Sesquicentennial Mass

Legacy and Promise

The Sesquicentennial Mass celebrating University of San Francisco’s 150th anniversary was held on October 16, 2005 and featured homilies by Chancellor John Lo Schiavo, S.J. and President Stephen A. Privett, S.J.

Rev. John Lo Schiavo, S.J.

Three years ago, our President, Fr. Stephen A. Privett, formed the sesquicentennial committee to plan our 150th anniversary celebration. The main purpose of the celebration, Fr. Privett said, was to foster pride in our university both among the University of San Francisco family and our friends.

At one of our meetings, we discussed today’s Eucharistic celebration of thanksgiving for these 150 years. The committee decided that in keeping with our motto, Legacy and Promise, we should have two homilies: one emphasizing legacy, the other promise. I guess because my association with USF spans fifty-five years, I was selected to give the homily on legacy.

In preparation for today’s homily, I reread Fr. Riordan’s book, The First Half Century, and Fr. John McGloin’s book, Jesuits By the Golden Gate. And, as I read Alan Ziajka’s weekly historical vignettes, from which he has published the definitive history of the University, entitled Legacy and Promise, a sense of tremendous pride in my university was reawakened in me. So if that pride reveals itself in the course of this homily, I hope you will both understand and excuse me.

On October 15, 1855, Fr. Anthony Maraschi and his two companions opened the doors of St. Ignatius Academy. Three brave young men registered. Fr. Maraschi’s income from tuition that first semester came to $106, hardly enough to meet the expenses of a school even with an enrollment of three students. He was forced to close the school after the Christmas holidays, but reopened it several months later.

In a few years the school began to prosper. Classrooms were added, enrollment grew, and in 1859, the state granted St Ignatius Academy a charter allowing it to grant college degrees. It became St. Ignatius College. Its identity as San Francisco’s first and best institution of higher education was established.

In the next decades, St. Ignatius College developed an outstanding academic reputation with a faculty which included several internationally known Jesuit scholars such as Fr. Anthony Bayma, Fr. Joseph Neri and Fr. Aloysius Varsi. The school developed scientific laboratories, acclaimed as second to none among Jesuit colleges in the United States.

In 1876, Fr. Neri thrilled the citizens of San Francisco by illuminating Market Street with electric light for the first time. He, Frs. Bayma and Varsi and other Jesuits gave public lectures to the citizens of San Francisco on philosophic and scientific subjects.

It was not long, however, before St. Ignatius College out grew the new buildings, which had been constructed in 1862. Plans were laid to move the college to Hayes and Van Ness, the present site of the Davies Symphony Hall. In 1880, faculty and staff moved into the newly constructed college building and opened a pristine and beautiful St. Ignatius Church, which was larger even than our present church.

The history of St. Ignatius in the next twenty-five years was indeed a glorious one. Legacy and Promise gives this description: “St, Ignatius College soon became a center of educational and cultural life in San Francisco. The college’s academic reputation spread throughout the state and the nation, and many of its graduates became leaders in law, government, business and religion.” The new college boasted the latest scientific equipment, a library and a gymnasium with an indoor swimming pool. These were the Golden Years, but they were soon to end.

On April 18, 1906, Church and College lay in ashes completely destroyed by earthquake and fire. Fr. John Frieden, the then president of St. Ignatius College, recalled the experience of that day:

“All at once,” says Fr. Frieden, “the cry was made that our buildings were to be dynamited, the Church had already been vacated, and one by one, the members of the community had left the house. But I was not ready to follow them. How could I be ready to abandon the buildings which obedience had given me the charge with all that they contained? It was like leaving my very self. I was and felt so identified with it all and now I must make it over to destruction. The forty-four Jesuits of San Francisco were homeless now. What had taken them a half century to build up and to equip, lay in ashes and the future was a blank.”

But Fr. Frieden and his companions, like Fr. Maraschi fifty years earlier, were undaunted. Within five months they had bought new property on Hayes and Shrader, and built a new and temporary college, the “Shirt Factory” as the students referred to it and a new Church.

The experience of the college and the history of the next fifty years are fresh in our minds.

The earthquake and fire of 1906, World War I, the Great Depression of the 1930’s and World War II — all deeply affected the University of San Francisco. The Wars almost forced the Jesuit fathers to close down their beloved school. But they didn’t.

In the following years, four Jesuits played key roles in the restoration and rebuilding of the University of San Francisco. I was fortunate enough to have known all four of them and would like to recall briefly their legacies.

First, Fr. Edward Whelan was president from 1925 to 1932. I hasten to explain that I only met him many years later. During his presidency, St. Ignatius College was renamed the University of San Francisco. He bought the property and oversaw the construction of the first building on our lower campus, the present Campion Hall.

Fr. Bill Dunne, who became president in 1938, guided the University through the Depression years and somehow managed to pay off the final debt on the Church. He kept the University open during World War II, reorganized and modernized its academic administration and drew up the master plan for the lower campus.

Fr. John F. X. Connolly and Fr. Charles Dullea, the succeeding presidents, carried on Bill Dunne’s master plan and over saw the university’s growth to five schools and colleges, with graduate programs, and an academic organization equipped to manage a complex and growing university.

These were great Jesuits, men of vision and dedication who, together with their fellow Jesuits and lay colleagues, left us a beautiful, urban hilltop campus, and a university that is still growing today: growing in its facilities, growing in its academic excellence and growing in its national and international reputation.

