St. Barnabas Parish began as a mission of St. Paul’s Parish, Birmingham (which is now the Cathedral), in 1902, with Mass celebrated at first in the former East Lake Orphan’s Home – it would later become St. Thomas Home on the Hill. This property was located on 4th Avenue South between 81st and 82nd Streets.
In 1908 the Diocese purchased the former Cumberland Presbyterian Church building, located at 81st Street and 2nd Avenue South, and converted it for Catholic worship. About 80 Catholics from the area began attending Mass there twice monthly. That church was dedicated by the Right Reverend Edward P. Allen, Bishop of Mobile, on October 18, 1908.
The present church was constructed in 1952. Father George Keyes, pastor, obtained the property at First Avenue North and 80th Street and Bishop Toolen broke ground for the construction of the new church on January 10, 1952. He also personally donated $1,000 towards the estimated $105,000 construction cost. The church was substantially completed within the span of the year; the men of the parish installed the pews (which they built themselves), finishing by noon on Christmas Eve 1952, and the first liturgy was the Christmas Midnight Mass.
The church was dedicated on January 10, 1954 by Bishop Toolen. Just two weeks later, the renovated rectory was opened – an existing building on the property which the men of the parish overhauled and the ladies of the parish decorated.
From 1953 the younger children of the parish were able to attend school at the nearby St. Thomas on the Hill; in 1957, however, ground was broken for the parish’s own school, at the corner of First Avenue North and 79th Street. It opened in January 1958 for the second semester of the school year. The first graduating class was in 1959, with six boys and six girls.
June of 1963 saw the beginning of the construction of a new rectory, between the school and the church; it was completed in January 1964. By that point St. Barnabas had had assistant priests, in addition to the pastor, for some seven years.
The next major building project was the addition of sufficient classroom and office space for the parish school. This addition was completed in time for the 1968-1969 school year.
The church was renovated in the early 1970s, removing the altar rail, moving the altar forward, and constructing a new pulpit from marble taken from the previous sanctuary configuration. The sanctuary was also carpeted. The majority of the church’s stained glass windows were installed during the 1970s as well. Meanwhile, at the school, a separate building for the library was constructed.
The 1980s saw the construction of reconciliation rooms (to replace prior confessionals), the completion of the stained glass, and the addition of lighting in the parking lot. A final building was added to the school as well, providing additional classroom space, cafeteria, gymnasium, offices, and a meeting room.
A tragedy was narrowly averted in February of 1990 when an arsonist broke into the church and started a fire in the sacristy. A man driving by spotted the fire and reported it immediately. Within 35 minutes the blaze was under control. A total of approximately $36,000 in damages was sustained but thankfully the disaster was contained and the church preserved.
In 1992 the church basement was renovated, reconfiguring it to make a spacious meeting room called the Fireside Room, capable of hosting a wide variety of groups. Another part of the basement was converted into a youth room. In 1993, an elevator was added to make access to the basement more convenient for all.
The school’s computer lab was completed in 1993 and that same year, on November 21, a special Mass was celebrated for the 40th anniversary of the school’s founding. The school building was renovated in 1998 and was wired for internet at that time as well.
St. Barnabas today boasts of a diverse group of parishioners dedicated to worshipping God and honoring His mother and the saints through Holy Mass, weekday Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, weekly Novena, and many other spiritual activities, including a weekly Bible study. The parish has a vibrant Knights of Columbus Council that serves with a spirit of great generosity. For many years there has been a food pantry that reaches out to the poor and needy of the area. And the parish school continues to be a beacon of hope in the Diocese of Birmingham and beyond.