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Solano Chronicles – Nov. 24, 2019

New Statue Resolves Old Identity Question

By Brendan Riley

Interested in historic Vallejo churches? If so, you might wonder why a new statue of St. Vincent Ferrer was just placed in front of the church bearing his name when a life-size statue of the same saint has been there for nearly a century. Here’s why: The old statue represents a different saint, and Vallejoans who for years figured it was St. Vincent were flat wrong.

Some folks, especially members of Vallejo’s pioneer Lynch family, knew all along that until now there was no St. Vincent statue outside the church, completed in 1870 near the corner of Sacramento and Florida streets. The Lynch family paid for the first statue, erected in honor of Philip B. Lynch following his death in 1921, and chose the saint – Dominic de Guzman, the Spanish priest who founded the Dominican religious order in 1215. For decades, priests and nuns at the church and its schools were Dominicans.

Over time, mistaken identity was inevitable. For one thing, there’s no saint name on the base of the old statue and, given the name of the church, guesswork tended to favor Vincent. Also, a 1925 edition of “History of Solano County,” a go-to book for researchers, states incorrectly that it’s St. Vincent. For what it’s worth, a quick survey of some of my classmates from the 1960s shows Vincent leading Dominic by a 3-1 margin.

The new marble statue, the work of Mexican sculptor Hector Rodriguez, was trucked across the border in October and set in place on its base in front of the church a week ago. A dedication is scheduled following the 10 a.m. Mass today. The Rev. Vicente C. Teneza, St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church pastor, worked with parishioners for about three years on the project, funded by a $24,000 donation.from the Joseph and Virginia Lapid family. The new statue is to the right of the church entrance and the old statue will remain at its site to the left.

While statue ID questions are resolved, it’s still unclear why St. Vincent was chosen in the mid-1850s as the namesake for the church, at its first location on Marin Street across from what’s now the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum. The original wood-frame church was later moved uphill to its current Florida Street location and then replaced by the existing brick Gothic Revival-style church.

St. Vincent (1357-1419) is the patron saint of builders because of his work in “building up” and strengthening the church through his efforts as a Dominican preacher. Born in Valencia, Spain, he traveled throughout Spain, as well as in France, Italy, Germany, Flanders, England, Scotland and Ireland. Gen. Mariano Vallejo may have been asked to pick a name for the first church since it was his land on which it was built. John Frisbie, his son-in-law, donated the land for the second location. The saint who was chosen had the same name as Gen. Vallejo’s father – Ignacio Vicente Ferrer Vallejo. If it was up to Gen. Vallejo, a choice of St. Vincent Ferrer for the church name would have been a way to honor his father, a soldier in both the Spanish and Mexican armies. But that’s just a guess.

When the first church was built near the southwest corner of Capitol and Marin streets in 1855, Mare Island Naval Shipyard was only one year old. In 1865 a parish house was built adjoining the original church, and the Rev. John Louis Daniel arrived as the first resident pastor. At the time, about half of Vallejo’s population was Catholic. Many of the parishioners were men who had come to Vallejo to work at the rapidly growing naval shipyard.

Numerous donors helped to cover the $60,000 cost of the second church. While the brick church was under construction from 1867 to 1870, a rectory on the southwest corner of Sacramento and Kentucky streets also was built, made of the same type of brick. Electric lights were installed in the church in 1909, followed by a heating system in 1910.

Normal parish activities were curtailed in World War II, and a .50-caliber machine gun was placed on top of the adjacent high school building by soldiers in the Army’s 211th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft Division because of the rooftop’s sweeping view of the city. The 211th soldiers, known as “The Boys from Boston,” had been assigned to Vallejo to protect the city, Mare Island and other nearby communities during the war.

The church has withstood the tests of time, including two major earthquakes in 1898 and 1906. The March 1898 quake, a 6.3 tremor, caused extensive damage to the 150-foot-high tower of the church. In 2001, the church was renovated and strengthened to make it safer in the event of more earthquakes. Donors pledged $1.5 million to cover costs of that project. The church was included in the city’s historic landmark list in 1983. Known to many as the “beacon on the hill,” it can be seen from almost all parts of Vallejo.


Vallejo and other Solano County communities are treasure troves of early-day California history. The “Solano Chronicles” column, running every other Sunday, highlights various aspects of that history. My source references are available upon request. If you have local stories or photos to share, email me at genoans@hotmail.com. You can also send any material care of the Times-Herald, 420 Virginia St.; or the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum, 734 Marin St., Vallejo 94590.