One hundred years; nineteen pastors; two church buildings; thousands of parishioners. St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in Morgan Hill has come a long way since its founding in 1909.
Long before there was an official parish, there was an active Catholic community in Morgan Hill, San Martin, and Madrone. Many of the early founders of the area were Catholics, including the Murphys and the Dunnes. Martin Murphy, one of the early settlers had a chapel built in what is now San Martin, near the corner of Church and New Avenues, and named it after his patron saint, St. Martin of Tours. This chapel was used until it was destroyed by fire in 1877.
In 1884 Sacred Heart Mission Church was established in Madrone on what is now Tilton Avenue; priests from St. Patrick’s Church in San Jose came twice a month to say Mass. By 1909 it was clear that the population of the area was stable and growing (Morgan Hill had incorporated as a city in 1906). The Archbishop of San Francisco sent Rev. Donald J. McKinnon to Morgan Hill to establish a parish in April of that year. Catherine O’Toole Murphy Dunne donated an acre of land at the corner of Monterey and Dunne as well as money for the building of a church and rectory.
The church was dedicated on October 31, 1909. In recognition of her great generosity, the church was named after Catherine Dunne’s patron saint St. Catherine of Alexandria. At that time there were about 150 parishioners living within the same parish boundaries that exist today.
In 1922 a coal and wood furnace was added to the church and in 1929 additional stained glass windows were installed. In 1958 a parish hall was erected behind the church. By 1959 the number of parishioners had outgrown the 300-person seating capacity of the small church and parking had become a challenge. The pastor, Rev. Thomas Walsh, purchased nine acres of land on Peak Avenue for new parish facilities.
The first building constructed on the new land was St. Catherine’s School which opened in September 1963 with fifty two first- and second-graders. The Sisters of the Presentation staffed the school with Sister Mary Kieran as the first principal.
While the church was under construction Mass took place in the school building. The new rectory was completed in 1965 and on October 22, 1967 the first Mass was celebrated in the new St. Catherine of Alexandria church. The stained glass windows, the Stations of the Cross and the shrine of St. Catherine were taken from the old church and placed in the new.
In March of 1981 the Diocese of San Jose was split off from the Archdiocese of San Francisco and St. Catherine’s became one of the original fifty parishes of the new diocese.
The parish continued to expand its physical plant with the addition of the Milani Center in 1985, the seventh and eighth grade classrooms in 1992 and the new Parish Center in 2000.
As St. Catherine’s enters its second century as a parish the entire parish community is engaged in a Parish Master Planning process to determine what the parish will look like for future generations of Catholics in Morgan Hill.
Morgan Hill, San Martin and Madrone have changed greatly since Martin Murphy, Catherine Dunne, Fr. McKinnon, and other early residents lived out their faith by starting a Catholic community here. St. Catherine’s parish now has over 3,500 families. Our parishioners speak many languages and come from all over the world, but we are bound together by our shared faith as we worship and pray together and minister to one another.