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Jesuits minister to the world’s poor and forgotten

February 6, 2015
Paul Totah
St. Ignatius College Preparatory

Catholic San Francisco is featuring one religious congregation from the archdiocese in each installment of this periodic column, “Wake Up the World!” marking the Vatican’s Year of Consecrated Life.

The Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits, first came to the San Francisco archdiocese in 1849 when Father Michael Accolti, SJ, and Father John Nobili, SJ, sailed on the lumber ship “O.C. Raymond” from Oregon to San Francisco, disembarking Dec. 8 on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, not in search of gold but of a chance, as Accolti wrote, “to do a little good.”

What they found, however, was a wild Barbary Coast San Francisco. These men persevered, and when Accolti left for Rome to gather new recruits, Nobili, at the request of Archbishop Alemany, founded Santa Clara College in 1851 in the heart of what is now Silicon Valley. Fellow Turinese Jesuit Father Anthony Maraschi, SJ, founded St. Ignatius Parish and College in 1855 amid the sand dunes of San Francisco’s Market Street. This one school would later become both the University of San Francisco and St. Ignatius College Preparatory.

One of the first teachers at the college was Joseph Neri, SJ, an early experimenter in electricity. He built and perfected his own electrical lighting system to use during his lectures and built San Francisco’s first storage battery. He shined the first electric light on San Francisco from the window of his classroom in 1871 and lit Market Street five years later with a carbon arc for the nation’s centennial celebration.

His star pupil, John Montgomery, who graduated from St. Ignatius and later taught engineering at Santa Clara, gained fame as the first person to make a successful glider flight, a feat he accomplished in 1883.

Jesuit work in San Francisco also included parish ministry through St. Ignatius Church between 1855 and 1863; the parish was made famous by Father James Bouchard, SJ, the son of a French woman and a Delaware chief. In the 1860s San Franciscans flocked to hear him speak and called him “The Eloquent Indian” for his skill as a homilist. Much later, in the early 1990s, Jesuits resumed their parish work, once again at St. Ignatius Church, located on the USF campus, and at St. Agnes Church, two vibrant communities in the archdiocese.

The California Province of the Society of Jesus has a long commitment to serving the people of the San Francisco archdiocese and expanding its work beyond these borders. Jesuits help immigrants through the Kino Border Initiative, aid former gang members in Los Angeles through Father Greg Boyle’s Homeboy Industries, and practice a “preferential option for the poor” through new Nativity and Cristo Rey schools around the state.

“The California Province of the Jesuits grew with the city of San Francisco and the archdiocese,” noted Father Michael Weiler, SJ, the California Provincial who works closely with the 44 Jesuits currently in the archdiocese.

“From the beginning, the service of immigrants and education were are at the heart of Jesuit ministry, and that focus continues through the present day. Today Jesuit ministries are carried forward by lay partners, steeped in the Ignatian tradition. That tradition seeks to help people discover a personal relationship with God and to translate that love of God into service of one’s neighbor. We Jesuits desire that all our ministry is shaped by the experience of the poor and those most forgotten in our world.”


The Society of Jesus

When and where founded: Jesuits first began in Paris in 1534 and were given the status of a religious order in 1540 in Rome by Pope Paul III.

When first arrived in the Archdiocese of San Francisco: 1849

Original ministry: Parish, education and prison ministry as well as ministry to the military in the Presidio

Current ministries: Education, parish work, spiritual direction, prison and hospital ministry, community service, Ignatian Companions and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps

Numbers of members: 2,325 in the U.S. and 44 in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

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