Catholic San Francisco


(Photo by Rick DelVecchio/Catholic San Francisco)

Sacred Heart Chapel in St. Ignatius Church was donated primarily by the League of the Sacred Heart and consecrated in 1915. A restoration was completed in 2001.

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St. Ignatius Church prepares for centennial year
September 10th, 2013
By Jim Graves

San Francisco is home to many beautiful churches, and among its most impressive is St. Ignatius. Located on the campus of the Jesuit University of San Francisco, its twin spires and dome built in the “Jesuit Baroque” style make it a notable feature of the San Francisco skyline. Its interior is impressive as well, with its high ceiling, magnificent arches and columns, impressive main and side altars and beautiful stained-glass windows and art, all of which has been well maintained through the years.

Italian Jesuits settled in the Pacific Northwest, said St. Ignatius’ pastor Jesuit Father Gregory Bonfiglio and made their way to California. The Jesuits first school in the area was established in Santa Clara in 1851. However, classes were already under way when the slow-moving mails brought a letter denying permission from the local bishop. Father Bonfiglio said, “Our joke is that our first settlement here was founded on an act of disobedience.”

The Jesuits then made their way to San Francisco, founding the first St. Ignatius Church on Market Street between Fourth and Fifth streets in 1855. The current St. Ignatius is actually the fifth church constructed, at a site suggested by engineer John Pope and a design proposed by famous church architect Charles Devlin. The church was officially dedicated on Aug. 2, 1914, and is currently preparing for its 100th anniversary celebration.

Father Bonfiglio came to the church a year ago, after serving at Jesuit High School in Sacramento for 13 years. It was a change he was happy to make. He explained, “I love being a priest; I enjoy pastoral work. Working in a parish, I get to devote more time each week exclusively to being a priest.”

He continued, “Our church is built on a bluff, and is a prominent part of the skyline from many places in the city. It’s pretty remarkable. The church is a great symbol of God’s presence in San Francisco.”

While plant maintenance is a challenge with any historic building, St. Ignatius is structurally sound. Father Bonfiglio explained, “My predecessor (Father Charles Gagan, pastor 1994-2012) did a phenomenal job with restoration and renovation. We’re in really good shape.”

The parish roof, for example, had leaked since the parish’s opening. Father Gagan initiated a successful capital campaign to repair it as well as attend to other desperately needed construction projects.

With the structure sound, Father Bonfiglio said the next major project is the repair and amplification of the church’s Kimball pipe organ, installed in 1926. The organ is “on its last legs,” he said, and the repair will actually mean replacement, salvaging some parts from the old organ.

Also, because of the church’s large size, work will be done to improve the sound system. For much of its history, St. Ignatius was designated a university chapel. In 1994, it reverted to parish status, serving a relatively small geographic area taken from the boundaries of surrounding parishes. Today’s parishioners include local residents, tourists and those throughout the Bay Area with a Jesuit background or drawn by the spirituality of the Jesuits.

Father Bonfiglio said the pastoral team is looking at programs to build community among the disparate groups of parishioners, as well as to foster spirituality. Father noted, “Our Jesuit ‘brand’ is a practical spirituality, appealing to many in the workaday world. We’re currently developing spiritual programs to satisfy this need.”

Father noted that St. Ignatius is not the city’s only Jesuit parish; St. Agnes in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is another.

While some come for the spirituality, others are drawn by the beauty of the church itself. Ray Frost, the parish sacristan and caretaker for the past two decades, is still awed by St. Ignatius’ beauty. He said, “The church itself is so well balanced, it has a coherent unity that is rare,” he said. “The main and side altars, the arches, stained-glass windows … they all fit together so well.”

His favorite aspect of the church is the Guadalupe altar, dedicated by Father Gagan in 1999. He remarked, “Father Gagan wanted that altar in place for the new millennium. It’s a beautiful work of art.”

Anyone visiting the church can be overwhelmed by its beauty, he continued, but most important, “It’s a wonderful place to pray. It’s majestic and beautiful, but it also has an intimacy that believers find appealing.”

The church is planning events for its 100th anniversary celebration next summer. For information, visit the parish website or contact Fran Van Bergen at or call (415) 422-6645.



From September 13, 2013 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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