About

 
 

Located in the Piedmont Avenue neighborhood of Oakland, California, the Church of St. Leo the Great has long been known as a cultural landmark in the area. The parish was founded in 1911 to serve the growing community of Italian, Irish and German Catholics who lived and worked in Piedmont. The parish was established by Archbishop Riordan in territory that had previously been part of Sacred Heart and St. Frances de Sales parishes; he named it in honor of Pope St. Leo the Great who served as Pontiff from 440 until he died in 461. The Archbishop called upon Father Owen Lacey to become the first Pastor of the new parish.

The first Mass of new St. Leo’s Parish was celebrated in Mowbray Hall on Vista Avenue near Bonita in the heart of Piedmont. For a time Mass was held at the Standard Grocery Store at 4056 Piedmont Avenue near 41st Street. Attendance grew to such an extent that many of the congregation were forced to stand and kneel on the sidewalk outside.

The first church building was a wooden structure erected beside the pastor’s residence on Piedmont Avenue. The funds necessary for this undertaking were raised by January of 1912 and within a year the work was completed (this structure later became the parish hall on Howe Street and still later the school auditorium).

In 1918 the lot on the corner of Ridgeway Avenue and Howe Street was purchased with the intent of constructing a convent to house the Sisters who would staff a planned parish school. A permanent home for the priests was to be built on Piedmont Avenue beyond the church. The convent structure was completed in early 1920 and it has served as the priests’ rectory every since. Construction of the Church of St. Leo the Great as we now know it, with it’s beautiful Italian Romanesque style of architecture, was not begun until August of 1924. It was completed and dedicated by Archbishop Hanna in September of 1926.

St. Leo’s parish prospered and grew dramatically through its parishioners’ faith and support. In 1929 came the Great Depression which lasted nearly a decade and parishioners of St. Leo’s struggled simply to pay the interest on the building loan, let alone the principal balance due.

The School of St. Leo the Great opened in October of 1948. Originally the school was staffed by the Dominican Sisters who lived in the residence adjacent to the school building on Howe Street. Over the decades since then the school’s student body has changed from a predominately Catholic, parishioner based population to one which is primarily made up of non-Catholics, and non-parishioners, however the traditional role of the school has remained the same, to provide quality education as a foundation for further academic achievement.

Extensive renovation to the interior of St. Leo’s Church commenced in 1951, however, over the decades the Church of St. Leo the Great has maintained its beautiful, spacious, Mission-style structure with Romanesque features. The prominent bell tower, soaring vaulted worship space and peaceful adjoining garden are some of the physical accouterments which give the parish of St. Leo’s great pride.

Construction of the “Parish Hall” building across from the rectory at the corner of Ridgeway and Howe Street began in 1961. This structure, which included a gymnasium, office space, meeting rooms and hall, was dedicated on May 6, 1962.