Educating the Youth of the Bay Area Since 1855

At the dedication of St. Ignatius Church, Archbishop Alemany preached and declared that he was “most happy to have the members of the Society of Jesus as his cooperators in the work of promoting the salvation of souls and in giving a good education to the youth of the diocese and especially in the city of San Francisco.” Nobili, now the president of Santa Clara College, traveled the 50 miles to take part in the ceremony of blessing and dedication. Maraschi and three other Jesuits (Decius Solari, SJ, Urban Grassi, SJ, and Joseph Carreda, SJ) also took part in the dedication ceremony. As a newspaper account noted, “There was a large attendance on the occasion, a considerable portion of whom were ladies.”19

Maraschi was now the pastor of St. Ignatius Church, which measured 75 feet long by 35 feet wide and had enough pews for 400 people. His first assistant pastor, Fr. Joseph Bixio, SJ, arrived in California in early July, and only stayed a year in the city before being transferred to Santa Clara.

(Fr. Bixio, described as a “strikingly handsome, nervous man with an athletic build and a commanding, genial presence” later gained notoriety by serving as a chaplain during the Civil War, ministering to both sides in Virginia and West Virginia.20 He was eventually arraigned before General Philip Sheridan before being released and earned an unwarranted reputation as a spy.21 He eventually returned to live at SI from 1866–1870, and after a stint in Australia, returned again in 1880 carrying with him botanical samples from that country for the SI science labs. He died March 3, 1889. For more on this adventurer-priest, read the account by Fr. Cornelius Buckley, SJ, in the spring 1999 issue of California History.)

Maraschi then set workers to build the simple wood-frame one-room school building 20 feet behind the church and a two-room residence for himself and Bixio. The first St. Ignatius College (advertised in its first year as “St. Ignatius Academy”) was not an impressive edifice. The one-classroom school building measured 16 by 26 feet (according to McGloin) or 25 by 40 feet (according to Riordan) and cost $750 to construct. A portion of the classroom served as the residence of the school’s first teacher, a layman by the name of John Haley.

On the first day of classes, October 15, 1855, the school opened its doors to its first students. We can only imagine what Maraschi, Bixio, and Haley expected to find that first morning. If they had hoped to see a long line of students or a crowd pushing to get in, they must have been gravely disappointed to see only three students looking up at them.

Of the three, we know the name only of Richard McCabe, though an 1878 report mentions that all three pioneer students of St. Ignatius Academy had become “well known professional men of San Francisco.”22 Of SI’s first student, theLangley San Francisco Directory Book lists two men by the name Richard McCabe. One was listed as a lithographer and zincographer who worked first at Britton & Rey Company (one of the big printing firms in town) and later for A.L. Bancroft & Company on Market Street, which did quality fine printing and engraving and which appears to have handled much of the financial district printing including stock and bond certificates. The other Richard McCabe was listed as an organist at St. Francis Church. (Fr. Kotlanger, archivist for both USF and SI, suspects the SI McCabe to be the former of the two.)

Over the next several days and weeks, only 20 more students joined the original three. These students came from 14 families, as they included several siblings, with each child paying about $2 a month in tuition. Maraschi made the decision to close early for the year, and, by February, Haley vacated his premises in the front of the classroom. Several of the Jesuits took up residence in the school building during this hiatus including Accolti, who had replaced Bixio after Alemany sent him to minister to Catholics living on the Peninsula. Another Jesuit in residence was the newly arrived Br. Albert Weyringer, SJ. This young brother, 50 years later, commented on the early days of the school for Riordan’s book:

“We lived in a hole surrounded by sand hills. Toward the city, which was some distance to the east, and from which we were cut off by barriers of sand, there was but one house, [that of] the shanty of a milkman on the adjoining lot. Westward there was the Lincoln School standing out considerably into what is now Market Street, but during my residence in St. Ignatius the buildings were unoccupied.

“Behind us rose a sand hill which sloped again towards Mission Street, and served as neutral territory between our college and a public school which had been built there. This neutral ground, however, was often invaded from the school mentioned, for a Jesuit in cap and cassock was a rare object of curiosity to the children of those days in San Francisco; and, perched on the hilltop, they surveyed the scene below, making Father Maraschi the butt of many a remark, much to the mortification of their teacher who could not repress their rudeness.

“The residence was small and poor, and the accommodations so scant that, for a time, Fathers Accolti and Maraschi shared the same room. But as for sleeping, Father Maraschi used only a mattress, which he rolled up by day and spread on the floor by night, his part of the furniture was easily housed….

“[After the term ended] my chief occupation consisted in cutting a road through the sand behind the house, the intention being to establish communication with Mission Street. My labor was quite successful for a time, and even the strong winds which at that season prevailed, kindly gave me valuable assistance; for all that was required was to lift the sand with my shovel and toss it into the air, and presently it was scattered far and wide to my intense pleasure.

“I had gotten indeed to like the wind and even to look on it, in a manner, as a partner in my toil, when all of a sudden the rude awakening came. One night this very wind, which had dealt with me so kindly, came in great gusts from the ocean. How it howled and shrieked around our little buildings, which rocked under its rude touch, as it hurried by! And my road? The wind came, and went — and my road with it. Morning showed an unbroken hillside beneath which my planks were buried, and I was out of a job, since it was evident that so long as the hill remained, no matter what labor might be expended, the permanency of the road could never be assured.”

Weyringer went on to speak of how the sand covered the vegetables and flowers in the Jesuits’ garden, how the remoteness of the site left the Jesuits free of the “excitement attending the days of the Vigilance Committee,” and how they were rarely disturbed except for “spiritual ministrations” by the locals in need of a priest. He also wrote about finding a colorful plant and transplanting it in front of the church door with the hopes of training it around the doorway. He removed it only after Fr. Maraschi informed him that the plant was Poison Oak.

(Among those who needed spiritual ministrations were Charles Cora and James Casey, both victims of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance. Both Maraschi and Accolti gave last rites to these two men before their death by hanging on May 22, 1856. Maraschi also witnessed the marriage of Cora to his mistress, Belle, on the morning of his execution.)23