Virtual Walk Through Jacksonville History

Stop 5: St Joseph’s Catholic Church and Rectory

 

Our next stop is St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, at 280 North Fourth Street in Jacksonville. Shortly after the discovery of gold here in 1852, Rev. James Croke celebrated the first Catholic mass in town at the home of Charles Casey.1 In 1855, Father Croke reported to his Archbishop that he had counted 105 Catholics in the Rogue Valley alone, and in 1858, town founder James Clugage again came through for the religious community, deeding this parcel of land for the use and benefit of the Catholic Church in exchange for $5.

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, taken about 1880.
Photo credit: Blanchet, François Xavier, and Edward J. Kowrach.
Ten Years on the Pacific Coast. Ye Galleon Press, 1982.

Father James Croke was a good Irish Catholic, born in Kanturk, County Cork, Ireland in 1827 and educated in Irish College in Paris, France. He was one of eight children, three of whom became priests and two became nuns.2

Described as “handsome and youthful,”3 Father Croke performed the first Catholic masses in not only Jacksonville, but also Yreka, Corvallis (Marysville), Cave Junction, Crescent City, and many other towns and hamlets in Northern California and Oregon. He raised funds for and personally helped build the first Catholic church in Portland and performed the first mass in the unfinished building there on Christmas Eve, 1851.4

In 1853, Father Croke left Portland to perform missionary work throughout Oregon. “I steered my course toward the South: and since then have traversed those boundless regions, in every direction, from the Columbia River to the confines of California, from the Rocky Mountains to the ocean,” he wrote.5 After recovering from an illness in San Francisco, Father Croke returned to Oregon, to raise funds for what became St. Joseph’s Church here in Jacksonville.

Most of the funds Father Croke raised for St. Joseph’s came from farmers and miners outside Jacksonville itself. One notable stop was in the area of Allen Gulch near what is now Cave Junction. “In two days I collected $400,” he said, “far above my most sanguine expectations for a place where there are not more than 70 men in all, and where they have been several months idle for want of water. Every man on the gulch, Catholic, Protestant and Orangeman gave something.” 6

Father Croke returned to San Francisco prior to the completion of St. Joseph’s, leaving the specifications for the church building that had been approved by the Archbishop. The bell for St. Joseph’s weighed 297 pounds, and was cast in Sheffield, England and shipped around the Horn.7 The altar was carved out of native applewood, by George Christian, a resident of Applegate.8

The church was consecrated by the Archbishop himself, Francois Norbert Blanchet, noted missionary, author, and one of the first two priests to come to Oregon, arriving in 1838 with The Hudson’s Bay Company.

The first resident priest at St. Joseph’s was the Rev. J.T. Fierins, appointed on November 30, 1861. Two years later, Father Fierins was transferred to Portland where he became the Grand Vicar, and the newly ordained Rev. Francis Xavier Blanchet, nephew of the Archbishop, became the parish priest. Blanchet remained here for the next 25 years.9

In the garden between the church and his rectory, Rev. Francis X. Blanchet,
pastor from 1863-1888. Photo credit: Peter Britt photo ca. 1880.
10

Carolyn Kingsnorth published an excellent and thorough profile of Father Blanchet in the September 2018 Jacksonville Review. See http://jacksonvillereview.com/father-francis-xavier-blanchet-minister-carolyn-kingsnorth/.

Father Blanchet’s book, Ten Years on the Pacific Coast, is filled with anecdotes about being a missionary in Southern Oregon – not exactly the coast, but great reading, nonetheless. His recollections of the work he and the Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus and Mary performed during one of the smallpox epidemics here in Jacksonville are particularly inspired.

Photo credit: Jack Boucher: Historic American Buildings Survey, August 1971.

In 1875, Father Blanchet purchased the small white cottage just down the street from St. Joseph’s, at 210 North Fourth Street. The Classic Revival style house was built in 1868 for either Nathaniel Langell or John Bingham, who jointly owned the lot. The house served as Father Blanchet’s rectory and also as a boys’ school for a number of years.11

The buildings and grounds were purchased and restored in 1967 by the St. Joseph’s Rectory Acquisition Committee. In 1968, they were turned over to the Southern Oregon Historical Society to manage. In 2002, this historical landmark was conveyed to Jackson County although the property continued under SOHS management. In 2010, management was transferred to the Jacksonville Heritage Society12 and shortly thereafter to the newly formed non-profit Friends of St. Joseph’s. The County gave the property to the City of Jacksonville in 2012; the Friends of St. Joseph’s management remains on-going.

 

Photo credit: Chapter 2, Appendix B, Historic Element of City of Jacksonville
Comprehensive Plan dated July 19, 2019.


Photo Credit: Blanchet, François Xavier, and Edward J. Kowrach.
Ten Years on the Pacific Coast. Ye Galleon Press, 1982.

Be sure to check back next week for the continuation of our Virtual Walk Through Jacksonville History!


1 Medford Mail Tribune, 25 Jan 1959, Page 10.

2 James’s older brother Thomas was the second Catholic Bishop of Auckland, New Zealand and later Archbishop of Cashel and Emly in Ireland. The primary Gaelic Athletic Association Stadium in Dublin is named after him. An older sister, Isabella, became one of the Sisters of Mercy and served as a nurse in the Crimean War from 1854-1856, where she crossed paths with Florence Nightingale.

3 Isetti, Ronald E. On These Promising Shores of the Pacific: A History of St. Mary’s College. The History Press, 2019.

4 https://catholicsentinel.org/MobileContent/News/Local/Article/Irish-pioneer-missionary-lived-heroically/2/35/2636. It’s worth noting that this was the third church in Portland, having been preceded by a Methodist and an Episcopal church, somewhat giving the lie to the claim that St. Andrew’s may be the oldest Protestant church west of the Rockies.

5 Ibid.

6 James Croke letter to Archbishop Francois N. Blanchet, Father James Croke letters, A 023, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon. Special thanks to Ben Truwe’s webpage, with easy-to-read transcripts of these letters at http://truwe.sohs.org/files/croke.html

7 Laplante, Margaret. Jacksonville. Arcadia Publishing, 2010.

8 Medford Mail Tribune, 25 Jan 1959, Page 10.

9 Ibid.

10 Blanchet, François Xavier, and Edward J. Kowrach. Ten Years on the Pacific Coast. Ye Galleon Press, 1982.

11 Jacksonville Heritage Society, https://sites.google.com/a/jvilleheritage.or/jacksonville-heritage-society/properties/st-joseph-s-catholic-rectory

12 Ibid.

 


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