Mariposa's St. Joseph's Church celebrates 150 years of faith

By Sheelah Gehring / Special To Sierra StarJanuary 10, 2013 

One of the two buildings in Mariposa that is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places is St. Joseph's Catholic Church. This charming little church perched on a hill at the corner of Highways 140 and 49 was dedicated in 1863 and the community will celebrate the sesquicentennial anniversary of its dedication on Friday, Jan. 18.

Bishop Armando Ochoa will preside at a 4 p.m. mass, followed by a banquet at the Mariposa Fairgrounds.

Throughout its history, St. Joseph's Church, the oldest continually used church in the Fresno Diocese, has been refurbished, reinforced and repainted many times. In 1927, under Father Deschesne's direction, the rectory was built to the north side of the church to house the parish priest and guest priests, and today, the parish office as well.

The charm of this building can also be seen in its New England style of architecture, as well as that of the Mariposa Courthouse, the other building in Mariposa listed on the Historical Places Register.

In 1958, the church was enlarged to allow space for 125 people. The sacristy and sanctuary were moved back 18 feet, and a new section was added to the center part along with two new windows. The communion rail was inadvertently reinstalled upside down and it remained that way until its removal during the 2000 Jubilee renovation. A section of this original communion rail is displayed on the north wall of the church.

The aged-curved window sills, the red, green and white colored glass windows, the Stations of the Cross prints and the rendering of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper all are evidence of the beauty of this unique church.

A reed organ from 1912 was replaced by an electric Lowery organ in 1956. A pipe organ is to be dedicated in the spring.

The historic cemetery can be found behind the church building. While earlier sites can be found, the first recorded burial in 1864 was for a gold miner from Sonora, Mexico, hired by John C. Fremont to work his land grant. There are a variety of grave markers from tall monuments to simple wooden crosses. A self-guided tour through this old cemetery is truly a historical experience.

In 1991, the Monsignor Francis E. Walsh Parish Hall was built.It was named in memory of the Monsignor who served as Parish Priest for 43 years. Many parish and community activities are held at the church. Via closed circuit TV, Mass is relayed from the church at 11 a.m. on Sundays; the Community Warming Center is available Tuesday and Wednesday nights; and the Annual Ladies' Guild Rummage Sale will be held at the hall Feb.1-2.

During its 150 years, there have been 35 priests who have served as parish pastors. Rev. Stephen Bulfer has been the pastor for e18 years.

Under "Father Steve's" leadership, the parish has grown into a vibrant community with many ministries of charitable work, as well as liturgical, educational and social community outreach programs. Besides the Rummage Sale in February, there will be other activities such as a History Night at the History Center on Feb. 17, a picnic on July 21 at the Mariposa Community Park and a wine tasting event in the fall.

The parish's new book, "150 Years of St. Joseph's Church," will be available for purchase later this month.

Details: (209) 966-2522, sjccoff@yahoo.com, or visit tinyurl.com/8qytfcq.

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