In 1902, Joao V. Azevedo, a native of the Azorean Island of Pico, came to California to complete his studies at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park. He was ordained into the priesthood in 1904 for the Diocese of Sacramento, being the first seminarian to be ordained at the Cathedral. He was first appointed assistant pastor in Yreka, and then pastor at Fort Jones, California, where there was a colony of Portuguese miners, and also served at Sutter Creek.
In 1909 the Portuguese community in Sacramento petitioned then Bishop Grace to appoint Father Azevedo as their pastor. The Portuguese used the St. Steven's Church to start their parish, which began October 24, 1909, with the baptism of Joseph Veiga, a Portuguese child. That date marked the beginning of the Portuguese National Church.
Father Azevedo and the parish organizers then met at the Williams Market at 11th and Q Streets, owned by the Portuguese-Americans Mr. and Mrs. Manuel S. Williams, to plan their new church on land at the corner of 12th anad S Streets generously donated by Mr. and Mrs. Williams. The church committee consisted of eight men in addition to Manuel Williams. They were Manuel I. Enos, Manuel Lamb, Antonio Da Rosa, Domingos Soares, Manuel R. Vargas, John K. Brown and Joaquim Rodgers. The men would sit on barrels of sugar and coffee, tea and flour in the Williams store to discuss how to raise funds for the new church
The well-known San Francisco church architects Frank Shea and John Lofquist were hired to design the building to
resemble a church in Angra do Heroismo, Terceira. One of the first reinforced cement buildings in
Sacramento, it gained prominence not only from its imposing size and design, but from its unusual
diagonal setting , facing the corner. Many of the local Portuguese contractors and individuals donated
their talents and skills to help build the church. SPRSI Council No. 12 donated the altar.
On February 2, 1913, the beautiful new church was dedicated in a grand ceremony presided over by
Father Azevedo and Bishop Grace. It had been named Igreja da Santa Isabel, or St. Elizabeth's, after
the beloved Queen of Portugal.
St. Elizabeth's is now the oldest Portuguese National Church west of New England and the only one north of San Jose. A National Church is a rare honor that the Catholic Church grants to an area with a large ethnic population. Most churches have parishes which are geographical boundaries that bind the people of a particular parish to attend that church for all activities including baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc. However, with an ethnic National Church , people from that ethnic group, no matter in which parish they live, can attend that church. Services would be conducted in the language of the ethnic group and the church would be staffed by members of the ethnic group.
St. Elizabeth's has since stood as the religious and cultural center for the Portuguese in north-central California, and has been the scene of countless baptisms, first communions, confirmations, marriages and funerals. Baptisms in the hisory of St. Elizabeth's number in the thousands, but only one of those baptized - Martin Brusato - became a priest. He was ordained in 1989 in Woodland.
In 1916 the basement was enlarged to construct a church hall. The hall has been used constantly through the years as a meeting place for Portuguese organizations, Portuguese language classes, receptions, dinners, countless cultural events and recently sometimes for community breakfasts, the pleasant smell of food in preparation wafting upward to the nostrils of those attending Sunday Mass.
All along, Father Azevedo had been financing the seminary education in Angra do Heroismo in Terceira, and at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, California, of Valdemiro Machado Fagundes, a young man from Santa Barbara, Terceira. Father Fagundes was ordained in 1951 and assigned to St. Elizabeth's as associate pastor. Now Monsignor Azevedo retired in 1955 and Father Fagundes was appointed Administrator of the parish. Monsignor Azevedo died in 1957, and that same year Father Fagundes was appointed pastor of St. Elizabeth's. In 1977 he was given the title of Monsignor.
A rectory, or home for the priests, was built in 1957 in fulfillment of the original plans made in 1909.
When Father Fagundes was appointed Administrator of the parish he continued to live at Monsignor
Azevedo's house, which served as the rectory. It was located on 12th Street three doors down from the
church. Monsignor Azevedo had had several heart attacks and the ringing of the doorbell and telephone
"were very disturbing to his health" so he asked Father Fagundes to move out. He did, and set up his living
quarters and office in the basement of the church. The people were not happy with this situation and they
went to work to correct it.
Early in 1956 parishioners formed the United Portuguese Organization consisting of two representatives of each Portuguese society in the Sacramento area. Gabriel Silveira was the president. That summer a two-day parish festival was held at the former ODES Hall at 6th and S Streets. With $8,500 raised from the festival, a fourplex at the site of the present rectory was purchased and then demolished.
When they were demolishing the fourplex the retired gentlemen got busy and clean all the bricks that were the foundation of the building. Those are the bricks in front of the rectory and shrine. They also cleaned much of the lumber that could be saved and was used in the building.
On a rainy day in February 1957 a formal groundbreaking was held, with Bishop McGucken and Monsignor Azevedo officiating. Father Fagundes wasn't present; he was in the hospital recovering from a broken leg suffered while skiing.
Building contractor Ralph Nevis was appointed to head up a construction committee. There were weekends that there were as many as 40 contractors volunteering their services. $600 was paid in labor to advance the work for the weekend. The women were busy preparing meals for the workers. Father Fagundes moved into the rectory in August of 1957.
In 1982 a major $140,000 restoration project under the leadership of Monsignor Fagundes was completed , restoring the church to its original splendor; the church was then rededicated. In February 1983 the historic church was placed on the State Point of Historic Interest list.
Monsignor Fagundes served as the spiritual leader of Sacramento's Portuguese community for three decades, until his retirement for reasons of health in 1985. Widely beloved by his parishioners, he has been described as "a man of the people" - friendly, gregarious, and generous of his time when someone needed assistance. He died September 22, 1996.