Parish History

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In the center of Alameda stand the buildings, old and new, of St. Joseph Parish. For over 133 years this parish has served the spiritual life of the Catholic families of central Alameda; at one time, all of Alameda. St. Joseph Parish started as a mission church in 1873. Land on the southeast corner of Santa Clara Avenue and Chestnut Street had been donated by Mr. Minturn, a non-Catholic, and the first Catholic church in Alameda was built. 

This mission church, which was attached to St. Anthony Parish, Oakland, was dedicated by Archbishop Joseph Alemany on April 6, 1873. Fr. William Gleeson, Pastor of St. Anthony, was placed in charge of the new St. Joseph Mission Church. Each Sunday Fr. Gleeson came to Alameda on horseback or on foot to celebrate Mass and to teach Catechism. He served the entire Catholic population of Alameda which consisted mainly of families of Irish extraction.

As the congregation grew, Fr. Gleeson was assisted by Fr. J. B. McNally. Twice in a period of seven years the church was enlarged. Finally in 1881 St. Joseph Church was moved to the southwest corner of Chestnut Street and San Antonio Avenue, just across from its present location. Fr. Gleeson had chosen this site for the new church for the convenience of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who had just built a girls’ school on the adjoining lot: Notre Dame Academy for girls in grades one through twelve.

Many dates stand out in the history of St. Joseph Parish, and the year 1885 is one of the most memorable, for it was in that year that St. Joseph became an independent parish. In May of 1885 Fr. Michael McNaboe was appointed by Archbishop Patrick W. Riordan as the first resident pastor of St. Joseph Church.

In addition to caring ably for the souls in his charge, Fr. McNaboe constructed the first permanent rectory at St. Joseph. At the same time he inaugurated a grade school for boys which was taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame. Fr. McNaboe served as pastor until his death on March 1, 1892. He was succeeded by Fr. John Sullivan, who was appointed as the second pastor in April, 1892.

Just ten years after St. Joseph Mission Church became an independent parish, it had grown to the extent that a new church was needed. The new building was to be a beautiful Gothic edifice with a seating capacity of 700.

On August 12, 1894, Very Reverend John Prendergast, Vicar General, officiated at the laying of the cornerstone of the new parish church, and on January 20, 1895, Archbishop Riordan dedicated the new building.

Because of ill health Fr. Sullivan resigned as pastor in January, 1893, and Fr. Patrick A. Foley was appointed the third pastor of St. Joseph. Inspired by the work of his predecessors and looking toward the future of the parish, Fr. Foley set to work at once, with the spiritual guidance of his parishioners and the development of the parish plant. One of Fr. Foley’s projects was the building of a new rectory. A two-storied frame building was constructed on the northwest corner of San Antonio Avenue and Chestnut Street, the site of the present church. The old rectory was sold and moved off the parish property. The new rectory, which was later moved back to its present site, has served as the residence of the clergy to the present day.

As the congregation grew, Fr. Gleeson was assisted by Fr. J. B. McNally. Twice in a period of seven years the church was enlarged. Finally in 1881 St. Joseph Church was moved to the southwest corner of Chestnut Street and San Antonio Avenue, just across from its present location. Fr. Gleeson had chosen this site for the new church for the convenience of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who had just built a girls’ school on the adjoining lot: Notre Dame Academy for girls in grades one through twelve.

St. Joseph became an independent parish

Many dates stand out in the history of St. Joseph Parish, and the year 1885 is one of the most memorable, for it was in that year that St. Joseph became an independent parish. In May of 1885 Fr. Michael McNaboe was appointed by Archbishop Patrick W. Riordan as the first resident pastor of St. Joseph Church.

In addition to caring ably for the souls in his charge, Fr. McNaboe constructed the first permanent rectory at St. Joseph. At the same time he inaugurated a grade school for boys which was taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame. Fr. McNaboe served as pastor until his death on March 1, 1892. He was succeeded by Fr. John Sullivan, who was appointed as the second pastor in April, 1892.

Just ten years after St. Joseph Mission Church became an independent parish, it had grown to the extent that a new church was needed. The new building was to be a beautiful Gothic edifice with a seating capacity of 700.

On August 12, 1894, Very Reverend John Prendergast, Vicar General, officiated at the laying of the cornerstone of the new parish church, and on January 20, 1895, Archbishop Riordan dedicated the new building.

