Church lost in Boles Fire was 'heart of the people'

Deborra Brannon
Long time parishioners gathered in Mel Borcalli's Weed home to talk about the meaning of Holy Family Church in their lives and what was lost when the church was destroyed in the Boles Fire last September. Left to right, seated, Josie Rizzo, Inez Moreno, Jim Gubetta, Louise Gubetta, Fred Salvestrin, Cesira Salvestrin, and Caroline Carpine. Standing, Mel Borcalli, left, and Zoe Rossetto.

A group of Holy Family Church parishioners gathered at Mel Borcalli’s home in February to talk about how integral a part the Holy Family church has played in each of their long lives.

On Sept. 15, 2014 the Holy Family Church building and its St. Michael’s Hall burned to the ground in Weed’s Boles Fire.

The church building, consecrated in 1937 by Bishop Armstrong, held the visceral memories of generations of people who had been baptized in that sanctuary as children, received first communion and were confirmed there, and years later received the blessings of their priest and community there when they married. Later still they brought their own children to be baptized in the same Holy Family sanctuary.

“Holy Family was the heart and soul of the Catholic community in our town and even those who have moved away,” said Mel Borcalli. “When our church burned, many of our children called in tears, very emotional over the loss of their church home.”

Inez Moreno remembers helping her mother clean the church when she was just a girl. “My mom was in charge of the altar… and I helped. The altar was very high, with big gold vases and huge candles. I remember feeling closer to heaven up there than I had ever been before.”

Josie Rizzo is one of many Weed residents whose first communion, confirmation, and marriage took place in the church, and for whom the church represented a thread of connection throughout the community.

She expressed the loss quietly and succinctly: “When that church burned, a lot of memories burned too.”

Built by the people

Holy Family was built when it was determined that St. Catherine Church, built downtown as a mission church in Weed in 1913, was no longer large enough to accommodate the growing population.

Jim Gubetta, who remembers attending church with his mother at St. Catherine’s every morning before school, was 12 years old when parishioners built the new church.

“I can remember the mill ran during the day and in the evening men of the church would use the mill to saw timber for the church. The boards were 24 feet long – too long for the chain, so they’d just open the door and push them out,” he said.

The boards were at least 16 inches by 16 inches, and the men would finish two or three in an evening.

“They’d put up one A frame after another. Seems like they worked on that church most of the spring and summer,” Gubetta recalls.

Rizzo reflected on the unique beauty of the church, built with knotty pine.

“This was a lumber town and they built a lumber church. Exactly as it should be,” said Fred Salvestrin.

Over the decades, families donated money for stained glass windows in the sanctuary depicting Jesus in the garden, St. Patrick, and other Biblical images. Pews bearing the nameplates of local families memorialized the donations and labor that helped refurbish the sanctuary over time.

Zoe Rossetto said her relatives who came to visit thought it was “the most beautiful church they’d seen.”

“When you walked in you could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit,” said Borcalli. “It was just a building, and a church is the people, but the people built that church.”

While there were parishioners of all nationalities in the church, Moreno said the families who had emigrated from Italy lived close together in Weed. “We played together, grew up together. Everyone became very close.”

“The church was the social fabric of the community to our family,” Gubetta said.

Cesira Salvestrin talked about her family’s dedication to Holy Family.

“It was very important for us to go to mass. That was our religion, our faith,” she said.

She and Gubetta remember going to catechism class and then going up to the Hippodrome to roller skate.

Caroline Carpine remembers that, a generation later, her son Mike went up to school hill to play baseball with the other children after his catechism class.

The Holy Family community had various priests over the years, Gubetta said, some associated with strong memories. The community studied, worshipped and sometimes ate with them.

“Father Lucid was strict. You could hear a pin drop during his catechism class,” recalls Carpine.

Inez Moreno remembers that “when priests walked in the door, everyone stood up.”

Rossetto is one of several who said that when Father Sullivan was the Holy Family parish priest, “You never knew when he would drop by for dinner.”

When St. Michael’s Hall was built in 1950, it became part of what Moreno described as the community’s “close family situation.”

People who had known each other from kindergarten through high school, many of whom had received first communion and been confirmed and then married in Holy Family, created new memories in St. Michael’s as adults.

“We had a lot of fun in that hall,” Rizzo said. “Our ‘Mr. and Mrs. Club’ met there and we had fun,” to which Salvestrin added with a chuckle, “We danced and we drank.”

Rebuilding plans

Questionnaires distributed to Holy Family parishioners will help determine what will be included in a new church building, and what that building will look like.

Borcalli confirmed that their insurance is in line, and they’ve hired an architect. “We plan to begin rebuilding at the end of the summer.”

She said a lot of people have indicated they want to keep the design of the church traditional, but there are many variants still to be decided such as what rooms are needed, what kind of flooring should be installed, and whether the church ought to be circular or rectangular.

“We will build another beautiful church” Borcalli said, “but the old one will live long in our memories. Holy Family church was the heart of the people.”