Ceremonies celebrate church's centennial | May 9, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Cover Story - May 9, 2012

Ceremonies celebrate church's centennial

Our Lady of the Wayside Church in Portola Valley was dedicated in 1912

by Jane Knoerle

A celebratory Mass at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, May 13, at Our Lady of the Wayside Church, officiated by Archbishop George H. Niederhauer of San Francisco, will highlight the year-long centennial celebration of the Portola Valley church, which was dedicated May 5, 1912. A reception outdoors and in the rectory will follow Mass.

The centennial year closes with a 5:15 p.m. Mass on Saturday, May 19. Music for the service will be performed by members of The Family, a prestigious San Francisco men's club whose history is closely entwined with the little country church.

Preceding the Mass will be music by the Everfaithful String Quartet at 4:45 p.m. During the service there will be music by the Songbirds choral group under the directions of Eric Alexanderson. Selections will include Franz Biebel's "Ave Maria" and Franz Schubert's "The Omnipotence" with tenor soloist Sigmund Seigel.

A reception with hors d'oeuvres and beverages, hosted by The Family, will follow the Mass.

The public is invited to attend both events. However, the Rev. Jose Shaji, pastor of Our Lady of the Wayside and St. Denis churches, predicts it will be standing-room-only for both Masses. Former pastors of OLW have been invited to the May 13 celebration, including the Rev. George Thomas, who served as pastor for 34 years. Father Thomas is now retired and living in Jackson.

A statue of the Virgin Mary, a gift from The Family, will be blessed by Archbishop Niederhauer at the May 13 Mass.

"Jim Shannon, a long-time member and former president of The Family, consulted in great depth with the church about how the organization might properly reflect our appreciation to the church and its parishioners as a close neighbor for the past century," says Family spokesman Mark G. Rawlins.

The marble statue weighs 1,200 pounds and stands 6 feet tall with a two-foot base. It will be located with a bronze plaque in the grove of redwood trees in the gathering/parking area in front of the church.

A brochure on the history of Our Lady of the Wayside, written by parishioner Bill Alfano and his father, William Alfano Sr., of Woodside, will be distributed to those attending the Mass.

As Portola Valley historian Nancy Lund said in a 1992 article in the Almanac, Our Lady of the Wayside is "a silent monument to a community spirit of cooperation, ecumenical goodwill and brotherhood."

Over the years, various versions exist about exactly how a club of prominent San Franciscans happened to build a Catholic church in Portola Valley. The Family Farm, the club's summer retreat, was located off Portola Road, near the existing church, a renovated dance hall.

Family members became good friends with the church's pastor, the charismatic Father George LaCombe. He became a member of the club, which decided "to build a new church for Steve." (He was nicknamed Steve, because there were already too many "Children" named George in The Family.)

Family members donated services, materials and labor, as well as money, and the little church was completed within a year. The first service in the new church was held Sept. 29, 1912. At the service, Family musicians and singers (The Songbirds) took part.

The tradition was revived in 2004, when The Family was invited to perform the music for the Saturday 5:15 p.m. Mass on May 22. The tradition continues today, with a Mass held the third Saturday in October, marking the Family Farm's closing for the season.

Today, Our Lady of the Wayside serves a far different community than it did 100 years ago. Spacious homes built on expensive property have replaced the modest homes of farm folk. However, the little mission still provides a sense of community to its 300 families.

Father Shaji and retired Msgr. Jose Rodriguez officiate at weddings, baptisms, and funerals, say weekend Masses and morning Mass three or four days a week.

"We're trying to cater to the needs of the people. We're a community celebrating 100 years of faith," says Father Shaji.

Visit tinyurl.com/Wayside-512 to read a history of the church by longtime parishioners Bill Alfano Sr. and his son, Bill Alfano Jr.


There are no comments yet for this post