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By Jane Knoerle
Sixty years ago, St. Raymond parishioners gathered for their first Mass in a little theater on the former Felix McGinnis estate in Menlo Park. The little wooden building, known as the little theater or playhouse, was built by Mr. McGinnis for his daughter, an aspiring actress. The playhouse would become the setting for St. Raymond worship services for the next nine years.
At 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, Mass will once again be held in the playhouse, now on the site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Arbor Road and Valparaiso Avenue. A return visit to the playhouse will be a remembrance of things past for longtime parishioners, as well as local history buffs.
The Rev. William Myers, St. Raymond parish administrator, and former parish priests will take part in a celebration Mass at 10 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 7, in St. Raymond Parish, 1100 Santa Cruz Ave. in Menlo Park. Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline will speak to commemorate St. Raymond's 60th anniversary. A community social and historical photo exhibit will follow at Arbor House, the priests' residence. The public is invited.
St. Raymond Parish began in 1950 as Menlo Park's Catholic community was outgrowing its first home, the Church of the Nativity on Oak Grove Avenue. The Archdiocese of San Francisco purchased 11 acres of the Felix McGinnis estate at Santa Cruz Avenue and Arbor Road to build a new church and school.
The school was built before St. Raymond Church was constructed along Santa Cruz Avenue, for good reason. "The need for schools was great in those days," recalls Sister Nancy Morris, former director of Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, who is now associated with St. Raymond School.
California was experiencing a building boom at the time. Young families were flocking to the suburbs. "Servicemen, who came out to California during World War II, fell in love with the weather, stayed and wanted to raise families here," she said.
St. Raymond School opened on Oct. 20, 1954, with 143 children in grades 1 through 5. Since it was the Baby Boom era, it was not unusual to have 50 or more children in a class.
Msgr. Edwin Kennedy became the first pastor of the fledgling parish. A San Francisco native, with a doctorate in canon law from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., he had just returned from eight years in Hawaii, where he was assistant to the vicar delegate of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Pacific.
The distinctive church at 1100 Santa Cruz Ave. was finally built in 1959, nearly 10 years after the parish was founded. It was named for St. Raymond of Penafort, a contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi, and a church lawyer born in the late 12th century. St. Raymond is the patron saint of lawyers and, more recently, surfers.
Today, St. Raymond Parish is a cornerstone of Catholic life in Menlo Park. Generations of children have graduated from its school. Hundreds of baptisms, weddings and funerals have taken place. Those remaining founding families are grandparents or great-grandparents now. Several still live in the parish.
The early years
Some parish "old-timers," together with Father James Morris, gathered at St. Raymond recently to reminisce about the early days.
The group included attorney Howard Daschbach. He and his wife, Lenore, have been members of the parish since its beginning. Ms. Daschbach moved to Atherton in 1935 with her parents and Mr. Daschbach came West to attend Stanford Law School. Five of the six Daschbach children, LeeLee, Rooney, Lisa, Mark and Michelle, as well as eight grandchildren, have attended St. Raymond School.
Mr. Daschbach was named "Man of the Decade" by the St. Raymond Men's Club at its annual lobster dinner last May.
Rud Scholz moved to Palo Alto with his family in 1943 and attended Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, commuting by steam train. He dated a girl who lived on Santa Cruz Avenue and thought Menlo Park was the greatest place he'd ever seen. He and his wife, Claire, moved to Arbor Road in Menlo Park in 1961, and he says he still feels the same way.
"We think this is one of the jewels of the Peninsula," he says. All four of the Scholz children, Steven, Gregory, Kathy and Ken, were baptized at St. Raymond.
Larry Johnston and his sister, Eveleen Lopez, moved to Menlo Park in 1936, when their father became the first manager of the town's Bank of America branch. "Menlo Park was a small town when we came here," says Mr. Johnston. Eveleen was a student at St. Joseph School when St. Raymond Parish was founded, and Larry was attending Santa Clara University. They recall going to Mass in the playhouse.
Larry now lives in Redwood City, but attends Mass at St. Raymond. His sons, Walter, Dan and Tim, all graduated from St. Raymond School. Eveleen has been a teacher's assistant at St. Raymond School for 25 years, most of the time in fourth grade. Her three children, Larry, Andrea and Elena, as well as her grandson, Timothy Atherton Lopez, are all St. Raymond graduates.
Ms. Lopez recalls outings with Msgr. Kennedy as a teenager, including a day at the beach in Santa Cruz with 35 other kids. "Monsignor was very comfortable around children," she says.
Eleanor Rubin moved to Menlo Park from San Francisco in 1971. "The first Sunday I attended Mass at St. Raymond, Monsignor came up to me and said, 'You're new here!' He was a very wonderful pastor."
Ms. Rubin worked for a year as parish secretary in 1979. The Rev. Ray Zohlen became pastor in 1978, when Msgr. Kennedy retired after serving for 28 years. "In those days we had a one-room office, one electric typewriter, and file cards. Northing like today."
At age 96, Ms. Rubin is no longer able to attend Sunday services, but the St. Raymond ministry brings her communion once a week.
St. Raymond Parish today
The Rev. William Myers became St. Raymond's parish administrator in 2007. From his first parish, St. Brendan's, to today, he says, "Wherever I go, what keeps me ticking are the people."
Father Myers grew up in the Sacramento Valley and was a teacher in a public junior high school before entering the priesthood. "That took care of purgatory," he says with a laugh.
Reflecting on the parish on its 60th anniversary, he notes there are 250 "very active" families. The school has 250 students, with Sister Ann Bernard as principal. He says the parish is built on a foundation created by Msgr. Kennedy 60 years ago. "I worked with him at Corpus Christi Monastery (in Menlo Park) when I was a seminarian (at St. Patrick's Seminary) in 1984-88, so I've come full circle."
Father Myers supports outreach programs for the parish, including a strong relationship with the St. Vincent de Paul Society. "Last month we made fruit pies to be served at their homeless shelter in San Mateo," he says. Volunteers set up an apple and pecan pie workshop in the school gym to make 31 pies. Making homemade soup to be served at the homeless shelter was an earlier project.
Among the parish's numerous outreach programs are special Masses for teenagers, scripture study groups, and a religious school for public school students.
Sixty years after that first Mass in the little playhouse, St. Raymond Church and School continue to be a vibrant part of Menlo Park's substantial Catholic community.