Funds Sought to Fix Historic Church

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It survived earthquakes, downpours and the heavy treading of thousands of parishioners, but small fractures along the church’s interior walls reveal the scars of time.

Though it has the majesty of a grand church, Oxnard’s Santa Clara parish needs to be healed of those plaster fractures above the stained glass windows and along the Gothic high ceilings.

So parishioners have begun a fund-raising drive to retrofit the church before its 100th anniversary.


The church’s centennial is not until 2004, but church officials said they want to be sure the funds will be raised before construction begins.

Parishioners have raised $1.3 million since September, but nearly $2 million more needs to be raised to cover the entire cost, said Msgr. Peter Nugent.

“We have a three-year campaign, so we are accumulating pledges at this stage,” Nugent said. “We are very happy. We have met our expectations for the first stage, but it will have to go on for a few more months.”

The original Santa Clara Church, founded in the late 1870s, was built on the south side of the Santa Clara River where Oxnard’s Esplanade Mall now stands.

The parish opened its doors on St. Patrick’s Day 1877 with Mass spoken in English, Spanish and German to please all the Catholic worshipers.

But with the population explosion of Oxnard after the opening of a sugar-beet factory in 1899, the tiny little building along the banks of the river could not accommodate the growing number of parishioners.


So the new stone-and-brick structure was built at 323 S. E St., which opened in 1904.


Designed by William P. Ginther of Akron, Ohio, the church has the sweeping high ceilings characteristic of Gothic architecture, which originated in Europe between the 12th and 16th centuries. For years, its 125-foot bell tower dominated the Santa Clara Valley, but after the 1957 earthquake, the tower was reduced to 108 feet.

The last fund-raising effort for the church was in 1926 when the Santa Clara Elementary School and Convent was constructed. With about 3,300 families registered at the church, Nugent hopes most of the money can come from the congregation.

“The parishioners are our main thrust,” Nugent said. “We feel they want to preserve our church, and that seems to be our outstanding sentiment rather than see us close down. Many of our pioneer families are responding, too. They have a lot of sentiment about the church.”