St. Denis is a church in Menlo Park that has popped up in a numerous places over the years. Its first incarnation came in 1853 when Dennis Martin, a young Irish immigrant who had started a lumber business along San Francisquito Creek, built a church for family and employees near what is now Sand Hill Road.
When Nativity Church opened in 1872, St. Denis ceased to exist, and it was some 80 years later that a historical marker was erected to commemorate both the church and adjoining cemetery. (Remains were moved to Holy Cross Cemetery.)
“What I understand is the original wooden church burned down,” said Father Jose Shaji, St. Denis’s current pastor. “Then the Family Farm donated the money to build Our Lady of the Wayside in Portola Valley. The two congregations continue to share some events today.”
St. Denis itself became a parish again in 1961 with services first held in the Sharon Mansion before a new church was built at its current location on Avy Ave. in Menlo Park. When St. Denis’s celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2003, the original church patio was refurbished .
Even the current church has a bit of a story, according to the parish’s current pastor. It was built not as the intended sanctuary but as a parish hall. The planned actual sanctuary was never built. “Because of all the windows, you can see more of the grounds,” said Father Jose.
Painting of original St. Denis Church by Rachel Bentley is displayed at in St. Denis parish hall; photo of historical marker courtesy of Menlo Park Historical Association.