Words by Dylan Lanier
Catholicism was on a roll during the late 19th century—literally! Archbishop Alemany of San Francisco established a chapel originally called St. Bridget’s in 1872 to preside over the spiritual activities of Menlo Park and its neighboring towns. Five years later, it became a parish and Reverend William Speckels was named its resident pastor. However, the chapel moved twice in two years to where it now stands on Oak Grove Avenue. The transportation team lifted the structure onto logs and rolled it to each destination, prompting locals to refer to it as the “Roamin’ Catholic Church.” The chapel was expanded into a church—now known as Church of the Nativity—and Peter Donohue, the “Iron King” of the Comstock Lode, gifted the building a 1,200-pound bell. The church underwent a few more renovations until the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake caused a chimney to crash through the roof of the rectory, trapping multiple priests upstairs and forcing them to climb down fire department ladders. The building was repaired and priests continued to make various improvements to the grounds. In 1950, the establishment of St. Raymond’s Church split the former Nativity parish. Today, it has 1,400 members. In 1981, Church of the Nativity received a spot on the National Register of Historical Places. It still stands as the oldest church building that has continued to operate in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.