Church History

It is amazing to note the growth in San Mateo's community that is reflected in the changes in thechurch and school. March 29, 1776, Father Pedro Font held the first Mass on the banks of San Mateo Creek (behind the apartment building between West Third and Baywood Avenue). Afterwards Mass was held at the St. Matthew's Hospice. When the hospice was dismantled, Mass continued at a local public school.

A Jesuit priest from the Santa Clara Mission used to ride the 40 miles on a mule to celebrate the Mass in these early years. In 1863, Father Denis Dempsey held Mass at the first formal St. Matthew's structure, a little wood-steepled church that stood at Third Avenue and "A" Street (now Ellsworth Avenue, where Aaron Bros. now stands.)

Over the next four decades, St. Matthew's congregation grew along with the town, with the railroad bringing more permanent residents to the area. Catholic education also began, not with a formal school, but with religion classes held by the Sisters of the Holy Family in the basement of the original church and in people's homes.

Father Timothy Callaghan, St. Matthew's fourth pastor, served an amazing fifty-three years, from 1884 to 1937. During his tenure, the growth in the congregation and the fear of fire led to a campaign to build a new church. Many fires had come close and had destroyed many neighboring buildings during those years. On September 23, 1900, a dedication Mass was held at the larger and fire-resistant brick church that was built across the street fronting on Ellsworth (where Walgreen's now stands).

Father Henry Lyne succeeded Monsignor Callaghan as pastor, and it was he who saw the need to establish a parish school to provide a total Christian education. So in 1931, he purchased the Tobin-Clark estate and converted it into classrooms. Seven Sisters of the Holy Cross opened the school on August 10, 1931, with initial enrollment of 100. (They finished the year with 140 students).

Since 1931, the school has added a school building and auditorium (1936), a new section which now holds the fifth and sixth grades (1939), Lyne Hall a/k/a "the ramp" (1948), and the Cronin Center, now renamed "The Parish Center", (1953). The current St. Matthew's Church was one of the first post-Vatican II churches to be constructed. It was designed to reflect the changes in the liturgy and foster a new intimacy with the service. A dedication Mass was held on May 8, 1966. Families attending Mass, students processing during the May Crowning, fathers and sons at the Holy Names breakfast, priests giving a blessing at a ground-breaking ceremony, and church members leading the construction of a new grotto, all of these shared experiences have led to the spiritual growth of those families, and our community, and have been handed down for the next generations to carry on.

Acknowledgements: The above information was found in the St. Matthew's Church commemorative book, The Monitor (June 12, 1959), St. Matthew's Catholic School Golden Jubilee commemorative booklet (published May, 1982), and the history database of Monsignor McKay.
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