Students went on vacation January 21, 1880, but most returned the next day to help move furniture from the old school on Market Street to the new school on Van Ness Avenue. Bouchard preached his last sermon January 25 in the church that for years had existed on the second floor of the old school, and on January 31, the SI Jesuits heard confessions there for the last time.
Those same priests were on hand for the February 1 dedication of the new Hayes Street Church, presided over by Archbishop Alemany and Bishop James A. Healy who delivered the homily before nearly 7,000 people, only half of whom could fit inside the church. Those who could not fit stayed outside during the Mass. By the end of the day, 15,000 people visited the church and school buildings.
At the February 10 dedication of the school’s exhibition hall, Bishop Healy told the SI students that “yours is a great state and a great city. You have great mountains, great trees, and I might say a great college.… I would like to impress upon the minds of these young gentlemen that labor is necessary in every walk of life. What you acquire easily is of little value.… Above all it is essential to possess an experimental knowledge of Christianity, not that which is culled from the catechism, but that which is felt in the heart. This is the great jewel of education.”6
Fewer students took advantage of that jewel of education in the 1880 term, as the new location made it more difficult for them to commute to school. Enrollment fell to 652. Ironically, student population increased on an unexpected front. In 1881 the Jesuits started a Sunday school program for girls and began with nine pupils and one teacher. One year later, the program numbered 700 girls and 45 teachers. This foreshadowing of coeducation came to an end in 1891, according to Riordan, “only when it could be done by others.”7
The new college also elicited praise from the local press. A Journal of Commercearticle from the 1880s held that the “new college is to be preferred to the old one…. There is certainly not a better equipped college in this city, as we said before, and the low rate of tuition excites surprise; but this is explained in the foregoing where we mentioned that the aim of the Jesuits was not to gain money but to give education.”8
Those who had previously benefited from that education gathered in 1880 for the school’s first official Alumni Association meeting, with the Hon. Jeremiah F. Sullivan as its inaugural president. “The devotion of the old boys to Alma Mater … had made Father Kenna’s task a comparatively easy one.” Even before this formation, the classes of 1875–1877 held a joint reunion on May 30, 1878, at the Maison Doree, presided over by Alfred Tobin (SI 1876). “The gathering was large and enthusiastic. The trials, and successes, and varied incidents of college life were rehearsed amid much applause, and when it was proposed to renew college friendships by a yearly banquet, there was no dissenting voice.”9 This reunion was the first for any Catholic college on the Pacific Coast. This organization, quite active at first, eventually grew dormant until the school resurrected it in 1902.10
St. Ignatius Church also enjoyed a remarkable popularity in the early 1880s. When two East Coast Jesuits, Fr. Bernard Maguire, SJ, and Fr. Jeremiah O’Connor, SJ, came to St. Ignatius Church to give a two-week mission in February 1881, they drew as many as 15,000 to their services. People were turned away each night for want of room and 17 priests heard confessions until midnight one night. On the Sunday of the mission, priests started distributing communion at 5:15 a.m. and didn’t finish until late in the morning.11
That year, the church again drew massive crowds on September 19 upon the death of President James Garfield, who had been shot July 2 by an attorney angered that he had been denied a consular post. At the September 26 Solemn High Mass in memory of Garfield, Fr. Kenna eulogized the president and warned parents “concerning the evils that flow from a lack of respect for authority, especially in the young.”12 As with Lincoln’s assassination, the Jesuits draped their school in black for this sad occasion.
For the march commemorating Garfield that day, 500 of the SI student body walked from Grove Street to Market Street. After waiting for two hours, they learned that the Industrial School Band was to lead their part of the parade. The boys grew angry, having imagined that they would be at the head of the procession and fearful that people might confuse the two groups. They threatened not to march, but the Jesuits persuaded them not to cause trouble on this solemn occasion. “No sane mind would mistake them for boys from the [Industrial School] reformatory,” they argued, and the students agreed to follow the band.
