Mission Church


Bishop Barber and oncelebrants at the 225th Anniversary Mass


The Story of Mission San Jose

Mission San José has always been a sacred place of pilgrimage, devotion, and spiritual renewal. While many come to the Mission for its history, we cherish it as a site of special grace. This is a holy place where the faithful come to seek spiritual guidance, healing, and closeness to God.  In recognition of the Mission’s role as the birthplace of the Catholic faith in the East bay and the Diocese of Oakland, Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J., has designated the Mission church as the Diocesan Shrine of State Joseph.



The Mission Era

Mission San Jose was founded on June 11, 1797, by Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. It is the fourteenth of the 21 Spanish Missions in Alta California.  They were founded to secure Spain’s claim to this land and to teach the native people Christianity and the Spanish way of life.

The site chosen for the only Mission on the east side of San Francisco Bay had been inhabited for countless generations by the Ohlone Indians. Their village at this site was known as Oroysom. The Ohlones lived close to the land in harmony with nature, taking what they needed for their sustenance but never wasting irreplaceable resources. What we could call ecology today was a way of life for them. Their food included seeds, roots, berries, acorn meal, small game, and seafood.

Three years after the founding of Mission San Jose, several hundred Ohlones had come to live at the Mission. They were introduced to a new way of life by the Spanish Franciscan missionaries. Thousands of cattle roamed the Mission ranges. Acres of wheat and other crops were planted and harvested under the direction of the padres. The fully developed Mission was a self-sustaining village occupied by local natives, a few soldiers, several artisans with families, and one or two priests. According to Spanish law, the Mission’s lands and resources belonged to the natives and were to be put in their control when they had learned to manage it in the Spanish way.

An organ for Mission San Jose was requested by the Pastor in correspondence with the Bishop of Mexico in 1818 but this request was denied. As far as we know, Mission San José, nor any of the other Missions in Alta California, never had an organ.  The musical scene, however, was very lively at Mission san Jose.  Secular and religious music were freely interchanged and performed with great gusto using string, woodwind and brass instruments. Several original compositions have survived.


Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. The California Missions continued to prosper under Mexican rule until the Secularization Act of 1833. In 1836, Jose Jesus Vallejo was appointed civil administrator of Mission San Jose. The lands were divided into ranchos and transferred to local prominent Mexican families. What was left of the Mission began to decline, and over time, the native populations were scattered. Very few were given their land, and many died of disease and starvation. After California achieved statehood in 1850, the United States government returned a small portion of the land back to the Catholic Church, and the Mission became St. Joseph Parish in 1853.

The 1868 Earthquake

A tremendous earthquake in 1868 on the Hayward Fault destroyed the 1809 adobe church. The rubble was cleared away and a new church of wood was constructed directly above the tile floor and stone foundation of the adobe church.

When plans were formed in 1973 to rebuild the 1809 adobe church on its original site, and the wooden church was sold for $1 in 1982 to Christ Anglican Church in San Mateo and moved across the Bay, where it is still in use today.  The Anglican parish restored the wooden church to its original name as St. Joseph Church in 2014.

Reconstruction of the Adobe Church

The reconstruction of the original adobe church was completed in 1985. It is one of the most authentically reconstructed of the California Missions. Original materials and building methods were used to the extent possible. Steel reinforcement against earthquakes is hidden inside the walls. The reconstruction was a joint effort by the parish and the Diocese of Oakland, with a seed gift of several million dollars from the Walter Gleason family.

As part of the Mission church reconstruction, a new organ was created by the Rosales Organ Company of Los Angeles, crafted in the style of 19th century Spanish instruments and decorated in the Greco-Roman revival style of the original Mission’s decor.  Painted in bright colors and sparingly gilded, the organ has the authentic sound of a Mission period instrument.  The organ originally requested for Mission San Jose in 1818 was delivered in 1985, 167 years later!


The correct name of Mission San Jose

When this Mission was founded in 1797 it was named “La Mision del Gloriosisimo Patriarch San Jose” in honor of St. Joseph.  Unfortunately, in the early part of the 1900’s a sign was erected on the roof of the Museum which said, “Mission San Jose de Guadalupe,” and some books about the California Missions used this incorrect name for Mission San Jose.

Key Dates

  • July 16, 1769 – Padre Junipero Serra founded the first California mission, Mission San Diego de Alcalá.
  • June 11, 1797 – Mission San Jose was founded by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen as the 14th California mission.
  • 1809 – The adobe brick and redwood timber Mission Church was dedicated.
  • 1868 – An earthquake destroyed the adobe church and many nearby buildings. The west wing which housed the padre’s residence or “convento” was left standing. It contains the present Mission San Jose Museum.
  • 1982 – Reconstruction of the original Mission San Jose adobe church as it appeared in the 1830s began.
  • June 11, 1985 – The reconstructed adobe Mission church was completed and dedicated. 1985.
  • 2001-2002 – The museum building was seismically retrofitted.
  • March 19, 2024 – Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J., designates the Mission Church as the Diocesan Shrine of St. Joseph.