Celebrating the First 50 Years

The first years of the new century proved to be propitious ones for the school’s drama program. Students staged Macbeth in January 1900, and Julius Caesar a year later. In 1903, they performed Richard III and, in 1905, Henry V. The school also experimented with its classical program by introducing, in 1902, practical business courses such as bookkeeping and stenography at no extra cost to students.

Also, as part of their commitment to mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a sound body), the Jesuits strengthened their athletic program in 1902 by building two handball courts and, in 1903, a $40,000 gymnasium for use by students and members of the Gentlemen’s Sodality. Riordan writes that “on February 2, 1903, after assisting at Mass, the students repaired to the college lot on Franklin Street, there to assist at the beginning of the work.”21 This use of student labor by the Jesuits was typical for its day.

The 10,000-square-foot gym contained handball courts, a billiard room, a reading room, a bowling alley, a 50×15-foot plunge bath, a boxing ring, gymnastic equipment, a locker room and a running course on the upper level of the 35-foot-tall structure.

To prepare for the 50-year celebration, 130 members of the Alumni Association gathered at the Palace Hotel on October 8, 1903, just a few blocks down the street from the site of the first SI. Others gathered to celebrate, too, though in an unusual place. In the basement of SI college, the women members of the Francesca Society (named in honor of St. Frances of Rome), had set up a free school for 240 girls to teach them sewing and cooking. During Christmas 1903, the teachers and Jesuits distributed presents to the girls and gave them a tree to decorate.

The jubilee year of 1905 began with an announcement that the school term would, from this year forward, begin in September and end in June. The Archbishop made this request to encourage uniformity among the schools and colleges in the archdiocese. The Jesuits also announced that no diplomas would be conferred during the May commencement exercises that year; instead, graduates would receive them in October during the Jubilee celebration.

In September, SI president Fr. Frieden received this note of congratulations from the Society’s Superior General, Louis Martin, SJ: “Happy to me beyond measure have been the tidings of the coming of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of St. Ignatius College, so dear to me, and of our church, begun under happy auspices by your worthy fellow citizens. For if, in thought, I dwell on the very abundant and happy fruit which, with God’s help, you have reaped in Church and College, and with which the well-known piety and favor of your pupils and fellow citizens have hitherto requited your labors, I cannot but give thanks to Almighty God for the past, and harbor the assured hope that, for the future also, we shall reap equal, yea even more abundant fruit.”22

Pope Pius X also sent his blessing to SI in August: “In this blessing, therefore, we shall rest, here in the dawn of the coming Jubilee, hoping, as we well may, that its brightness will not be ephemeral; and, that the seeds of sacrifice planted in the last half century of effort will take root and prosper unto the ripened ear of success, for the welfare of Catholicity in San Francisco.”

SI, in its jubilee year, was at the pinnacle of its success. It was one of the key centers for San Francisco Catholics who sought to study and worship. It attracted thousands to the various missions and retreats by visiting Jesuits. The famed preacher and future principal of St. Ignatius High School, Fr. Dennis Kavanagh, SJ, wrote the following in an article appearing in the St. Ignatius Church Calendar (an expanded church bulletin, published monthly for 70 years): “Perhaps the most striking features of St. Ignatius Church were the solemn services for which it was noted. Who does not recall the male choir of 50 voices under the masterful direction of Fr. Allen and Fr. Coltelli? Who does not remember the solemn occasions like the feast of Corpus Christi when 1,600 sodalists, decorated with medal and badge, moved in solemn procession through the aisles? Who does not know how, on days like Good Friday, the church was filled to overflowing two hours before the services began?

“We cannot explain this enthusiasm better than by attributing it to the well known and universally admitted fact that the Fathers connected with the church were remarkable for their eloquence and zeal and self-sacrificing devotion for the cause of religion. It mattered not whether it was the thundering eloquence of Fr. Bouchard or the whole-hearted appeals of the fervent Fr. Kenna or the gentle exhortations of Fr. Calzia, or the sweet paternal assents of Fr. Varsi or the catechetical instructions of Fr. Prelato — there was a ring of exceptional earnestness in it all which attracted people from all parts of the city.”23

The school began the weeklong jubilee festivities on October 15, 1905, with a Pontifical Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Ignatius Church celebrated by Coadjutor Archbishop George Montgomery of San Francisco. Many other celebrations and Masses followed and the alumni gathered on the Tuesday of that week. The next day, the Alumni Association took many of the visiting Jesuits, who had come to SI for the celebration, on a San Francisco Bay cruise and, on the following day, to the top of Mt. Tamalpais on the old railroad line that wound its way to the peak.

That Thursday, October 19, the school celebrated with a gala banquet at the St. Francis Hotel, attended by 175 priests, alumni, faculty and friends of the school. The Hon. W. Bourke Cockran, a Congressman from New York and noted orator, was the featured speaker. Judge Jeremiah Sullivan, the first president of the Alumni Association, offered these opening remarks: “Any American citizen who overlooks the portals of the Golden Gate can find much to gratify him both as an American and a Catholic. As he looks out upon the sea, he reflects that, for over 800 miles, it washes the shore of his beloved California. When he looks back on old Yerba Buena, where the Franciscan friars made their first home, he reflects on the wonderful growth of San Francisco. He looks back to the early days of the city where, closely following the discovery of gold, came the followers of Loyola, — there they laid the foundation of the great institution of learning whose fiftieth anniversary we celebrate tonight.”24 The next day, October 20, the Jesuits held a special commencement ceremony where they awarded nine Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees and 16 honorary degrees.