Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Two earthquakes, 93 years, and more than a million dollars later....USF's 5th St. Ignatius Church stands strong!

The University of San Francisco is home to one of the most beautiful churches in the country, and I venture to say one of the most beautiful churches in the world. The St. Ignatius church, which stands on the corner of Fulton and Parker in San Francisco, California is the universities 5th church. After spending nearly two hours in the universitie's archive room speaking with USF's archivist, Father Michael Kotlanger, S.J., the incredible history and importance of the church was crystal clear. The 1st and 2nd St. Ignatius (SI) churches were built on Market Street in the late 1800’s, and were basically 12x20 wooden shacks. The 3rd SI, known as ‘Old St. Ignatius’ was built on Hayes and Van Ness, but was ruined by the 1906 earthquake. The ‘shirt factory’ was the nickname of the 4th SI, was merely a relief church put up in a matter of weeks to get the university back in operation after the devastating earthquake.

In 1911, the priests at the University of San Francisco began building the ‘mother church’ St. Ignatius that still stands after 93 years. From 1911 to 1914 architect, Charles Devlin, was the mastermind behind the steel frame and Italian renaissance design of the church that put USF on the map. The University spent $850,000 building the 5th SI, which will end up being chump change compared to the expenses of the church over the next 93 years.

The $38,000 tin roof, brought in from an east coast company, rotted after only one year because of San Francisco’s marine air, and was soon replaced with a Terra Cotta roof (pressed brick) from a local company in Alameda, California. In the late 1980’s, SI’s dome, which was modeled after the Duomo in Florence, Italy, began to rust away and the ceiling quickly began to leak. It is rumored by USF’s archivist (which you can easily compare to the Rain Man, because he knows just about everything about USF) that replacing the SI dome cost more than the entire church cost when it was built in 1911. Thankfully, when USF replaced the frame of the dome they used led coated zinc, which is expected to last for 80-85 years. Do not think for one second that the damages stopped with the roof or the dome, the bell towers also needed replacing. And the 1989 earthquake cost USF $85,000 to replace the churches little cupola, because the iron rod inside snapped. In short, although St. Ignatius is a beautiful church, the money spent on upkeep is astronomical. (Hm…ever wonder where your tuition is actually going?)

The beautiful stained-glass that is seen inside SI today started to replace the churches original yellow glass in the 1940’s. In fact, each different window was privately donated by parishioners to USF. This sounds like a good thing right? Free stained-glass! Not so quick, there is undoubtedly a Catch 22. The brand new windows resulted in nothing short of a lighting nightmare. To perfectly light up the stunning new windows as well as the intricate new paint job inside the church, SI quickly installed a cutting-edge lighting system. A lighting system that costs USF $10,000 a month! That just scratches the surface on the incredible history of USF’s St. Ignatius church.

And here are a few quick, interesting facts….

1. The 2 bell towers used to be on all navigation maps for ships, because they helped to lead boats directly into the bay.
2. The bell that rings today is the same bell that has rung since 1862, and followed SI and USF through all five churches. Even after falling 5 stories during the 1906 earthquake, the bell was uncracked and undamaged.
3. Prior to 1994, only 2 weddings were held in SI, because the church was a ‘university chapel’ as opposed to a ‘parish church,’ and was forbidden to hold weddings or baptisms.
4. In the 1930’s San Francisco used to add 5 street cars during St. Ignatius services, because of enormous amount of people attending church!
5. The bell towers stand 180 ft tall, and to walk down the isle is an exhausting 190 ft. (Which you can imagine would seem endless on your wedding day in 4 inch stilettos!)


Christina Kho said...

cool factoids. it seems like upkeep is an everyday thing with the church. it looks like it's time for another repainting and water blasting of the exterior of the church and in a years time more window cleaning. but the church is a jewel of the school. Did you find out if it would be possible to climb up in the towers or even to see the bell?

Michael Vick said...

As a non-Catholic, I always feel a little strange when I walk inside a Catholic church. I do find it appealing that the doors are always open, though.