It has been some months since Fr. Driscoll and I have communicated with all of you, our dear Oratory benefactors. It has been a challenging year for all of us (we arrived in San Francisco August 2014), but I know that God sanctifies us through difficulties. I think the Archbishop, however, would agree with me that establishing an Oratory has proven to be far more complex than we would have thought. As of Wednesday, with Brother Gabriel’s departure, our Oratory project has been put on hold, and I want to explain where we stand now and what we hope for the future.
I tried my best, but I have to say it is beyond my capacity to both form an Oratorian community and dedicate myself to rebuilding a needy parish, especially in the difficult circumstances in which we found ourselves. We thank God that the Archbishop entrusted us with Star of the Sea, but it has required so much time and energy that little remained to build the community. Much of the parish infrastructure has been rebuilt, and good relations with the wider community is being restored, but more needs to be done before we can provide the peaceful order needed for an Oratorian community to flourish.
The Archdiocese has required our candidates (Brothers Ivan and Gabriel) to be accepted into its seminary program in order to stay with us. We had hoped to send Brother Ivan to St. Patrick’s Seminary this fall, but he has decided to discern instead with the Institute of the Incarnate Word, in which his sister is in formation. Brother Gabriel has also decided to apply to his home Diocese of Pittsburgh, PA, rather than the Archdiocese of San Francisco. We thank God for having had these two men for the year, we will miss them, and we pray for them as they test their vocations elsewhere. Other candidates have asked to discern with us, but we cannot accept them until we receive recognition from the Archdiocese. For his own good reasons, Archbishop Cordileone has decided to await further developments before granting that recognition. I am content with his wisdom. I will focus on my archdiocesan assignment, which is Star of the Sea parish, until he decides to move ahead with the Oratory project.
I want to thank all of you for your sacrificial prayers and financial gifts. You have supported an Oratorian community for this year, which has brought inestimable benefit to the four of us, to our parish, and to our archdiocese. We have prayed our “oratory” before the Blessed Sacrament twice a day together, taken daily meals in common with reading at table, studied the Oratorian Constitutions, read biographies of St. Philip and other Oratory literature writings together, been faithful to community recreations and outings, and put ourselves at the service of the parish and archdiocese. It has been a solid formative year for all of us, and much good has resulted.
Besides the four of us, the parish has also benefitted immensely from your support. We’ve developed a deeper prayer life for the parish; for example, 10-12 laypeople join us for public vespers every evening, a dozen men come together for prayer and fellowship in the Little Oratory twice a month, 60 people come to our parish Holy Hour every Tuesday, many are coming for all-day adoration every Saturday, and our church is now open 12 hours a day for public prayer. Many are making regular confessions because a priest is in the confessional before every Mass. Many are embracing the spirituality of Christian stewardship: Mass attendance, services to the poor, and the Sunday offertory have all increased. We now have 20 young men and boys serving the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Mass. We continue to offer more Latin Masses than any other parish (six days a week) and have improved the sacred music program, including Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony on Sundays, with a children’s chorister program in development.
Among physical improvements are new sound and security systems, upgraded electrical and lighting systems, new carpet, and a cloud-based computer network for the office. We now have a Parish Council, a functioning Finance Council, a parish budget, a website, and a full-color parish bulletin. Parish staff are meeting regularly and now have job descriptions. Adults are learning the Catholic faith through a newly-established RCIA program, weekly bible studies, and occasional courses in prayer and doctrine; the Missionaries of Charity Sisters are teaching our catechism students; and we have good attendance for our Speakers’ Series (Raymond Arroyo spoke in May and Fiorella de Maria last week). On the social level, we have begun monthly parish barbecues, coffee and pastry after Masses, and are planning a parish pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Crucial to the life of this parish, and this archdiocese, is Eucharistic Adoration. Making perpetual adoration available to our parish and the entire city will be our focus this coming year. Donors have given $60,000 for a perpetual adoration chapel, which we hope to open in a few months. Our greatest challenge is getting enough people to commit to regular adoration hours, so please pray for this intention! We thank God for the beautiful parish and school that is Star of the Sea.
Your sacrificial gifts have strengthened this parish, a community with so much potential for good in the City of San Francisco. But where does that leave the Oratory? Archbishop Cordileone has told me that he wants an Oratory and considers San Francisco a perfect place for an Oratorian community. We await his guidance and direct support, which he will provide as God allows. In the meantime, I will remain faithful to my assignment at Star of the Sea parish, doing my best to provide quality preaching and education, beautiful and reverent sacramental liturgy, and pastoral charity, especially to the neediest.
As of right now, we have enough in the Oratory account, to cover Fr. Driscoll’s salary, benefits, and insurance for the next two years. As the Oratory is on hold, you are under no obligation to continue fulfilling your pledges, but are welcome to do so, to support our apostolate in this parish and archdiocese, as we await the Archbishop’s further direction. God willing, he will provide the means to establish an Oratory in a year or two, and we hope to be a part of that establishment. We cannot thank you enough for your support thus far, and will continue to keep you in our daily prayers and Masses.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Joseph Illo
Star of the Sea Parish
4420 Geary Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94118