Because of ill health Fr. Sullivan resigned as pastor in January, 1893, and Fr. Patrick A. Foley was appointed the third pastor of St. Joseph. Inspired by the work of his predecessors and looking toward the future of the parish, Fr. Foley set to work at once, with the spiritual guidance of his parishioners and the development of the parish plant. One of Fr. Foley’s projects was the building of a new rectory. A two-storied frame building was constructed on the northwest corner of San Antonio Avenue and Chestnut Street, the site of the present church. The old rectory was sold and moved off the parish property. The new rectory, which was later moved back to its present site, has served as the residence of the clergy to the present day.

It was on January 14, 1913, that the fourth pastor was appointed. Fr. J. Bernard Praught assumed charge of the parish on February 1 of that year. By 1919 the church needed to be redecorated, so that year Fr. Praught had the necessary work done at a cost of $3000. The color of the church was changed from slate gray to pure white.

Just about the time the redecoration of the church had been completed, a catastrophe occurred. On the night of September 29, 1919, a fire of unknown origin started, and St. Joseph Church was burned to the ground. With the exception of a few vestments which were saved, the building and its contents were a total loss.

It was not long before the parishioners overcame the initial shock and discouragement at the loss of their church. Under the able leadership of Fr. Praught plans were formulated for the building of a new church. This was to be a structure of reinforced concrete containing an altar of marble, woodwork and pews of oak, and murals and pictures of inspiring beauty. On August 22, 1920, the cornerstone for the new church, a replica of the old mission at Monterey, was laid by Archbishop Edward Hanna. During the period of construction Mass was celebrated in a temporary structure erected where the elementary school now stands.

The completion of the new church was followed shortly by another major building project. In 1922 a grammar school was donated to the parish by Theresa Ettinger in memory of her husband, the late Victor Ettinger. The school, which is in the same style as the church, contains eight classrooms and a large auditorium. The sisters of Notre Dame staffed the St. Joseph Elementary School of which the parish was so proud. The old school building next to the convent which had housed the grammar school was now given over entirely to the high school.

As the parish grew in physical size, it flourished spiritually. The establishment of the grammar school brought an increase in the number of vocations from the parish. Fr. Praught provided spiritual stimulation for his parishioners through frequent Missions and Novenas.

The social life of the parish was not neglected during these middle years of its history. A motion picture projection booth with a sound projector was added to the school auditorium, and the famous Friday Night Socials were started. As many as four to five hundred people would gather in the school auditorium each Friday night for the showing of a good movie which was followed by a dance.

Fr. Praught was ever mindful of the future of his parish. He purchased property adjacent to the boys’ schoolyard to expand the recreational yard of the school. By 1935 a boys’ high school had been built and a residence for the Brothers of Mary, who were to staff the high school, had been purchased. (This building, reduced in size in recent years to accommodate off-street parking, is now known as the Parish Center, with offices and meeting rooms.)

The year 1935 was one of the truly great highlights of St. Joseph Parish. This, the Golden Jubilee Year, was fittingly celebrated by two memorable events. Archbishop John J. Mitty presided at three days of solemnities highlighted by the consecration of the altar and church. On August 17, 1935 St. Joseph Church was one of the few churches consecrated in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

The second great event of the Golden Jubilee Year was the opening of St. Joseph Boys’ High School on August 26, 1935. In the new high school a boy could receive an excellent Catholic education for the low cost of ten dollars a quarter. Expensive textbooks did not have to be purchased, as a textbook rental plan was inaugurated.

The parish could indeed be proud of its educational facilities which now consisted of a grammar school, a high school for girls under the direction of the Sisters of Notre Dame, and the newly completed St. Joseph Boys’ High School staffed by the Brothers of Mary.

After thirty years of untiring zeal Fr. Praught resigned as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in 1943. He remained in residence in the parish as Pastor Emeritus until his death on October 22, 1949. The new pastor appointed after Fr. Praught’s retirement was Fr. Robert J. O’Connor who was no stranger to St. Joseph’s. He had served for many years as pastor of the neighboring parish of St. Philip Neri. Fr. O’Connor carried on the spiritual traditions of the parish during the last two years of WWII.

These were years during which Alameda’s population grew rapidly. Realizing that the old Notre Dame Convent would soon need to be replaced, Fr. O’Connor purchased property across the street from the convent as the site for a new home for the Sisters.

