In July of 1952 two strangers came to Sacramento. My husband had transferred from the Corps of Engineers at Fort Peck, Montana to the Air Force at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento. We were expecting our 4th baby and I was in need of a good doctor. When in a strange place – you find a church. We went to the largest church in town – the Cathedral. A young priest, Father Anthony Maio, opened the door. In the course of conversation we told him that we were considering a house to buy in the Town & Country area. He informed us that there was going to be a new church built on “El Camino”. I asked, “Father, are you Spanish?” He said, “No, I’m Italian but I speak Spanish and I minister at a small mission church at 3rd & O called “Our Lady of Guadalupe”. I then kiddingly said, “Father, you must have a good choir”. His reply was “do you play? do you sing? do you direct?”
This was the beginning of a wonderful experience. Yes, we did have a good choir. High School girls from St. Joseph’s High School and members of the Señoritas Club joined the choir. We sang High Mass in Latin every Sunday.
Preparing for the Feast Day of Our Lady on the 12th of December was the highlight of the year. Two weeks before the Feast a mission would begin, one week for the women, one week for the men. We were blessed with dynamic missionaries in the persons of Father Jesus Alonzo of the Passionist Order and Father Francisco Vicente of the Dominican Order.
Getting up at 4:00 A.M. on a cold, foggy, wintery morning to sing “Mañanitas” to “La Virgen” was exciting. The church would be packed and beautifully decorated. The ladies had spent weeks making garlands of crepe paper flowers and the altar would be banked with beautiful red roses, symbolic of the roses Juan Diego carried in his tilma and which miraculously revealed the image of Our Lady.
There used to be an old two-story building on the corner of 3rd & O Streets in Sacramento. At one time it had been the livery stable for the Crocker family. The Crocker Art Gallery is still across the street but the old two-story is gone. That was the first Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.
In time it became evident that a new, larger church was needed. It has not easy but through the undying efforts of Father Maio and the many faithful people who wanted a church for the Hispanic Community, a beautiful church was built at 7th and T Streets in 1957. Father sought the most talented artisans in Mexico to carve the mahogany altars and the reredos, to paint the exact replica of the image of the Virgin and he commissioned a beautiful mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe for the façade.
Soon after the Church was completed, a group of ladies from the Guadalupe Society decided to go to Mexico City to give thanks to Our Lady for granting the Hispanic Community their wish for a newer Church. I was included in the group since by then I was still playing, singing, directing and answering phones, keeping books, typing bulletins and recording baptisms and weddings.
There were ten of us including Father Maio. It was the trip of a lifetime. Seeing Our Lady as she appeared over 400 years ago was a thrill never to be forgotten. I am not a photographer but my husband had given me his camera to take on the trip. All I knew was that if there wasn’t much light you opened the shutter and held your breath. When we entered the Basilica the only light came from the candles on the altar. I leaned against a pillar, opened the shutter and held my breath. Our Lady must have wanted her picture taken that day. The result was beautiful and it has a special place in my home to his day.
Written by: Mary Vidal