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,
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
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
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:
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.”
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
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
Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J.
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.
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
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:
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:
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
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.
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
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.