Vallombrosa 300x100 12.2017

St. Ignatius’ modern Jesuit charism welcomes people to the parish on the ‘Hilltop’

15 HALF SI.exterior.IMG_4308.St.IgnatiusSt. Ignatius Church’s distinctive profile can be seen from much of the city from its spot on the Fulton Street hill. (Photos by Valerie Schmalz/Catholic San Francisco)


July 27, 2017
Valerie Schmalz

Jesuit Father John Coleman touched on works of the early church Father St. John Chrysostom, Salvador Dali’s painting of the Ascension and the unfinished last opera of Puccini in his homily at a recent 5 p.m. Sunday Mass as college students, middle-aged and older parishioners listened attentively and young children wriggled in the pews at St. Ignatius.

The parish is like that as well, said parishioner Bill Walsh, who likens the St. Ignatius parish experience to that of Little League which he said attracted families from throughout the Bay Area who shared a common interest in their child playing baseball.

“You are pulling people from so many places. There isn’t an ‘in crowd.’ Everyone feels they are involved,” said Walsh, who arrived at the parish on the University of San Francisco Hilltop campus because of Jesuit connections. He attended Loyola University in Chicago and some of his children attend and attended St. Ignatius College Preparatory. Once his family started at St. Ignatius parish, “The city got a lot smaller to me.”

St. Ignatius Church is the fifth St. Ignatius church built in the city since the Jesuits arrived here in 1849. The Baroque-style edifice was constructed at Parker and Fulton streets after the 1906 fire following the San Francisco earthquake destroyed the previous church which was located where Davies Symphony Hall now stands.

However, St. Ignatius is just over 20 years old as a parish, erected by then-Archbishop John R. Quinn in 1994 and guided by native San Franciscan Jesuit Father Charles Gagan from its inception until Father Bonfiglio, a former high school president in Carmichael, California, was appointed pastor in 2012. St. Ignatius was briefly a parish 1855-1863.

People who attend St. Ignatius tend to be “people who had great experiences at Jesuit institutions and God touched them in a particular way, whether it was conscious or not, through some aspect of Ignatian spirituality. That is the particular lens people have,” said Father Bonfiglio.

The parish leans very progressive in a city that is politically and socially liberal, said Father Bonfiglio. “I tend to tilt left myself,” he said. However, there are people who “tilt right and they still choose to come.”

Father Bonfiglio said bringing people together is a challenge for the community, one he addressed in a recent homily that the parish council asked him to repeat a second Sunday.

“The temptation is for people to retreat into their own label or they put it on someone else’s forehead and they don’t engage,” he said. “That is a moral issue for us because it threatens the body of Christ, period, end of story.”

Acceptance is a key for him, Father Bonfiglio said.

“That is what Pope Francis is all about,” Father Bonfiglio said. “People might not be where we want them to be. I’m not where I want to be. Rather than waiting for them to arrive, we are going to meet them where they are and walk with them. I think that comes through. I think that is attractive to people today.”

A significant draw is the liturgy, with a music director Father Bonfiglio hired from Chicago, Teresa DuSell. Father Bonfiglio said DuSell is “a very good music director” and has melded parishioners and professional musicians to create “a unified music program” across the four Sunday Masses with music.

“I love the community,” said Nicole Conkling, a physician in residence at University of California-San Francisco who sings in the choir at the 11 a.m. Mass. “I really struck gold.”

Said parishioner Diane Gutierrez: “Father Greg has done a really good job. His attitude is, ‘this isn’t my parish. It’s everyone’s parish.’”

Celeste Marty said the church is attracting many families with young children. The Jesuits “have a way of delivering a sermon that is teaching, not talking down,” said Marty, whose father and one brother attended University of San Francisco. Siblings, nieces and nephews attended St. Ignatius College Preparatory. “It makes being a Catholic fun again.”

At St. Ignatius, the faith formation program draws children from Marin and San Mateo counties as well as San Francisco. The Shelter Meal Program provides about 12,000 “from scratch” meals a year, with volunteers cooking meals two weekends a month that are delivered to free meal programs in the city. There is also the Gabriel Project which supports women with unexpected pregnancies, a brown-bag lunch program for the homeless, and a book club, lecture series, coffee and snacks after the 9:30 a.m. Sunday Mass.

There are four Jesuits on staff, six full-time staff members and three part-time staffers. In addition, St. Ignatius for the first time in its 100-year plus history has a deacon, Deacon Eddy Gutierrez, ordained in May 2014. “All four of us, five of us if you include Eddy, are different in our preaching style,” Father Bonfiglio said.

Gutierrez, an investment adviser, and Diane had been parishioners years before. They returned to St. Ignatius with their four children when their oldest child was approaching confirmation age. St. Ignatius attracts many families whose children are not attending parochial school but who are looking for a parish home, she said.

“It’s been a real blessing for our family,” Diane Gutierrez said.


15 PAGE fr.greg.gifts.IMG_4692Jesuit Father Gregory Bonfiglio accepts the gifts for the Eucharist at Mass.


15 PAGE SI.shelter.meal.sism.IMG_4397Volunteers finish up pasta in trays in the old Jesuit rectory, now the parish kitchen, where two weekends a month they create hundreds of meals from scratch for a number of charitable organizations in San Francisco.


15 PAGE fr.greg.family.IMG_4706St. Ignatius pastor Jesuit Father Gregory Bonfiglio blesses a family after a 5 p.m. Sunday Mass.

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