In 1954 Notre Dame Convent and Notre Dame High School, which had served the parish for decades, but which had been independent of it, were transferred to the official care of St. Joseph Parish. Early in 1957 Fr. O’Connor was in an automobile accident and was confined to the hospital until he passed away on September 17, 1957.

In October of 1957 St. Joseph Parish received its sixth pastor. Fr. Alvin Wagner was sent from St. Francis Parish, San Francisco, where he had served as pastor. With the appointment of Fr. Wagner, St. Joseph Parish proudly became the headquarters of the radio Rosary Hour.

After a careful study and approval of His Excellency the Most Reverend Archbishop, the archdiocesan Building Commission and the Archdiocesan School Board, the building program of St. Joseph Parish was formulated. This program included plans for the remodeling of the boys’ high school and construction of a new convent, a new girls’ high school, and a new combination gymnasium and all-purpose hall. The estimated cost for the program was a minimum of $560,000, a figure which grew to $700,000 because of improved construction.

The parishioners rallied with enthusiasm to the building program announced by Fr. Wagner in 1958. In April of that year a fund-raising drive was conducted under the supervision of the Charles Francis Company. No time was lost in starting the projects to be undertaken. In the summer of 1958 the urgently needed renovation of the boys’ high school was begun and completed in time for the opening of school.

Construction of the new St. Joseph Convent for the Sisters of Notre Dame was begun promptly after the purchase of a lot adjacent to the one that had been purchased earlier. This beautiful building, which is situated on the corner of San Jose Avenue and Chestnut Street and which blends architecturally with the other parish buildings was ready for occupancy in August 1959. The convent was built and furnished at a cost of $177,000. (Now known as San Jose Hall, its purpose changed when no longer needed as a convent. It currently provides additional offices and meeting spaces for the high school, and a modern music facility for the students of the elementary school as well as the high school.)

The old convent was converted to a temporary girls’ high school. The old high school was torn down and construction of the new St. Joseph Notre Dame High School was begun. In July 1960, the old convent, the oldest building on the parish property, was made ready for the demolition crew who quickly razed it. The new high school was completed and opened on September 6, 1960. The school was built at a cost of $310,000 and furnished for an additional $35,000.

The abandonment of the one-block section of San Antonio Avenue between Chestnut and Lafayette Streets by the City of Alameda and the dedication of this area has meant an increased recreation space for the school children.

On September 12, 1962 Fr. Wagner was elevated to Monsignor. That same year the Diocese of Oakland was created.

St. Joseph Church was designated a minor Basilica by Pope Paul VI on June 4, 1972.

St. Joseph Church was designated a minor Basilica by Pope Paul VI on June 4, 1972. Monsignor Wagner retired in 1983 and it was then that the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary was asked by the Oakland Diocese to staff St. Joseph. On August 22, 1983 Fr. Patrick Goodwin was appointed pastor. Fr. Goodwin’s leadership style was to encourage active involvement of the laity in the celebration of the Mass and through the creation of new ministries. 

For several years, the two high schools had been sharing classes and developing a joint curriculum. In 1985 they were formally merged into one co-educational school: St. Joseph Notre Dame High School. The Marianist Brothers had relinquished responsibility for St. Joseph High School in 1970, but the Notre Dame Sisters continued to be an active presence in the parish serving in the Elementary School until the 1990’s.

A committee was formed in 1987 to facilitate the restoration of St. Joseph Basilica to its Romanesque/Mission Revival roots and to renovate it in accordance with liturgical guidelines established at the second Vatican Council. The first task of the committee was to make the Basilica weather and water tight and earthquake safe. This was accomplished in a period between 1988 and 1989. During that time the exterior of the basilica was painted, the roof replaced, and loose external ornamentation was re-attached and the Basilica and elementary school were retrofitted.

1989

In 1989 the firm of EKONA/Ehrenkrantz Kamages was hired to design and coordinate internal upgrades and changes. At the same time, groups of parishioners met in homes throughout Alameda for several weeks to study the implications of some of The Vatican II documents and the subsequent revisions in sacramental rites, such as the placement of Baptismal fonts, the role of confessionals, and proximity of pews to the altar. With assistance from the architect and incorporating feedback from parishioners, the committee elected to focus its energies on certain areas. The result of the committee’s work was as follows:

Altar space

It was decided early on that the altar needed to be moved closer to the congregation to an area near the meeting of the nave and transept of the Basilica. This decision is reflected in the current design of the church. The current altar is made of wood and is square in shape. The ambo and presider’s chair are also of wood with the same design motif. The original high altar is still in place at the rear of the sanctuary. The tabernacle for the repose of the Blessed Sacrament is still mounted on top of the high altar, partially screened to create a sense of privacy for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Also, pews in the north and south transept of the basilica were turned inwards at a 90 degree angle to allow worshipers a better view of the altar. (In the committee’s original discussions the high altar was to have been moved to a chapel of repose located in either the priest’s or altar server’s sacristy. This approach was abandoned due to lack of funds.)

