Surviving Epidemic Debt

In 1918, the Jesuits in San Francisco suffered under two great strains: an enormous debt and the Great Flu Epidemic that broke out that year. Students and teachers went to St. Mary’s Hospital for treatment, and one scholastic died. Others, including Fr. Pius Moore, SJ, who ministered to the Japanese community in San Francisco, “were brought to death’s door,” as were many family and friends of those connected to the school.22

The Jesuits accrued a debt in excess of $1 million due in large measure to church construction. Archbishop Edward J. Hanna, on May 12, 1919, issued a formal proclamation asking the people of San Francisco to help the Jesuits. “Something must be done and done quickly if we are to preserve the old historic institution,” he wrote. A fund-raising drive that year netted $200,000, and Fr. Moore, SI’s 16th president, sold the Hayes and Van Ness site for $311,014, further cutting the debt to $451,597. By 1925, SI had whittled its debt down to $130,000.

While Fr. Moore was able to address this problem, he was less able to increase the size of the university student body, which in 1919 numbered only 26. He changed the university’s name back to St. Ignatius College, and the enrollment grew slowly in the years to follow, with 41 students taking college classes, excluding law students.23

St. Ignatius High School, on the other hand, was thriving in the early 1920s. In 1921–22, for instance, student enrollment rose to 357. It began the gradual process of separation from the university in 1916 when the high school held its first graduation exercises. Before that, only students who had earned Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees received diplomas during the three-day-long-program that marked the end of the school year.