The history of St. Joseph’s Parish of Spreckels begins in the late 1800s. A community of people from Chicago moved to the Salinas Valley west of Spence. They were Catholics and called themselves the Saint Joseph colony. In 1898 they built themselves a church. A few years later the colony dispersed, the leaders returning to the Midwest and most of the others moving into Salinas. The church and the land it was on came into the possession of Sacred Heart Church in Salinas. That colony of people in their brief existence could not know that they had left a lasting memorial. They contributed the name to our parish.
In 1910, Rev. Patrick Browne, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Salinas, became concerned about the members of his parish who were working at the Spreckels Sugar Company. There was a growing number of Catholics in the small town, Spreckels, which had been built close to the Spreckels Sugar Refinery for the convenience of the workers. In order to serve these people, Father Browne decided to move the old St. Joseph Colony Church to Spreckels, onto a piece of property that the Spreckels company donated for that use. The church was built on the southeast corner of First and Llano. At that time the priests from Sacred Heart in Salinas served the community of about thirty members. This group of people, gathered in that small church, was the seed of our parish.
In 1936, Rev. Patrick O’Connor, very early in his term as pastor of Sacred Heart in Salinas, decided it was time for the community in Spreckels to begin to stand on its own. He organized a number of the ladies into an Altar Society. These women began the collection of money and the planning of fundraisers for the community. Their first effort brought in $40.00, and the ladies were elated. As the ladies continued their work, the community came to be more and more self-sufficient. The community began to grow as an independent community. We owe our independence as a separate parish from Sacred Heart in Salinas to these ladies.
By 1962 the community at St, Joseph of Spreckels was outgrowing the small church, and the old building was becoming a dangerous place to worship. Old pictures from the church show massive cracks in the walls and the bell tower was leaning precariously. It was this year that the building in which we now worship was built. Msgr. Thomas Early, pastor of Sacred Heart in Salinas, acquired seven lots on Spreckels Boulevard and he supervised the building of the new church. Many people in the area, parishioners and residents of the town, contributed to both labor and materials for the project. The present building was completed that same year at the cost of $75,000.00. To Msgr. Early and that community in Spreckels we owe our growth. It was the foresight of these people in building a large building for such a small community that allowed the parish to grow to its present size.
On June 6, 1969, St. Joseph’s of Spreckels was formally established as an independent parish with its own pastor. It was Rev. Daniel Cronin who was chosen to serve the new parish. He moved to Spreckels and served in the parish for six years as the first pastor. It was during his administration that the current parish office on Railroad Avenue was built and he moved into the building that served as the rectory for many years.
In 1977, Rev. Silvano Girolami was appointed the new pastor and he arrived with big plans. The parish was beginning to grow as more housing was beginning to develop along the Highway 68 corridor. His intention was both to expand and to beautify the site. It seems that this vision was of an Italian piazza. He added the present hall, creating an enclosed area, and set about designing the enclosure to be a gathering place. He intended to include a fountain in the final plan. Unfortunately, after building the hall, but before all the plans could be completed, he was diagnosed with cancer and became very ill. During the last years of his life he remained the pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish, but Rev. Mike Miller was assigned to the parish to assist him.
It was during this time in 1982 that the Spreckels Sugar Plant stopped the processing of sugar and many of the plant buildings were closed down. Although it was 1998 before the sugar operation was completely closed down, most of the operation was shut down in 1982.
During the administration of Rev. Victor Farrell, 1985—1995, the most dramatic changes in the makeup of the congregation took place. What happened in Spreckels was simply a reflection of what was going on in the Church all over the United States and in most of the world. The parish ceased to be a place for the people of the little community of Spreckels alone, and the larger part of the congregation did not live in Spreckels at all. Like all parishes, this became a place where people drove to attend Mass. Catholics had become less attached to the parish in which they lived and more likely to drive to attend services where they were comfortable.