The Baptismal font

The Baptismal font was moved from the Lourdes grotto in the vestibule to the church proper, so that the whole community can gather to witness the celebration of the Sacrament. The grotto is now used for private prayer, and holy water is available there for home use.

Choir space

The committee also decided early on that the choir needed space that allowed them to play their special role in liturgy with integration into the congregational space. This goal is partly realized today with the choir generally occupying the pews in the northern transept of the Basilica. (Only on rare occasions does the choir occupy the old loft at the rear of the Basilica.) However, the goal of designing a space to meet the special needs of the choir is still incomplete. Plans to build an area with risers, special lighting and so on was again abandoned due to a lack of funds.

Confessionals and Side Entrance

One of the more dramatic changes involved the confessionals along the sides of the nave. The niches on the left, now used for seasonal or topical displays, are remnants of the old confessionals. On the right the confessionals were removed in their entirety, to become a new side entrance into what is now the Gathering Space. The old side entrance was closed off to become the Reconciliation Room. (Subsequently that space was needed to create a second rest room, and the Reconciliation Room was moved to the vestibule, opposite the Grotto. Other changes to the interior of the Basilica included laying of carpet, painting, and restoration of the stations of the cross, which were completed in 1993.

On August 23,1993 Fr. Jeremiah Holland SS.CC. became pastor of St. Joseph. With Fr. Holland’s leadership the St. Joseph community developed a master plan to improve the facilities for the whole parish plant in 1997. The first phase of the master plan was the building of a Gathering Space which was completed in 1999.

"Let Every Student Soar" Capital Campaign was launched in 2001 to fund the improvement of the high school's music, library and science facilities, and the gymnasium. In June 2003, construction began on San Jose Hall for the enhancement of the facility as a music center to be used by both the high school and the elementary school.  Over the next few years work continued, yielding updated and state-of-the-art library, gymnasium, science center and classrooms.  In 2006, when Fr. Rich started his long-awaited sabbatical, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts relinquished their involvement with St. Joseph and the parish returned to administration by the Diocese.

Following several months without an assigned priest, Father Ray Zielezienski was appointed Temporary Administrator. Finally in August 2008 we were able to welcome our 11th pastor, Father Fred Riccio who served us for five years.  During that period the basilica was enhanced by the addition of new restrooms, its interior was repainted and its exterior and its lovely windows were restored, and work began on improving its sound system.  Additional upgrades to the schools continued, and the Parish Center (in bygone years the residence of the Marianist Brothers, now a busy collection of meeting rooms) received a long overdue facelift of its kitchen and bathroom.

In June 2013, we welcomed our current pastor, Fr. George Alengadan.

Timeline

  • 1873 - Father William Gleeson
  • 1885 - Father Michael McNaboe
  • 1892 - Father John Sullivan
  • 1893 - Patrick A. Foley
  • 1913 - Father Bernard Praught
  • 1943 - Father Robert O’Connor
  • 1957 - Msgr. Alvin P. Wagner
  • 1983 - Father Patrick Goodwin, SS.CC.
  • 1993 - Father Jeremiah Holland, SS.CC.
  • 2001 - Father Rich Danyluk, SS.CC.
  • 2008 - Fr Fred Riccio
  • 2013 - Fr George Alengadan
  • -------
  • 1935-1970 Brothers Of Mary 
  • 1885-1997 Sisters of Notre Dame De Namur

Contact Info.

1109 Chestnut St. Alameda, CA 94501
(510) 522-0181
(510) 522-2864
Parish Office Hours:
Weekdays:
           8:30 am to 5pm (closed noon to 1) 
       Saturdays:
           8:30 am to 12:30pm (volunteer staffing) 
      Sundays:
           8:30am to 1:00pm. (volunteer staffing)

Parish Calendar

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