On Saturday our parish remembered her own history at a spectacular Anniversary Gala. The Mass and banquet was a touching thanksgiving for all that God and our forebears have provided for us today. At that sold-out banquet I presented the following reflections on Star of the Sea Parish, founded in 1894:
Today we also celebrate the 125th anniversary of our own church, Star of the Sea, the mother church of San Francisco’s Western Lands, the Richmond and Sunset Districts. The first Catholic church built in what was then a fogbound desert of sagebrush and sand dunes was at ninth and Geary, a wooden structure consecrated on Palm Sunday 1886. Star of the Sea was dedicated a full parish in 1894, and its first stone church dedicated on June 3, 1914. In Rome, at St. John Lateran, twin marble inscriptions flank the massive portal which say “orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput.”
Rome’s Cathedral is “mother and head” of all churches in the world, but every parish is a “mother and head” to the souls who live in the neighborhoods entrusted to her care. The parish as mother daily feeds us with the body and blood of Christ; she gives supernatural birth to children through baptism, and birth into eternity through the rites of Christian burial.
The parish is also “caput” or head of the community, serving a fatherly role, especially through her priests. These men provide the bread of life, they protect souls from error and sin, and they procreate new lives by the very sacrifice of their own. The parish gently but firmly brings order to the local community by applying God’s truths and authority to human affairs.
The parish is mother and father to her local community, but over the last 40 years the West’s esteem for motherhood and fatherhood, for family life in general, has tragically diminished. Likewise, the motherly and fatherly role of the Catholic parish today is largely ignored. The neighborhood church, which in a healthier time served as a cultural and community center, has lost much of its credibility. This is partly due to the failures of church leaders to be good fathers, and partly due to the rapid secularization of our cities, but the neighborhood parish is still a treasure for those who have eyes to see it. Parishioners often tell me how much they miss Star of the Sea when out of town, and how they cannot wait to return to the beautiful Masses when they return home.
Every parish, like the Lateran Basilica itself, should be a “home” and mother to her people, pointing us to our true home, which is not to be found anywhere on this earth. The fundamental role of a parish is to order our lives in this life toward the next. The parish’s towers, arching to the sky, point to a world beyond this one. Join me in thanking God for this parish, a true mother and father to all of us, even those who walk past her twin towers every day without a thought. The cool dark interior of this church is a sacred refuge for all of us, preparing us ultimately for our journey to eternal life.