Story contributed by Daniela DeCinema and Leslie David
On Saturday, July 30, at the Mabie Center Southside, Clara Bettencourt celebrated her 100th birthday with family and close friends. Clara is of Portuguese descent and a life-long resident of San Benito County.
Fortunately, Mary Medieros, who is currently the senior queen for the Hollister Holy Ghost celebration, was made aware of a wish Clara has held since she was a young woman.
Clara’s 100th birthday started with “I love you!” That is the way she chose to greet all her guests at Mabie Skilled Nursing Facility Southside in Hollister.
The particular way she greeted everyone not only extended to her three daughters and three sons, several grandkids and great grandkids, but to all approaching this vibrant lady that afternoon.
Clara Bettencourt was born Clara Andre, on July 26,1916. During a period of war, she grew up wishing to be a Portuguese Holy Ghost queen to honor her parent’s homeland. However, times were hard back when Clara was a teenager, and she never accomplished that dream. However, many years later, Clara had the opportunity to see her oldest daughter, Helen, become a Portuguese queen.
A website posted through San Jose State entitled, the Festival of the Holy Spirit in the Azorean Portuguese Communities, by Thayer Watkins and Betty Faultner, provides an explanation of the meaning of the Holy Spirit ceremony and the queen’s role. The website credits project coordinator, Tony Goularte, with the San Jose Portuguese Chamber of Commerce as their research source.
“Each year in Portuguese communities, especially those with an Azorean background, there are held Festas do Espírito Santo (Festivals of the Holy Spirit). They involve a dressed parade with some paraders carrying baskets of bread on their heads, the crownings of queens of the festivals and a community meal in each community. Prominently displayed during each festival is a crown topped with an image of a dove. This festival is usually held on Pentecost Sunday (a.k.a. Whitsuntide or Whitsunday), the seventh Sunday after Easter, but could be held on any Sunday between Easter and Pentocost Sunday,” the site states.
Watkins and Faultner go on to explain that although the ceremony is considered a simple cultural tradition, it wasn’t always so.
“The participants and onlookers think of the festival as a quaint manifestation of Portuguese community spirit. It is usually organized and presented by a local non-church organization but utilizes church facilities. Little do the onlookers know that this festival had its origins in a radical theological movement that was wide-spread in Europe but survived largely only (in) Portugal because the King and Queen in Portugal moderated its radical elements and supported its observation,” the website explains.
Medeiros arrived at the birthday party in full royal splendor prepared to share her crown and cape with the birthday girl. Finally, Clara’s personal dream had come true.
Surrounded by family and friends, this memorable day for Clara was also a very special occasion for all those who attended, confirming that sometimes the simplest gifts are the best.