Supporters at Star of the Sea far outnumber opposition.
(An edited version of this story appeared in today's California Catholic Daily.)
On Thursday, March 26, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a meeting at San Francisco’s Star of the Sea Parish. The meeting was between a group of parents and press and Star of the Sea's pastor, Fr. Joseph Illo, and parochial vicar, Fr. Patrick Driscoll. The article, titled “Parents ask S.F. Archdiocese to remove school’s leaders” began “In an emotional and at times angry meeting with representatives from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, more than 100 parents of Star of the Sea School children pleaded Wednesday night for the controversial leaders of their school’s church to be removed from their posts.” The brouhaha stemmed from Fr. Illo’s “boy’s only” policy for altar servers.
On March 29, Palm Sunday, parishioners at Star of the Sea responded. They overwhelmingly endorsed their pastor and parochial vicar. At all the Palm Sunday Masses, concerned parishioners collected signatures in support of Fr. Illo and Fr. Driscoll. Total signatories to the petition of support numbered nearly 500, which more than quadruples the number of the parents, press, and others who attended the March meeting, it far exceeds the total number of the parents of students at Star of the Sea. According to the school’s website, the student body consists of 233 children from 185 families, 42% of whom identify as Catholic. The signatures supporting Fr. Illo and Fr. Driscoll will be presented to Archbishop Cordileone this week. It is unlikely that the overwhelming show of support will make the pages of the Chronicle.
By quantifiable measures, Illo appears to be revitalizing the parish. He has certainly kept it in the news. Star of the Sea has not only met its Assessment for the 2015 Archbishop’s Annual Appeal in slightly over one week (something few, if any other parishes in the Archdiocese have done) it has exceeded the assessment. The Oratory of St. Philip Neri, which is hosted at the parish, has two seminarians studying for the priesthood—again, something few if any other parishes in the Archdiocese can say. The parish has been host to a number of parish missions with well-known priests. As CalCatholic reported, from March 1-3, Star of the Sea hosted noted Mariologist Msgr. Arthur Calkins for a three day parish mission. In June of 2014, the church hosted Father Paul Nicholson who has been “given the ecclesiastical office of Missionary Preacher” by his Bishop, Ronald Peter Fabbro CSB, of London, Ontario. Nicholson’s mission was on “The Eucharist: the Source and Summit of Catholic Life.” But as Fr. Illo has written, (see: ‘Sitting in an empty church’ CalCatholic, November 17, 2014) Catholicism in San Francisco’s Richmond District (and the city as a whole) seems to be dying. But that problem is not unique to Star of the Sea, it exits nationwide, and Illo, at least, faces the situation publicly.
Nor do the priests neglect the more homey side of the faith—what some people mean by the word ‘pastoral’. Fr. Illo has started a monthly parish barbecue open to all. The girls of the school are engaged in an ongoing project to collect toiletries for the elderly at the nearby St. Anne’s Home for the elderly, run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. On Palm Sunday, when the petition signature gatherers were waiting for Masses to end, they congregated in the school’s playground and parking lot, at tables hosted by the parish’s Legion of Mary. The tables are there each week, and the older ladies of the Legion provide coffee, donuts, and Chinese pork buns. After Masses ended Frs. Driscoll and Illo were in the parking lot, mingling with parishioners, and fulfilling requests. Fr. Driscoll went into the rectory and returned fully vested, carrying the aspergillum, to bless one family’s car and a lady parishioner’s dog.