At the turn of the twentieth century, Bishop Edward P. Allen was approached by three gentlemen of his “Down the Bay” district: Messrs. McQuillen, Lee and O’Donnell, to consider the formation of a new parish. Bishop Allen chose Father John Dunne, a New Yorker who volunteered for the Mobile Diocese to be the first pastor of St. Matthew’s Church.
Father Dunne immediately began to organize the parish and build a church in 1904. The site of the first church was a lot donated by the McQuillen family. The school was a small frame building, also situated on McQuillen Street near Magnolia. It was donated by the O’Donnell family.Mr. Jim and Miss Mary Garrity gave a large tract of land east of Marine Street on which the present church, school (now closed) and rectory now stand. The new church was dedicated in September of 1913 by Bishop Allen. Father Dunne gave eighteen years of service to the new parish. In 1922 Father Joseph McDermott was named pastor, serving for five years under heavy financial burdens. In 1927 he was succeeded by Father Paul Leonard who, due to poor health, retired after only two years. In 1927 Bishop Toolen appointed Father P.J. Buckley as pastor, followed by Father Joseph Sheridan in 1930 and Father Walter Royer in 1936.
One of Father Royer’s first acts was to bring the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet to staff the school. The original school was a frame building known as Garrity Hall. The men of the parish worked far into the night to complete the building during the summer of 1938. In September of that year the school doors were opened and 160 children were enrolled. As the number of students increased over the next few years Father Royer’s vision was to build a new school for the parish. With its completion, student enrollment surpassed 500 pupils. The school continued to serve the area over the years until a steady decline in enrollment finally forced its closure in 1974.
On the night of April 28, 1944 a severe electrical storm ignited the church causing major damage to the edifice. Extensive repairs had to be made, exceeding $48,000.
Twenty-five years after Msgr. Royer came to the parish, a celebration was held and a beautiful bronze plaque was unveiled in his honor. In 1962 Msgr. Royer was succeeded by his brother, Msgr. George Royer. Father Oliver Adams replaced the second Msgr. Royer, followed by Msgr. Francis O’Connor in 1981 and Father David Tellier in 1992.
The parish continued to survive in the early 80’s and 90’s despite an aging congregation and a shift in demographics. In 1994 Father Joseph M. Bolling was appointed pastor. Extensive repairs to the church and grounds began in 1996. Renovations included the restoration of the bell tower in 2000 and beautiful landscaping. An artist restored the murals in the sanctuary and the decorative moldings throughout the church.
In October of 2004 St. Matthew’s parish celebrated its 100th Anniversary. Today it is comprised of a strongly loyal group of parishioners numbering approximately 250 families, many of whom travel a distance to call it home. There is profound sense of history in the parish.