Do you remember when Fr. Illo at a parish in San Francisco decided to stop the service at the altar by females (YAY!) and the world came down on his head.
Countercultural San Francisco parish attracts growing congregation
On the solemnity of the Annunciation this past spring, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone dedicated the Star of the Sea Church’s renovated St Joseph Adoration Chapel, calling it “a pivotal moment in the history of the parish.”
“We want to base the renewal of our parish around the Holy Eucharist,” said Fr Joseph Illo. “Our mission statement is to evangelize God’s people beginning with the gift of the Holy Eucharist. That means putting a lot of energy into our music, our preaching, our Sunday Mass.” [As I have said a zillion times, no initiative we undertake in the Church will bear fruit unless it is rooted in sacred liturgical worship, the summit of which is celebration of the Eucharist and the Eucharist Itself.]
Three years after Fr Illo was appointed parish administrator in August 2014, bringing his powerful commitment to traditional Catholic practices to the famously progressive city, Mass attendance and the number of parishioners registered have increased about 10 percent each year. [Are you surprised? I’m not.]
“For the first time in my life, I feel I belong to a parish, I mean really belong,” said Eva Muntean, Walk for Life West Coast co-chair, who organizes street evangelization twice a month at a farmers’ market not far from the church.
One of Fr Illo’s first actions was to open the Romanesque-style church from 6:30 am to 5:30 pm daily, improve the lighting and turn on the heat. “Now people can stop in, light a candle,” Father Illo told Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocese’s newspaper. [Whaddya know. Open the church and people come!]
When he arrived, the parish founded in 1887 in the city’s Richmond District was struggling. Despite its location facing a busy boulevard, its doors were closed most of the day except for Mass times.
The parish has been one of the first to meet its Archdiocesan Annual Appeal goal each year, and the offertory has more than doubled. There is a new Knights of Columbus chapter, revitalized homeless outreach, Gabriel Project for pregnant women in need, a young adults group, and a speaker and a film series as well as Filipino and Chinese parish groups. Masses in English and Latin feature Gregorian chant and polyphony. [LATIN!]
The backbone of the parish remains “good, faithful, longtime parishioners,” Fr Illo said.
“We have served under seven pastors, all very different. And we’ve seen the parish go through many transitions of growth and decline and rebirth again,” said Lorna Feria, an accountant who is also parish director of faith formation. She and her husband, Bud, who have five children, joined the parish 26 years ago. “It’s a rebirth again.”
Confessions are available before every Mass. “That’s brought a lot of people in,” Fr Illo said. There are coffee and doughnuts, Mexican, Chinese or Filipino treats after most Sunday Masses. [CONFESSIONS!]
“We are offering a style of worship that is more traditional and more classical, but it is also revivifying the neighbourhood,” said Fr Illo, who was appointed to start an Oratory of St Philip Neri, a project later put on hold. “We put money into professional musicians” and are building up the volunteer choir, Fr Illo said. [Yes, this is an important investment. We often see that when music improves in choice and quality of execution, congregations grow. That means that collections grow. That means that even more musicians can be brought in, etc. I know a parish in NYC which did this and it worked. I hear the newish pastor has cut back on the music and the congregations are shrinking.]
The priests at Star of the Sea distribute Communion at the Communion rail. In Lent, Fr Illo began an experimental period of celebrating Mass “ad orientem,” meaning the priest faces the high altar and crucifix during the parts of the Mass where the priest and people address God. While extraordinary form Latin Mass was instituted earlier, there are now two Masses on Sunday and one daily celebrated using the 1962 Roman Missal, known commonly as the Tridentine rite, in addition to English Masses.
Shortly after his appointment, Fr Illo ignited controversy when he decided to train only boys and men for altar service going forward, coming at the time Archbishop Cordileone was receiving negative publicity associated with Catholic high school teachers’ contract talks.
“Serving as an altar server is a feeder for the male-only priesthood, and helpful in forming boys in leadership, much as girls-only programmes at many of our schools,” Fr Illo said in an interview. Today the negative publicity has abated, and he said as many as 10 altar servers serve at extraordinary form Latin Masses. [Which will produce vocations. They should also implement the famous Vocation Prayer I’ve posted about.]
Three men from Star of the Sea have applied to the archdiocesan seminary program and another entered the Dominican novitiate on August 15. One young man who had been serving Mass from the parish had just enrolled at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University the August that Fr Illo arrived. [As I said before.]
Read the conclusion there.
Fr. Z kudos to Fr. Illo and Archbp. Cordileone!