The Imperio

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church/The Imperio

This is the site of the first Roman Catholic Church in Milpitas. The original steepled wood frame church stood near the middle of the parking lot off Main Street. It is believed the first church was built in the 1870s or 1880s to serve the large Portugese immigrant population of Catholics who arrived in Milpitas from the Azores. Prior to the church's construction, Catholic priests from San José Mission or Santa Clara Mission would visit a small adobe building called a "penitencia" to hear confession by the local Indians and farmers. The exact location of this penitencia is not known but is believed to have been a mile or two south of the present church and on the banks of Lower Penitencia Creek.

The only historical building still standing on the property is the small chapel-like building seen in the photo. Called an “Imperio” (pronounced “Em-peddy-oh” by long-time Milpitans) it was an integral part of every Portuguese Catholic church. The Imperio was primarily used during the Feast of the Holy Ghost, an annual fiesta which featured a parade down Main Street and the selection of a queen. At the end of the parade, the queen placed her crown in the Imperio where it would be on display all day, according to one long-time resident. Sometimes small services, such as a mass might be held in the building at other times during the year.

The church built a larger frame building on the northern side of the property. Called St. John's Hall, it was the site of many community and church functions. The Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 severely damaged the the old hall so it was demolished to make way for a newer facility.

Today, the St. John's complex includes a K-8 school, rectory, church, imperio, and hall.

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