Rev. Dana Michaels in front of the altar at St. Barnabas Church in Alameda.
ALBERT C. PACCIORINI/THE CATHOLIC VOICE
For a long time — 40 years to be exact — Alameda was a one-parish island town and that one parish was St. Joseph Parish. Those days came to an end on July 1, 1925, when San Francisco Archbishop Edward J. Hanna carved out two new parishes on the island. One of those parishes, St. Barnabas, would serve the west end of the island.
"We are kind of hidden," said Rev. Dana Michaels, who has served as the parochial administrator at St. Barnabas since 2009. The priest said that the parish is the closest one to the beach, which is just a 5-minute walk from the church.
That beach became the home to a recreational and amusement complex called Neptune Beach. Nicknamed the "Coney Island of the West" it was the "destination" site of its day. In addition to the long and sandy beach that attracted sunbathers, the site also offered several large swimming pools with fountains and diving platforms. Locals and visitors also went to Neptune Beach, a victim of the Depression which closed in 1940, to see professional baseball games, prize fights, beauty contests and other attractions, according to a history appearing on the website of the East Bay Regional Parks District.
Life hasn't been all fun and games for members of St. Barnabas Parish, however. The faith community has had its share of challenges — from its struggle to pay off its debts to the tension created by the frequent turnover of pastors during different periods of the parish's history.
Parishioners are currently observing the 90th anniversary of St. Barnabas Parish, which began last fall. Scores of memories, both good and bad, have been revealed, documented and celebrated with an anniversary book that also doubles as a parish family album. The book has photos of parish groups that serve the community as well as a picture directory of parish members.
The book is filled with many stories of faith and survival. Early on the parish faced an unusual challenge — getting and keeping a pastor. The first pastor, Rev. Patrick Grattan (1925 to 1931) was "plagued by ill-health" and had to take several sick leaves until he retired in 1931. Msgr. Edgar Boyle (1931), who succeeded Rev. Grattan, only served as pastor for several months until he too had to step down because of illness. With the appointment of the third pastor, Rev. Timothy Galvin (1931 to 1941), the parish finally received a healthy pastor with staying power.
Aug. 14, 90th anniversary
of first Mass and picnic
Sept. 24, dinner/dance
Dec. 11, 90th anniversary of church dedication, breakfast, lessons and carols
In the midst of all that, parishioners moved forward with the construction of a new church and rectory. Archbishop Hanna came to St. Barnabas in December 1926 to dedicate and bless the new church. While much needed, that project cast the small parish — with about 200 parishioners — into debt that took several years to pay off.
Despite these and other challenges the parish faced over those nine decades, members of this community of faith have displayed a tremendous devotion and resilience to survive that continues to this day, said Father Michaels. "There were a lot of pieces to pick up."
Today one of the biggest challenges being addressed by the parish is gentrification. Parish leaders met with city officials last year when the landlords of an apartment complex within parish boundaries began issuing eviction notices. "About one-third of tenants of the Bayview Apartments are members of St. Barnabas Parish," Father Michaels said.
The parish contingent called for an end to mass evictions and instead urged the council to consider supporting a bill of rights for tenants and renters. "We suggested that renters, especially those with school age children be given sufficient time to relocate, at least three months," Father Michaels said in a written statement to the City Council. "Renters should also be given sufficient funds to relocate and all renters be treated as human beings with civility and sensitivity."
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