California Catholic Daily exclusive by Roseanne T. Sullivan.
On Sunday November 16, 2014, flames began shooting up from the roof towards the front of the stucco Italianate Holy Cross Church in northside San Jose, just a few minutes after the 1:00 p.m. Mass.
The day after the fire, local and national news excitedly reported the discovery of a more-than-a-century old strikingly beautiful ten-foot tall crucifix largely undamaged in the water-soaked ruins. The Italian-crafted crucifix had been hung in the wooden parish church in 1907, a year after the first building’s consecration, and it was moved into the larger stucco church when that was built in 1920. The crucifix was later thrown out and broken during a remuddling in the 1960s, but the pieces had been saved by a sentimental janitor, and the crucifix had been reassembled, restored, and replaced in the church in time for the start of the parish’s celebration of its 100th anniversary in 2005.
Most importantly the Blessed Sacrament, but also the holy chrism oils, and some other statues and religious art pieces were also saved from the fire. The walls were still standing, and the stained-glass windows had also been spared.
But the focus of practically everyone’s amazement was mostly on the crucifix. The fact it survived with only superficial damage–even though the roof had collapsed and debris had rained down upon it–gave everyone hope that the pretty little neighborhood church would survive also, and rise again from its ashes.
And so, it has. On Friday afternoon, May 25, almost four years later, a rebuilt and modernized Holy Cross Church was consecrated by San Jose’s Bishop Patrick McGrath, who called the church stunning and magnificent in his remarks.
The church was filled to overflowing an hour before the consecration began. People who came later were encouraged to watch the ceremonies from the church hall, where large screen TVs were set up, but scores ignored the request and stayed standing in the aisles and across the back of the church. Four choirs (English, Italian, Spanish, and Filipino) sang various parts of the Mass and hymns from the choir loft.
Except for the mostly glass façade with a modern glass chandelier visible in the vestibule and the bell tower having been moved to the front, the outside of the church looks much as it did before the fire. But many much-loved interior features are gone or changed. And many modern touches have been added.
Current pastor Livio Stella, C.S., told this reporter that the half-dome that used to be above the sanctuary was too expensive to replace. The crucifix now hangs in front of a wall of black-framed blocks of blue and gold art glass, lit by electric lights from behind and also by sunlight pouring in from holes in the sacristy wall behind the glass. The old walls could not be saved because they contained asbestos, but the stained-glass windows that survived were restored and line the new walls. The seating capacity has been reduced because of requirements for a handicapped accessible bathroom and other code requirements. Small rectangular clerestory windows add to the larger amount of natural light entering the building through the clear glass front, windows interspersing the stained glass, and the windows behind the glass wall. The tabernacle is embedded in a block behind the rectangular altar, which is faced with black stone, similar to the stone used on the floor.
Everyone I asked was happy with the new church. Although many miss the old church, everyone seemed pleased with the new one, and Catholics in the neighborhood are relieved to have their church open for Mass again. They’ve been going to Mass in the church hall for almost four years now.
For more details about the history of the church and its cross, see “The Crucifix That Keeps On Coming Back.”