In 1883, Fr. Joseph Sasia, SJ, took over as college president and also took over the enormous debt of $1,008,511 — a staggering figure for those days. Interest on this grand sum for the past eight years had amounted to $285,264. Fortunately, Mrs. Abbie Parrott (whose husband, Tiburcio Parrott, had earlier acquired and donated to SI the electro-magnetic machine used in the Siege of Paris), purchased the old Market Street school site for $900,000 in 1886, paying far beyond the value of land and buildings in order to help the Jesuit fathers pay down their debt. Her family later built The Emporium on the site, which closed in the 1990s. (A brass marker near the main entrance of the building, soon to open as a Bloomingdale’s, commemorates the site of the first St. Ignatius Academy and College. The school also celebrated its 125th anniversary there in 1980 and added a new plaque to the site.)
The year 1883 also saw the school’s enrollment rise to 704, making it by far the largest Jesuit school in the country. Of the Society’s 23 colleges, only three schools, aside from SI, had more than 300 students.13
Fr. Imoda, took over as president in 1887, and his term would last until 1893. During his tenure, fire destroyed the old church and school on Market Street, which had become a cheap lodging house and a warehouse for a furniture company. While the Jesuits mourned the deaths of three who died in the fire, they were not sad to lose the old buildings, which “had long been an eye-sore to the public and a heart-sore to the Fathers, who, had circumstances permitted, would have torn the buildings down rather than have seen them turned to profane uses.”14
Imoda turned the administration of the college over to Fr. Edward Allen, SJ, in 1893, and he would lead the school for three years. Imoda, the head of the California Mission, believed the college could support itself without tuition from college students enrolled in the “classical course” (meaning those in the grammar, literary and historical departments who had added Latin and Greek to their studies). The Jesuits, hearkening back to their traditional European roots, also decided only to award degrees to students taking this classical course; thus, despite the free tuition, enrollment went down when the 1893 term began.
The Jesuits hoped to raise those numbers through an advertisement that read: “We fear that many Catholics in this city and state are not aware that, following the rule of their founder, where it is possible to do so, the Jesuit Fathers have made of St. Ignatius College a FREE COLLEGE, in all that pertains to superior education, classical and ordinary. To all young men of good character, the Society of Jesus will give education absolutely gratuitous, not an ordinary education but a superior education comprising classics, mathematics, science, philosophy and all cognate matters. To those who do not desire a classical education, the ordinary commercial branches will be taught. Any young man who may desire to acquire knowledge in its fullest sense, to prepare for the professions, for a full university course, has here an opportunity which few in this country possess. San Francisco is, we believe, the only city in the United States which is so blessed, and our young men ought to take advantage of this splendid opportunity offered them. In this respect, the rich have no advantage over the poor, since no other condition is required than a good character and a determination to study.”
In 1896, the experiment with free tuition ended, due in large part to the school’s enormous debt. The Jesuits once again charged tuition, with college students paying $8 a month and another $10 to receive an academic degree. High school students paid $5 monthly while sixth through eighth graders paid $3.
Joseph Stack was one of the students whose parents paid for him to attend SI in those years, even though he was a reluctant pupil. When he was 16, Stack found himself assigned to a Latin class by the “formidable” prefect of studies, Fr. Henry Woods, SJ. Many years later, Stack wrote the following account of that class:
“At Christmas time [in 1895], Fr. Woods suggested that I move up to a poetry class taught by Mr. John Hayes, SJ, a scholastic. Here I found myself with those who had already mastered Latin and Greek grammar and who were reading Homer in Greek and Virgil in Latin with great facility. I had to sweat to keep up with these branches. I recall writing a bit of verse, which Mr. Hayes remodeled for me. He wished me to read it at one of the class specimens given before the whole student body. Fr. Woods refused permission, using a familiar argument of his: the verse was too well done for me to be the author and too poorly done if the scholastic were to acknowledge himself as the writer!” Stack later grew fond of his classes at SI and, after graduating in 1896, entered the Society of Jesus and served as a teacher and retreat master.15