Our Lady of Lourdes Church
A History of Our Parish
   
The sky was vivid, sun-splashed blue that afternoon. From their position on the bluff, the group was able to look out over much of what was to become Alameda County, all the way down to the bay. Padre Juan Crespi, a Franciscan priest accompanying the Spanish expeditionary party which had been dispatched from Monterey to explore the San Francisco area, held the host aloft and uttered the blessing. It was the first Roman Catholic Mass held in the area. The date was March 27, 1772.


Now, over two and a quarter centuries later, the family of Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church, situated just below the bluff where Padre Crespi stood that historic day, marks its 90th anniversary. It all began on December 9, 1921 when Archbishop Edward J. Hanna of Archdiocese of San Francisco established the parish bounded by Perkins Street in Oakland, the Piedmont city line, Trestle Glen, Athol and Lakeshore Avenue.


The church was named to commemorate the events that happened in the Grotto of Massabie, near Lourdes, in France in 1858. There, a vision of the Virgin Mary came to a teenage girl named Bernadette to reveal the healing waters of the Spring of Lourdes. Since then, visitors from all over the world have traveled to Lourdes to bathe in and touch the water. "Any parish is formed to meet the needs of the community, in particular the Catholic community," current pastor, Father Seamus D. Genovese, explained. "The school was probably the driving force, though."
 
The church grounds, a sloping lot along the eastern shore of Lake Merritt, had formerly been part of the old Rancho San Antonio de las Peraltas and were purchased for $35,000. Father Bartholomew J. Kevany from County Roscommon, Ireland, was named the first pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes after serving his initial pastorate in Half Moon Bay. Father Kevany guided the parish for 37 years until his retirement on November 1, 1958.
   
The need for a parochial school was underscored by the order in which the parish buildings were erected. In August, 1924, the combination school/convent/parish hall (what is now the administration building) was completed. Without a church proper, Masses originally had to be offered in parishioners' homes. For the first year, services were held in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Leo J. McCarthy. The first Baptism, that of Ursula Ann Haven, took place in the McCarthy home on January 1, 1922.
 

The temporary chapel and parochial residence were moved to a little cottage at 803 Walker Avenue for the next two years. It was there that the first marriage ceremony was performed and the first class, consisting of 12 youngsters, received First Holy Communion. On February 11, 1925, the church was officially dedicated.
 

Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 1921-1962
 
Thirty-eight years were to pass before ground was broken for the current church building. By then, a new pastor had been appointed. On November 5, 1958, Father John J. Clogher, also from the County Roscommon, Ireland, was named to succeed Father Kevany. Like his predecessor, Father Clogher was to stay with Our Lady of Lourdes until his retirement thirty years later.

 
It was Father Clogher who oversaw the construction process. Architect Vincent Buckley designed the 12,500 square foot, Romanesque style, concrete and reddish-brown Italian marble structure featuring a 110 foot bell tower. Pacific Coast Builders served as contractors
 

Interior Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 1962-1995
 
The school, which had been operated from its foundation in 1924 until the 1970's by the Holy Name Sisters, closed in June 1989 due to insufficient enrollment. The parish did not go down with the school, however. Quite the contrary, it was about to experience a renaissance of sorts. Shortly after the school closing, the parish Liturgy Committee, began looking into ways to stimulate more parishioner involvement. By this time, Father Seamus, also originally from Ireland, had been named pastor (on June 19, 1988). Father Seamus worked in partnership with the Liturgy Committee to bring about positive change.
 
One way to render the liturgical experience more accessible to the lay person was to reconfigure the church building. The church had been designed in the old style in which the priest faced the altar, which was flush with the front wall, with his back to the congregation. The hope was to develop ideas which involved the laity more in the sacraments. Going into the project, the committee solicited as much parishioner involvement as was possible. The committee was rewarded with a, strong showing of almost 200 parishioners at the initial meeting, and 80 to 90 people regularly present at workshops thereafter.
 
What these gatherings developed was not an actual blueprint for renovations, rather they were used to develop a consensus on how people viewed the celebration of the sacraments. Father Seamus was present throughout the process as an adviser, but he maintains all of the final decisions were made by the church members themselves. On December 8, 1993, John Goldman of Goldman Architects in San Francisco was selected to draw up the plans. Taking into consideration the committee's suggestions, Goldman was able to develop a series of mock drawings. "The key when making a decision," Father Seamus explained, "was always to think in terms of what we're celebrating."


Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Present
 

A fundraising campaign to help underwrite the costly repairs and reconfiguration was begun. Goldman's final plan was accepted in April, 1995. MA Lindquist Contractors, with a bid of $700,000 (which, coincidentally, was the same as the final construction cost in 1962) was chosen to implement the changes. Construction began in the second week of December, 1995 and was completed by the third week of May, 1996. All told, including the price of a new organ and new pews, the makeover cost about $1,000,000.

In its 90 year history, Our Lady of Lourdes has had only three pastors, a remarkable feat for a modern church. It is only by coincidence, Father Seamus insists, that all three men hailed from Ireland. While its leadership has remained steady, the demographics of the church body have changed greatly over the past nine decades. Being an urban parish, Our Lady of Lourdes boasts a wonderfully diverse flock, something the congregation and clergy are justifiably proud of. Today, the lay leadership play an integral role in the ministry and administration of the parish. A palpable sense of community has been developed within the parish through its many programs and because of the feeling of closeness the newly designed church building itself emanates.


Today as we celebrate Our Lady of Lourdes' nine decades in existence, it's difficult not to feel that the parish is stronger and more devoted than ever. Just like Padre Crespi more than two centuries ago, we need merely to gaze around ourselves to see the tools the Lord has provided us for unlimited growth.