St. Patrick Catholic Church continues mission of its namesake

By Mary Powers

A light in darkness, bringing Christ to the pagan world of Ireland, St. Patrick courageously fought for the souls of the Irish people. For that reason, he is revered as their patron saint and a co-patron of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Throughout the Irish diaspora, St. Patrick’s vocational call to evangelize was carried on by millions of Irish faithful.

San Francisco was one such place to which the Irish brought their love of faith, family, culture and country. The Archdiocese of San Francisco, from its earliest days, has been blessed by the work and service of both Irish priests and sisters and hardworking men and women fleeing famine, persecution and poverty.

One location stands alone in exemplifying the Irish spirit in San Francisco: St. Patrick Catholic Church. To this day, it is close to the hearts of the city’s Irish Catholics. Each year, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass is held at the church before the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

The church predates the establishment of the Archdiocese and is the No. 4 landmark in the city. St. Patrick’s began on June 9, 1851, and from there the parish rapidly developed. In 1872, it was estimated that the parish had close to 30,000 parishioners.

In 1906, the church was destroyed. The parish delayed reconstruction and turned its efforts to serving those displaced by the earthquake. “(Serving) human beings was now the more urgent need,” wrote Mill Hill Missionary Father John Daly in a 1976 history of the parish. This effort also launched the many social works and outreach at the parish including the St. Patrick’s Men’s Shelter.

When the church was rebuilt, it was a testament to the history of Catholicism in Ireland. Above the altar, St. Patrick is portrayed in Tiffany glass with the symbol of Ireland, the harp, above him. Four stained-glass windows depicting scenes from his life, including the founding of the diocese in Armagh and the fire on the Hill of Slane, are found in the front and rear of the church. Saints of Ireland are displayed around the perimeter with each of the counties of Ireland represented. St. Patrick’s has been home to many in San Francisco. According to the parish, the shifts in parishioners reflect the population changes of the South of Market neighborhood over the years. The Irish faithful transitioned to the Spanish community, which then, in turn, gave way to the Filipino community.

Mary Powers is the assistant director of Communications and Media Relations for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.