In this article we look at the history of St. Denis Catholic Church, exploring the vital contributions made through its outreach programs, which support individuals facing difficulties and the entire community of Menlo Park.
the present st. denis parish was formed in 1995.
St. Denis Parish was created by the amalgamation of two separate parishes: St. Denis in Menlo Park and Our Lady of the Wayside in Portola Valley. The history of St. Denis Parish, therefore, dates back to the origins of these two original parishes.
Jane Knoerle wrote a history of St. Denis Parish in 1978 to mark its 125th anniversary. Additionally, a limestone marker and bronze plaque stands on Sand Hill Road, nestled among Monterey Pine trees. The plaque commemorates San Mateo County’s first church, St. Denis Parish Church, built by Irish immigrant, Dennis Martin, in 1853.
Dennis Martin was an early settler who, in 1850, purchased 1,000 acres of land from John Coppinger at Rancho Cañada de Raymundo. A devout Catholic, Martin regularly invited priests to his house to take Mass.
Deciding that the area needed a church, Dennis Martin remodeled a former school house constructed from redwood, creating a crucifix-shaped church. Bishop Alemany dedicated the church to St. Denis on June 8, 1856, and a cemetery was subsequently added.
In 1864, Jose Ramon Arguello and Maria de la Soledad Ortega Arguello filed a lawsuit against Dennis Martin, claiming that rather than belonging to Rancho Cañada de Raymundo, the land upon which the church was built actually belonged to Rancho de Las Pulgas. Their claim was successful. Dennis Martin never fully recovered from the loss and died estranged from his family in 1890.
In the meantime, St. Denis Parish Church passed into the hands of Reverend Denis F. Dempsey. In 1872, parishioners vacated St. Denis Parish Church when worshippers moved to the Church of the Nativity. In 1963, the present-day St. Denis Parish Church opened its doors in Sharon Heights, just a mile away from its original location.
st. denis parish church was renovated in commemoration of its 125th anniversary.
Several improvements were made to the building, including resurfacing of the parking area, painting of the exterior, and the addition of a brick patio. Future plans for St. Denis Parish Church include redecoration of the interior.
st. denis church and our lady of the wayside merged in 1995.
The Archdiocese kept both churches as part of its pastoral plan. Menlo Park, and in particular, Silicon Valley, was enjoying spectacular growth at the time. This growth created more children, increasing the burden on local educational facilities.
The newly combined St. Denis Parish created a Parish Center at a cost of just over $1 million. St. Denis Parish used the new facility to stage a religious education program that served almost 400 children.
our lady of the wayside church was modeled on san francisco’s mission delores.
Constructed in 1912, this elegant building was a mission until 1941, when Our Lady of the Wayside became a parish, following the addition of a rectory. In 1989, Our Lady of the Wayside Church was shaken to its foundations by the Loma Prieta earthquake. The Archdiocese closed the church after structural engineers declared the building unsafe.
Parishioners subsequently raised $600,000 to repair the considerable damage caused by the earthquake. This provided sufficient funding for structural repairs at Our Lady of the Wayside Church as well as a refit and refurbishment.
st. denis was a martyr who served as bishop of paris.
Born in the 3rd Century, St. Denis and his companions, Eleutherius and Rusticus, were extremely effective in converting French locals to Christianity. In fact, they were so effective that a Roman governor ordered their arrest.
Following a long imprisonment, during which they were racked and scourged, St. Denis, Eleutherius, and Rusticus were “thrown to wild beasts,” burned at the stake, and eventually beheaded at Montmartre, the highest hill in Paris. Following his decapitation, according to legend, Denis retrieved his head, walking several miles, reciting a sermon the entire way, making him one of the famous cephalophores, or head-carrying saints of Christianity.
the church administers a variety of outreach programs supporting the local community.
Following the 9:30 a.m. Mass Sunday, the church welcomes members of the Menlo Park community for coffee and donuts. This offers local residents the opportunity to get to know one other better as their children play together in the safety of the church gardens.
St. Denis Parish Church’s outreach volunteers collect items for local families who are struggling. Donors can leave non-perishable food items, such as dried pastas and canned goods, in the barrels outside St. Denis Church.
Other community projects implemented by St. Denis Parish Church include: a monthly meal service which cooks meals for 70 residents of the Maple Street Shelter; an Annual Christmas Giving Tree which provides gifts for Catholic Worker House clients, St. Francis Center and Hoover Preschool children and families, and clients of the Maple Street Shelter; the annual Hoover Preschool Easter Basket program; and an October Bake Sale at St. Anthony’s Padua Center.