On Saturday I stepped inside St. Agnes Catholic Church. It was one of three sites I visited in Point Loma during the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s 2019 OPEN HOUSE SAN DIEGO.
Donna Alves-Calhoun, author of the book Portuguese Community of San Diego, told me a little about the history of this church and the people whose lives are deeply linked to it.
I learned that an original church was built in 1908 by Portuguese fisherman families that had settled in La Playa, near the entrance to San Diego Bay. It was difficult for them to travel to Old Town or La Jolla to attend church services, so they built a small mission church in Point Loma.
In 1933 the new Mediterranean-style St. Agnes Catholic Church was built at the same location, using funds donated by the crews of local fishing boats.
The beautiful church’s bell tower was decorated with an illuminated statue of Our Lady of Good Voyage, which could be seen at a distance. Like a beacon it guided the Portuguese fishermen safely home. I also learned the extraordinary stained glass windows were made in Ireland, and the religious statues placed in corners of the church are from Italy.
After I moved around the church, looking up at the ceiling and its dark wooden beams painted faintly with tulips, Donna explained that many Dutch settled in the Azores. Like many who have descended from San Diego’s Portuguese fishermen, she herself possesses a measure of Dutch ancestry.
During the annual Festa do Espírito Santo celebration, a crown kept in a glass case near the altar, symbol of the supreme dominion of the Holy Spirit, is brought with other holy objects in a ceremonial procession from the U.P.S.E.S. Chapel and Hall to St. Agnes Catholic Church. The bringing of the “Coroa” remembers an historical gesture of compassion by Portugal’s beloved Santa Isabel, the Peacemaker and Holy Queen.
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