California brick

Michael Connelly


Josephinum Orphanage at Mission San Jose
View of the Josephinum Orphanage at Mission San
Jose. Oakland Tribune, February 20, 1910.

In April 1882, construction began on the St. Thomas Seminary on the grounds behind Mission San Jose in Fremont, Alameda County. Michael Connelly and his crew manufactured common bricks on site for the new three-story building. Michael Connelly was a brickmaker from San Jose. He was born in 1841 in Ireland, and married an Irish woman named Julia. In 1880, they were living on Sixteenth Street in San Jose, where he may have had a brickyard.

Material for the brick was obtained a short distance from the seminary building site. Water was piped in from a canyon on the Ayers ranch. The brickmakers formed the sand-struck brick using wooden molds. By June 22, 1882, they had erected a field kiln of 175,000 brick, which were fired with wood. Three teams were employed to haul wood daily from the Southern Pacific railroad cars to the kilns. By August, over 500,000 bricks had been fired and the bricklayers were erecting the walls. The building was completed in December and Archbishop Joseph Alemany blessed the cornerstone. The seminary opened for classes in January 1883.

According to the Cornerstone plaque at the building site, the seminary was discontinued in 1885. In 1891, the Dominican Sisters purchased the building. It served the sisters as the Josephinum day and boarding school, Josephinum Orphanage, Aquinas Normal School, St. Joseph Priory, Jordan Postulancy, Siena Novitiate, a juniorate, a generalate and, finally, Queen of Peace Convent. On July 12, 1979, the chapel part of the structure, which included the bell tower, was demolished to allow for the construction of the kitchen and dining room. In 1988, for earthquake concerns, the remaining structure was demolished and replaced by a three-story building for administration offices, library, and convent.

Remnant bricks believed to be from the original building were found on the grounds and are described below. Other bricks and bats seen in the garden include those from the San Jose Brick Company, Carnegie Brick and Pottery Company, and Livermore Fire Brick Company, and Snowball firebricks from England.

Cornerstone plaque monument
View of the Cornerstone plaque monument on the seminary grounds.

Michael Connelly Brick

Common brick is pale red to orange red and mostly uniform in color. The surface is coated with quartz sand. The form is irregular with undulating dull edges and dull corners. Irregular and discontinuous lip up to 1/4 inch thick may occur around the top face of the brick. Stack indentation are displayed on the long sides. The bottom face is smooth and flat. The top face is rough, pitted, and has a longitudinal strike. Cracks are present. The interior contains less than 3 percent visible milky quartz, black slate, gray sandstone, and black iron oxide up to 1/8 inch across in a porous sandy clay body that ranges in color from pale red to orange-red. This brick was made in 1882 using the soft-mud process with wooden molds. The size varies, but not enough bricks were available to note the ranges in all dimensions. Length 8 1/8, width 3 1/4 - 3 5/8, height 2 3/8 inches.

Connelly brick
View of the top face of the Connelly brick.

Connelly brick
View of the bottom face of the Connelly brick.

Connelly brick
View of the side of the Connelly brick.

Connelly brick
View of the end of the Connelly brick.

Connelly brick interior
View of the interior clay body of the Connelly brick.


Daily Alta California, Oakland News, October 15, 1882.

Dominican Sisters, The Mission San Jose Story, Dominican Profile, Mission San Jose, Winter 2012.

Dominican Sisters, Cornerstone, Plaque, October 1994.

Federal Census Records, 1880.

Holmes, Philip, Two Centuries at Mission San Jose, 1797-1997, Philip Holmes, Fremont, CA, 1997.

Livermore Herald, April 6, 1882.

Livermore Herald, April 20, 1882.

Livermore Herald, June 15, 1882.

Livermore Herald, June 22, 1882.

Oakland Tribune, Dominican Sisters Are Planning For A Tag Day To Complete New Home For Orphans At Newark, February 20, 1910, p. 31.

Copyright 2013 Dan Mosier

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