McDonnell Hall

The Site: 

McDonnell Hall

The Location:

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, San Jose, California, U.S.A.

The Site’s Status:

National Historic Landmark, 2017

Who considers it sacred?

The Mexican American Community, the United Farm Workers Union and civil rights communities, and Catholic Diocese of San Jose.

Why is it sacred?

McDonnell Hall is where Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers Union and civil rights pioneer, began his lifelong efforts in community organization.

Description:

The modest one-story, stucco clad building, was moved to the outskirts of San Jose in 1953, and first served as a parish church for the growing Spanish-speaking Catholic community in the area. It was a place of worship as well as a social hall used by the community for meetings, celebrations, and education classes.

It was in this capacity that a young Cesar Chavez met Father Donald McDonnell and community organizer, Fred Ross. McDonnell befriended Chavez, bringing to him exposure to the teachings of Ghandi, the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the growing awareness of non-violent protest to bring out social change. Ross mentored Chavez and he began to apply these strategies to improve the plight of his friends, family, and neighbors.

It was in McDonnell Hall that Chavez began to involve himself more fully in the organization of the primarily poor and migrant community around him toward improving their treatment and status. This is where his rallying cry, ¡Si, Se Puede! (Yes! We Can!) was developed. Throughout his career, he returned to this building, to his original community, to find strength and solace.

As the parish and the population of the community expanded, the building was moved to another portion of the original site in the 1970s, when it became a parish hall to support the activities and efforts of the newly constructed Lady of Guadalupe Parish Church. The original building was re-stuccoes and modified at that time to better serve its new purpose. Plans are currently underway to restore the building to its appearance in 1953, when Chavez first began his connections to structure.

The recognition of this simple, imperfect building with the Unites States Secretary of the Interior’s highest honor emphasizes the growing the growing awareness of the National Park Service of minority and marginalized community contributions to the cultural significance of the country. The McDonnell Hall National Historic Landmark joins the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene, California and the Forty Acres National Historic Landmark Site in Delano, California in celebrating and continuing the work that Cesar Chavez started in 1953 in this humble former-church building in San Jose.