In its one hundred and fifty years, the University of San Francisco has been strongly affected by national and international events, and even by the forces of nature. As Legacy and Promise notes, “The University’s leaders and community members have repeatedly demonstrated their faith, reason, creativity and moral courage to face challenges and crises.” And I would add, theirs is a great legacy to the Church, the nation and our city.

Those who went before us were above all individuals who recognized God in all things, and who dedicated their lives to serving God in all persons and all things. This is the heart of Jesuit spirituality. This is their greatest legacy.

Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J.

Let me suggest that Fr. Lo Schiavo’s pride in the University need not be excused; in fact, it is what we share and celebrate. John was asked to tell USF’s story not because of the length of his service on The Hilltop, but because he has been so central to the legacy that we have inherited and the promise that we have yet to realize.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that at least two of today’s readings captured something of what I have been feeling during these days of sesquicentennial celebration. Reading the book, Legacy and Promise; viewing the marvelous exhibition currently showing in the Thacher Gallery, and thoroughly enjoying yesterday afternoon’s pageant, The Phoenix and the Bell, left me, like St. Paul in the first reading, “…unceasingly calling to mind the work of faith and labor of love” that are St. Ignatius Church and the University of San Francisco.

Here in the fifth church and the fourth site of the University of San Francisco we celebrate the faith and the love of so many lay and Jesuit colleagues who would simply not abandon their dream of educating men and, finally, women to the fullness of their humanity in the firm conviction that our graced humanity is God’s chosen instrument to redeem the world from the ravages of sin and ignorance. As the Jesuit poet had it:

I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal
Is immortal diamond.

John Lo Schiavo, SJ, noted in his review of our legacy, that USF from its earliest days until now saw behind the swarthy complexions and distinctive features of immigrant peoples gleaming facets of those immortal diamonds that sparkle in God’s eyes. This University from its earliest days until now has never protected the privileges of a few, but always opened up opportunity for many who would otherwise not have access to their share of this world’s goods. This is our legacy and our promise.

Those original persons of faith and love came to San Francisco, as Fr. Accolti said, “not to seek gold…but to do a little good” and we must never abandon that ideal of educating for doing good — not for wealth, status or power — simply “for doing good.” This is our legacy and our promise.

In 1906, faced with the smoldering ashes of the City’s largest church and best University, a student of the time wrote, “Fr. Kenna with tears wetting his venerable face, looked up to heaven, and whispered a prayer: ‘God’s will be done.’” God’s will was a not resigned acceptance of the complete destruction of the Church and University’s, but a courageous determination to see God’s work continue, and so a larger Church and a better University rose like the Phoenix on this banner out of those ashes. The faith that our work is God’s work and the courage to face the most daunting of challenges are the legacy and the promise.

The Gospel image of shining light evoked the lighted spires of this church — emblematic of a University that would never be an ivory tower but always a beacon of hope to a badly battered world that may look to us for the blessings that faith and reason together may bring. The sodalities of the 19th century, the SWAP project of the 1950’s and University Outreach in this new millennium are as so many beams of light focused on the darker recesses of the City. Our legacy of “doing a little good” has expanded from the Western Addition, to the Tenderloin, to the neediest people in our global village — the poor of Central America, Asia and Africa. This “little good” that we do for the least of our brothers and sisters pales before the great good that they do for us:

One student wrote of his experience in the Tenderloin:

I have really created a friendship with a homeless guy named Tex. We share stories about our lives and I listen to the sad story of how he came to be homeless…USF creates opportunities for us to find our own humanity in the faces and hearts of people we would otherwise never meet, people like Tex.

A nursing student reflected thusly on his time in Guatemala:

I lived for two weeks with people who had nothing but offered us everything they had. They always welcomed me, a complete stranger, like a long lost relative from California. I have completely changed my priorities.

Fr. Lo Schiavo retold the story of Fr. Neri’s marvelous electro magnetic machine – the first of its kind in America — that on July 4, 1874, produced the City’s first-ever exhibition of electricity that enabled four searchlights from the top of the tower of St. Ignatius Church to illuminate all of Market Street. A contemporary wrote, “The light is such as to be seen at a distance of two hundred miles.” Metaphorically, that is our central legacy and our promise: that USF light a world darkened by thickening clouds of poverty, hunger, disease, repression, war and violence. USF’s light is powered not by an electro magnetic machine but by us: faculty, staff, students, trustees and alumni determined to do “a little good” with our lives.

At this point, in the wake of massively destructive hurricanes on the Gulf Coast and Texas, torrential rains and deadly landslides in Central America, a catastrophic earthquake that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Pakistani and Indian people — the darkness seems overwhelming. Yet we see even in these tragedies small glimmers of light in the kindnesses and selflessness of those who would do “a little good.” Closer at home, we saw the generous response of the University and parish communities to the ravages of Katrina, as USF welcomed more Gulf Coast students than any other university on the West Coast. This is our legacy and promise — focusing the divine light refracted from the many facets of the immortal diamond at the core of our humanity.

Let us go together to this table in thanksgiving for all those men and women who believed that theirs was God’s work; all those, who in the face of the most daunting challenges, courageously continued the ministry of church and school. Let us gratefully accept “the work of faith and labor of love” that has been entrusted to us; let us — parishioners, trustees of the University, faculty, students, staff, benefactors, alumni and friends – shine the light of sound reasoning, deep faith and “a little good” on the Church, on the City and on the world — supremely confident the God who began this work in us will see it through to completion.

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