Even though Alameda was an established city, for many years its only Catholic parish in town had been what is now known as the Basilica of St. Joseph (est. 1885). But in 1925, with a growing population, it became obvious that the increasing number of Catholic families could not continue to be adequately accommodated by one single parish.
Consequently, St. Philip Neri and St. Barnabas were authorized that year by the Most Rev. Edward Hanna, Archbishop of the Diocese of San Francisco. Fr. Maurice O'Keefe was officially appointed as the first Pastor, and St. Philip Neri Parish was formally founded on October 19, 1925.
The regular site of worship for St. Philip Neri had initially been located in one of the neighboring homes on High Street. As may be imagined, this location quickly proved to be inadequate due to the parish's rate of growth. Correspondingly, construction of a new church (now known as O'Brien Hall) began in 1928.
Under the direction of Fr. Robert J. O'Connor, the next decade and a half proved to be one of great growth, most vividly demonstrated by the need for another, larger home of worship. This came to fruition with the 1941 effort to build a second, new and larger church building in the parish's short life. The resulting endeavor provided St. Philip Neri with our existing church on Van Buren Street.
During World War II and its aftermath, St. Philip Neri continued its steady growth. Fr. Patrick O'Brien arrived at St. Philip Neri in 1955, and his two decades-long stay was a highlight in our church's history. Young families constituted an increasingly larger percentage of the parish. Consequently, although no Catholic School was nearby, there was strong demand to teach the parish children. As a result, construction of a school was undertaken.
In 1959, St. Philip Neri School opened, offering grades 1-4 and serving 200 children under the direction of The Sisters of Notre Dame. In December of that year, the school's Mother's Guild (now the PTG) held its initial meeting, and in 1963 the school would grow to eight grades; consequently, the first 8th grade class of St. Philip Neri School graduated in 1964.
It was also during this time that some of the trademarks of St. Philip Neri — lay responsibility and island ministry — came to fruition. The initial parish council was appointed in 1971, and in 1972 St. Philip Neri became "mother" parish to St. Albert's by providing funds for property on Bay Farm Island. Ours continues to be a community of high activity, intermingling of the clergy and people, and a worship family that gathers on Sunday not out of obligation, but to celebrate its vibrant faith.
The decade of the 1970s held some highs and lows for St. Philip Neri. Regrettably, 1974 provided a dark day for the parish, as due to a personnel shortage the Sisters of Notre Dame order was recalled from St. Philip Neri School after fifteen years of service. They were replaced by the Dominican Sisters, and the high standard of excellence was maintained.
Conversely, 1975 held a number of milestones — it was our Golden Jubilee (50th Anniversary), our church was completely refurbished, including new stained glass windows, and a two-room addition to the school was completed. Just as significant, a parish staple and celebration that continues to this day, the Fun Fair, originated. In 1976, Bingo opened its doors for its first game, and the decade closed with the expansion of the Hall. It was renamed in honor of Monsignor O'Brien.
Under Fr. Raymond Breton, St. Philip Neri continued its vibrancy during the 1980s and 90s. As examples, church services were enlivened by purchase of a new pipe organ, and the school was enlivened by welcoming its first Kindergarten class. 1996 was marked by a milestone for all of Alameda, and not only St. Philip Neri — the beginning of Youth Ministry on the island. It originated as a coordinated ministry between the four Catholic Churches of Alameda. Many other programs and activities amongst the four parishes have been initiated on a Deanery level, addressing the needs of adult education, sacramental preparation, and social justice issues and concerns.
During the years of Fr. Vincent Cotter, the parish continued to grow with numerous clubs and organizations that helped foster a rich spiritual life and worship community for many. In 2005 began a Capital Campaign for the upgrading and retrofitting of the facilities. Under his direction and with the help of the parish community, the purchase of the vacant lot at the corner of Van Buren and High St. added to our school and parish space.
With the arrival of Fr. Joy Kumarthusseril in July of 2008, the parishioners of the St. Philip Neri community became even more involved and connected to its church and its various ministries. Under his direction a Parish pastoral Council has been developed as well as both Finance and Liturgy Committees. Together with their help, he has identified facility needs and projects and has completed most every one of them. These projects include replacement and upgrade of the carpets, lighting and sound system in the church as well as the candle room flooring. Our parish rectory offices have been moved and a new office space has been created in the Annex building. The flooring in the rectory basement has been replaced and a new heater has been installed. In the O’Brien Hall, the hardwood floors have been refinished, a new audio-visual system has been installed and a new freezer has been purchased for the kitchen.
Now, as we begin this Campaign which is the next step in the development as a parish and school community, our story will continue to unfold during the days to come. It is our hope that the children and grandchildren of our present parishioners will receive and acknowledge the catholic heritage as we did and they will someday reap the same abundant harvest for St. Philip Neri community.