St. Joseph Catholic Church, Rio Vista, CA

Address: 130 S 4th St., Rio Vista, CA 94571


The white clapboard, twin-spired church prominently occupies a large parcel of land on the higher ground of the historic Delta town. Joseph Bruning, one of the founders Rio Vista, donated the land and was an important contributor to the financing of the current structure dedicated by Archbishop Patrick William Riordan on December 11, 1904. The Gothic-style exterior features pointed-arch framing of the windows and doors, as well as a circular opening on the façade housing a decorative rose window. The interior is dominated by the extraordinary woodwork of the peaked, slatted ceiling supported by floor-to-ceiling wood arches forming a look reminiscent of barrel vaulting. The 20 stained glass windows shed a beautiful glow on the historic back altar and several sacred statues of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and the Saints. The parish remains vibrant, even over the 138 years since its designation as a parish in 1885, and holds daily Masses on Tuesday through Friday, along with 4 weekend Masses.

Special things to see in the Church
• The stained glass windows adorning the walls of the church are done in the German Style of painted glass and bear the names of donors and memorials on the bottom of each – including Joseph and Gertrude Bruning on the rose window. The spectacular transept window on the south side depicts the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; and the Baptism of Jesus by St. John the Baptist is displayed in the north transept. The saints in the nave windows shed light on the origin of the early settlers of the area with St. Isabelle and St. Anthony dear to the Portuguese; St. Patrick important to the Irish; St. Joseph a favorite of the Italians; and in the confessional room is an image of the German Abbess, St. Gertrude.

• Italian artwork is present in the sculpture of Michelangelo’s Pietà in the north transept; and the lifelike Stations of the Cross lining the walls of the nave.

• The wood back altar has 20 spires each topped by fleur-de-lis (and a cross) leading the eye to the large central Crucifix on the back wall of the apse. The altar originated at the chapel of St. Pius X Seminary in Galt, and was installed in this church during a renovation in 1985.

• The statue of the parish patron, St. Joseph, stands silently at the right of the sanctuary holding a carpenter’s hammer and large block of wood.

• A 1919 memorial to the soldiers who died in World War I stands outside to the south of the church building.

Interesting Facts About the Church
St. Gertrude’s Academy was established in 1876 by the prominent Rio Vistan Joseph Bruning, and once stood on the hill behind the church. The prestigious educational institution provided instruction, room and board to young women for over 50 years until closing in 1930; the building was razed shortly thereafter. The Academy bears the name of the great German Abbess, St. Gertrude the Great (1256 ~1302) and the name of Mr. Bruning’s wife, Gertrude. The Academy was staffed by the Sisters of Mercy and headed by Mother Mary Camillus McGarr who led the institution for 35 years until her death in 1911 – she is commemorated, along with Joseph and Gertrude Bruning, beneath a monument to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in St. Joseph’s Cemetery on the north edge of Rio Vista.

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Read more at:
History of Saint Joseph Parish, Rio Vista by Father John E. Boll, Archivist, Diocese of Sacramento –