Stability & Earthquakes: 1863-1868

The debating society began February 4, 1863, with the unwieldy name of the “Philodianosian Society.” Riordan writes that this name “must have been a matter of long and deep consideration. It had to be learned, uncommon, drawn from the parent Greek and with enough roll to it to give due distinction to such as fortune favored sufficiently to admit as members.”6 The society’s first officers were Prof. W.J.G. Williams, president; A.J. Bowie, vice-president; H.P. Bowie, secretary; G.K. Pardow, treasurer; A.A. Pardow, librarian; and A.A. O’Neil, censor. The society lasted only one year, but would soon resurface the following October as the Philhistorian Debating Society “since history was to supply the main themes for discussion.”7

The 1863 school year ended with an impressive exhibition. By removing the wall partitions, students transformed the entire first floor into an exhibition hall, arranged chairs in tiers and built a stage. The morning session offered literary, musical and scientific demonstrations by students, with music supplied by the Santa Clara College Band. The evening session included a dramatic presentation entitled “Joseph and his Brethren” with James M. O’Sullivan (later to become a Jesuit priest) as Joseph. Playing the roles of Joseph’s brothers, Issachar and Nepthali, were Jeremiah F. Sullivan (SI 1870) and Frank Sullivan, brothers who would later become judges. (Jeremiah would go on to become an associate justice of the California Supreme Court, and his younger brother, Matthew Sullivan (SI 1876) would advance to become Chief Justice and later the first dean of the SI School of Law.) This play, a popular one for Catholic schools in the 19th century, was most likely the first dramatic show staged at SI and the start of a long and continuous tradition of student theatre. (USF’s College Players and SI’s drama department both point to this play as evidence that they are the oldest theatre companies west of the Mississippi.) These end-of-term exhibitions, which continued for 50 years, also provided great entertainment for the citizens of San Francisco, many of whom came even though they had little or no connection with the school.

That commencement ceremony also marked the first time St. Ignatius College conferred a Bachelor of Arts degree. The recipient was Augustus J. Bowie, Jr., who went on to study in Europe and earned a Doctoral degree in engineering. (Only recipients of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees took part in graduation ceremonies; other students simply matriculated to the next grade.) This first degree was proof of a claim the school advertised in the 1863 City Directory of San Francisco in which the Jesuits noted that they were empowered by its 1859 state charter to “confer degrees and academical honors in all the learned professions and to exercise all the rights and privileges common to any other literary institution in the United States…. [The] design of the institution is to give a thorough English, Classical, Mathematical and Philosophical Education … provided with a full staff of professors, this institution presents considerable advantages for the mental and moral training of the students; a complete Philosophical apparatus has been ordered from Paris and the Laboratory contains over 250 pure chemicals and all that is necessary for the most complicated manipulations and analysis…. The College has, moreover, a complete photographic gallery; a telegraphic apparatus has also been provided which, through the kindness of the California State Telegraph Company, connects St. Ignatius College with Santa Clara College.” The advertisement listed monthly tuition as $3 in the preparatory department, $5 for the grammar department and $8 for the higher department.8 In today’s dollars those figures translate to $40, $70 and $110 per month — a significant sum.

Perhaps the school had to advertise so extensively because it faced serious competition for the first time in its career. San Francisco boys could now choose from among five colleges: SI, Santa Clara, Sacred Heart College (later to become St. Mary’s College), Union College and San Francisco College. Also, the loss of parish status in 1863 led to a drop in income. Helping to spend what little money the school had was Fr. Anthony Cichi, SJ, an eminent chemist, who purchased “magnificent photograph apparatus.” Maraschi continued to keep the books and kept track of every penny spent, including the purchase of figures for the manger scene of “houses, shepherds and even St. Joseph … camel and horses for the wise kings.” By the end of 1863, the debt grew by $18,000.

Fortunately, 1864 began with good news. Though SI opened in 1855, it did not receive official recognition from the Society of Jesus until 1859, when it was granted the status of “Collegium inchoatum” or “College commenced.”9 In 1864, Rome upgraded that conditional status to make it a “complete institution.”10

The fine libraries of SI and USF had their start in 1864, when the school purchased a complete edition of the works of the Fathers of the Church and solicited donations from students, families, friends and benefactors. Soon the Jesuits accumulated a large collection of volumes in the college library. (All these books were destroyed in the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906.)

