history of the church goes back nearly 200 years, and provides a glimpse of Santa Clara County's rich traditions as well. On Jan 12,1777, the first mission in the Santa Clara valley was dedicated to Santa Clara, an Italian saint, by Franciscan Father Thomas De La Pena acting under the direction of Father Junipero Serra. The missionaries brought with them not only the word of God but also a way of life and a form of government.
The Spanish custom of making land grants led, in 1802, to the granting of 24,000 acres of Santa Clara Valley land to Marianno Castro. A century later a small portion of this land would be donated by the Castro family to St. Joseph Parish.
In 1867, the first Catholic church in the community was built with funds gathered by Rev. Joseph Bixio. The land was donated by John Sullivan whose teams hauled the lumber from Watsonville. Their efforts helped the congregation move from the back room of a grocery store where it had gathered monthly for more than a decade and a half.
The first church was a little white wooden building topped by a cross, and it was nestled among tall shade trees and enclosed by a white pic-rightket fence at the corner of El Camino Real and Alviso Road. It was a small church accommodating 150 until 1884 when its capacity was increased to 250. It served the community faithfully for the rest of the 1800s and beyond the birth of a new century.
On May 12, 1901, when Archbishop Patrick Riordan administered the sacrament of confirmation at Santa Clara to 24 boys and girls from St. Joseph's Mission in Mountain View, it was obvious that the growing town needed its own resident priest. Rev. John J. Cullen was then appointed in 1901 as the first pastor in Mountain View.
The community continually grew since the coming of the railroad nearly three decades before, and its focus shifted nearer to those iron tracks. So the Castro family stepped forward and donated the present church property on Castro and Hope streets, and in 1905 concrete was poured for the foundations of a new church. Soon a big wooden church was established. In some ways it clearly resembled the structure that is there today, although the roofs were steeper, the tower was topped by a steeple resembling Boston's Old North Church, and the church itself was more ornate (at least on the exterior). St. Joseph's Parish at that time included the towns of Mountain View, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, and Mayfield (south of Palo Alto), ranging from San Francisco Bay to Skyline Ridge.
The population growth, spurred by the railroad, was putting great pressure on the church within a few years after it was completed. So the church expanded and established St. Martin's Parish in Sunnyvale in 1916, St. Aloysius in Mayfield in 1919, and St. Athanasius in Mountain View and St. William in Los Altos in 1947.
In 1928, St. Joseph Church burned down as a result of a raging fire set by a pyromaniac. Easter Sunday Mass that year saw the congregation kneeling on rough planks under the bare rafters of the prune and apricot festival building, then located at the corner of Mercy and Castro streets.
The church was rebuilt in 1929 with a seating capacity of 650. And starting in 1948, under the direction of Father James Doyle, the church acquired 15 acres off Miramonte Avenue near El Camino Real and established St. Joseph's Elementary School and Holy Cross High School for girls, now closed.
Father Luis Vargas is now the current pastor for the church. He arrived in 2011, receiving the pulpit from Father Roberto Rojas.