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.