SI welcomed its third president on July 2, 1865, after Congiato was assigned the general superiorship of the California mission. He appointed Villiger as his successor and he, in turn, handed over the presidency of Santa Clara College to Masnata. His term would only last one year, as his superiors recalled him to the Maryland Province to serve the Church there as an administrator. Before he left, he cancelled SI’s elementary program and vocational courses. He hoped to institute a strictly classical curriculum, similar to those of Jesuit colleges in Europe and on the East Coast. As a result of this unwise decision, SI’s enrollment fell to 188, though it grew to 236 the next year when a commercial course was reintroduced. As Riordan notes, “the San Francisco of that day was certainly not prepared for classical standards.”11

During much of the 1860s, the Civil War had little effect in California and while it stirred the interests of SI’s students and faculty, few were directly touched by this bloody conflict. All, however, were profoundly shaken by the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. When he died on April 15, 1865, a mob ransacked the newspaper office of the Monitor (the Catholic newspaper) and crowds talked of doing the same to Catholic churches and institutions. Riordan blamed the mayhem on “bigots [who] are [ready] to take advantage of whatever may be distorted to the prejudice of the Catholic Church [and to] invest the dastardly deed with a religious significance which it did not bear.”12 On the day of the funeral, SI draped its exterior walls in mourning and the school’s 490 students and 17 faculty (12 Jesuits and five laymen) marched in the April 19 funeral procession.

Two years later, the SI Jesuits petitioned Archbishop Alemany to allow them to minister to the growing number of African-Americans coming to San Francisco. Alemany wrote to Congiato, who was in his second term as college president (1866-69), that he preferred “to wait before availing myself of your charitable offer.”

(Later, in 1871 and 1874, the Jesuits turned down two requests by Alemany to minister to the Chinese community in San Francisco. As Fr. Riordan writes: “burdened as the Fathers were with many duties flowing from their educational commitments as well as those coming from the maintenance of a large church … it was felt, and this after proper consultation with superiors in Rome, that it was not expedient to undertake a work so excellent and so desirable which must necessarily interfere with other works already accepted and established.”)13

In August 1865, several more Italian Jesuits joined their SI brothers, the foremost among them being Fr. Joseph Neri, the skilled chemist who would later illuminate Market Street for the nation’s centennial celebration. Also that year, James M. O’Sullivan became the first SI graduate to enter the Society of Jesus.

A new tradition began in 1865, when students started serving Mass at St. Ignatius Church as altar boys. This group later became known as the Sanctuary Society and continued until the 1960s when SI moved to its Sunset District campus. As McGloin writes: “Many Jesuits who have served or are at present serving in the Jesuit apostolate in San Francisco can trace their religious vocations from their first contacts with this organization.”14

(Many alumni from the Shirt Factory and the Stanyan Street Campus have fond memories of being in the Sanctuary Society. Priests said Mass from 5:30–7 a.m. and then, in later years, treated the altar boys to a simple breakfast. Peter Devine ’66, tells one story of a time when his father, George Devine ’19, sat down for breakfast along with dozens of other boys. “Fr. Mootz, the prefect of discipline, had the bright idea to order donuts for the kids. After everyone had a donut, they asked for a second one. When he refused, they playfully grabbed the box out of his hand and began throwing the donuts at him. Even though he was the prefect of discipline, he was a pushover. Just then the rector walked in and accused the boys of assaulting a priest, a crime he called a sacrilege. It made a big impression on those kids!”)

The school population increased in 1867 with the reintroduction of the elementary classes, and the Jesuit apostolate in San Francisco grew too, when Accolti returned that year to serve as chaplain at San Quentin Prison and to teach at SI. (Over the years, other Jesuits who lived at SI also worked at a number of apostolates including San Francisco General Hospital, the city jail, Alcatraz, and the Presidio.)

Alexander A. O’Neill received the school’s first Master of Arts degree in 1867, though not due to any work completed at SI since the conferring of his Bachelor’s degree two years prior. The college awarded a Master’s degree to anyone who completed two years of study at any institution after leaving SI, and O’Neill had studied medicine elsewhere to earn this distinction.15

Stephen M. White, the first in a long line of SI alumni to make a name for themselves in politics, enrolled at SI for the 1867-68 term and stayed until 1870, when he transferred to Santa Clara College. He later served as the U.S. Senator representing California from 1893 to 1899 and was known as the “Father of Los Angeles Harbor.”

This relatively stable period in the life of the school was disrupted by several earthquakes, the first occurring on October 8, 1865, and another one day later. Then, on October 21, 1868, a 42-second jolt caused major damage throughout the city. Two chimneys on the church and school building collapsed, and plaster ornaments inside the church fell and shattered on the floor; fortunately, no worshippers suffered injury. Students were dismissed from class between Wednesday, October 21, and Monday, October 26, for fear the frequent aftershocks might bring the school down on their heads.

Other churches in the city suffered severe damage, and SI allowed the Lutherans to use their old wooden church, which had been converted into a chapel for the various school sodalities. “It was with great pleasure that the Fathers were able to do them this act of kindness, for the most cordial relations had always existed between St. Ignatius and the German pastor and his flock.”16