ST. MARY'S OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CATHOLIC CHURCH
St. Mary's of the Immaculate Conception is the mother Roman Catholic church in Oakland and the pioneer church
of Alameda county. Much of the early history of the city's growth is interwoven with the history of this church.In
the early days the vast territory of the parish extended from the bay of San Francisco into Contra Costa county,
and from Contra Costa to Mission San Jose. From 1853 it was attended as a mission from San Francisco, a priest
coming once a month to celebrate mass. In 1858 Rev. J. Croke became resident missioner, and in 1861 was succeeded
by Rev. J. Quinn, who was the first resident pastor. The first church was a little frame structure, cruciform in
shape, consisting of the main portion in length and the wings or two arms. The entrance to the main body of the
church was through the front door, but on entering the wings it was necessary to go around the outside of the church,
up a board walk and enter by a side door. The church was erected of rough boards, running perpendicularly, and
outside was a sheeting of rough clapboards. The church stood back a little from the walk on Seventh street, between
Jefferson and Grove streets.
Oakland in those days was one vast forest of spreading oaks, stately poplars and wild fruit trees. The city proper
was Broadway and Fourth streets, and Seventh street was in those days the entrance to the woods. On September 10,
1863, train and ferry boat came into Oakland, and one year later ran into East Oakland. It was called the San Francisco-Oakland
Railroad and Ferry Line. In August, 1869, the Central Pacific Railroad, now the Southern Pacific, came into Alameda,
and into Oakland in the following October.
Father Quinn started the construction of the parochial residence but did not live to see it completed, as he was
taken ill and died in St. Mary's hospital, San Francisco, on Christmas eve, 1864. On February 20, 1865, Rev. Michael
King was appointed pastor, and at once started to improve the condition of the parish along temporal as well as
spiritual lines. He extended the wings of the church until the entire edifice had a sixty foot frontage. In 1868
the foundation for the new church was laid, but the church was not completed until some time later, being dedicated
in June, 1872. In building the new St. Mary's, it had been the intention of people and pastor to erect a brick
building. Collections were taken up with a will and though the people were few in number they were broadminded
and liberal. Father King was loved by all, and everyone, regardless of creed, gave of his time and means. Notable
among the list of donors was Dr. Samudl Merritt, who, though not belonging to the church, gave five hundred dollars
towards its erection. For some reason, the brick building was not erected, a wooden structure being put up in its
stead. The original plans were drawn by Architect England, of New York, who was at that time on a visit to the
coast. Later the plans were redrawn by B. J. Clinch, of San Francisco. The contract for building the church was
given to L. Carr, who has long since passed away. His son, Peter Carr, who worked on the building, through some
mishap fell from a scaffolding and was killed in 1871. He was an estimable young man, closely identified with the
church work, and of ten accompanied Father King in the rounds of his extensive work. A memorial window in his honor
is erected in the church. Particular mention may also be made of the late John Lynch, who was also connected with
this family. He served as altar boy at the first mass celebrated by Father King in the parish, and the members
of his family were among the few privileged to be at the bedside of Father King when he passed to his eternal reward.
Midnight mass was one of the features of the early days of the parish, but after a few years the custom was dispensed
with. St. Mary's was an interesting rendezvous in those early days, especially to the farmers, when the parish
extended out to the foothills. Every Sunday the square around the church was thickly dotted with spring wagons
and vehicles of every description. After the services the people would gather together and spend an hour or two
in exchange of hearty greetings. Those were interesting days, that the old time people love to think about. Since
then many parishes have been formed out of the confines of this vast one and today many handsome religious edifices
grace this fair city.
Those years were busy ones for Father King and his assistants. Long hours in the saddle over country roads were
cheerfully endured as he brought consolation to his faithful flock. Father King was greatly loved by all of hips
congregation and nowhere do we find more tributes to him than at the time of his golden jubilee in 1903, at which
ceremony he was given a purse of three thousand dollars. Msgr. Edward Dempsey did much for the parish from the
time he was appointed pastor in 1905. He erected a handsome and spacious parochial house and beautified the exterior
of the church. A residence was also built for the Sisters of the Holy Names, who have charge of the parochial school.
He also changed the interior of the church, making it one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture.
Today finds old St. Mary's standing in the down town section of Oakland, keeping the light of faith burning for
all the nearby Christians. Rev. Francis M. Harvey is the faithful rector, assisted by Fathers Powelson and Hogan.
As the old parishioners were true to the priests of their day, those of today are just as loyal to their present
pastor and his assistants and St. Mary's stands as a bulwark of righteousness and morality, shedding an influence
immeasurable in its results.
History of Alameda County, California
BY: Frank Clinton Merritt
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Chicago, Ill 1928
Alameda County, CA
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