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Church History

In 1925, Archbishop Edward J. Hanna took a young Father Richard Ryan (originally from Bartlemy, County Cork, Ireland) from his struggling Guerneville Parish to the Sunset District in San Francisco. What awaited Father Ryan were a vast expanse of sand dunes and the task of knitting a Parish of 125 families who lived in the neighborhood. He became the first Pastor of Holy Name of Jesus, the name chosen by Father Ryan himself. The first Mass was held on October 26, 1925 in a rented community hall on Kirkham Street and 45th Avenue. A year later, a church was erected on 38th Avenue between Irving and Judah Streets. The initial Mass was celebrated on Easter Sunday in 1926.

By 1938, the first church was inadequate to accommodate the sharply increasing attendance at Mass. Plans were developed to construct a new church. Construction began on a new church and school on the corner of 40th Avenue & Lawton Street in 1940. On the second Sunday of Easter in 1941, the Most Reverend John J. Mitty dedicated a new Holy Name of Jesus Church.

By September 1941, Father Ryan and eight Sisters of Mercy welcomed three hundred four children, from Kindergarten through Seventh Grade, to the beautiful new Holy Name of Jesus School. The Mercy Sisters worked untiringly, commuting daily from the Mother House in Burlingame to the Sunset in their jitney. The people of Holy Name noted this sacrifice and looked forward to the day that a convent could be built so the Sisters could be close to the school. In September 1946 the Sisters discontinued commuting from Burlingame and changed their residence to St. Mary’s Hospital.

A year later the Rectory was built amid the other structures – a fitting tribute to the priests who have served, and a home to those who will serve over the years.

The quiet, steady growth of the Parish was disrupted with the coming of the Second World War. Five hundred sixty men from Holy Name Parish left to serve their country, nine families of whom received in their honor Gold Stars.

After the war was over, our G.I.s came home ready to start anew. Homes sprouted like mushrooms from the sand dunes of the Sunset.

Meanwhile, after six years of waiting, the Convent was completed and opened on March 17, 1949. Gone was the tedious commuting day after day. Fifteen Sisters had the privilege of claiming Holy Name Convent as their very own home. By then, enrollment at Holy Name School was increased to 900 pupils. With the steady increase of homes and families, the church seemed to grow smaller.

1950 came, and Holy Name of Jesus Parish celebrated its Silver jubilee. It was a double celebration as it was also Father Ryan’s 40th Anniversary as a priest. It was a perfect year to celebrate as the Holy Namers prided themselves with their Parish – the Church, the School, the Convent, and the Rectory.

With the receding sand dunes, the increasing number of homes and parishioners, it was obvious that an expansion program would be necessary. In 1954 a fund raising Drive was started to liquidate the existing parish debt. This needed to be accomplished first before new plans could be made towards building a new, larger church.

It was in the midst of this drive that Father Ryan became seriously ill. In late October, 1956 while Fr. Bill McGuire (then Assistant Pastor) was sitting by his bedside, our dear Fr. Ryan suddenly awakened and said: “Bill, will Jesus receive me when I get there?” and Fr. McGuire assured him “Of course, Father Dick”. “Won’t that be grand”, he said and went back to sleep. A week after, on November 5, 1956, Father Richard Ryan passed on to his eternal reward. On November 8th, the school children offered a continuous Rosary as the funeral cortege passed, the day of the Solemn Requiem Mass for the repose of the soul of Father Ryan. An era in the history of Holy Name of Jesus parish had ended.

During Father Ryan’s illness, Father McGuire directed the fate of Holy Name Parish and directed it well. He always expected to see his pastor return, and was prepared to give a good account of his stewardship. After Father Ryan’s death, Father McGuire continued in this role until a new pastor could be designated.

Archbishop Mitty assigned the Right Rev. Msgr. William J. Flanagan to take Father Ryan’s place. Monsignor Flanagan was installed as the second Pastor of Holy Name of Jesus parish on December 2, 1956. The new pastor immediately set about the task of getting to know his parishioners, endearing himself to all. His 22 years of experience in Catholic Charities gave him a warmth and understanding of people and their problems. He was efficient in organizing and managing the affairs of a large organization.

Holy Name’s first vocation to the priesthood, Father Brian O’Kane, S.J. was ordained on June 15, 1957 and offered his first solemn Mass at Holy Name of Jesus Church on June 16th. The other Priestly Vocations from Holy Name of Jesus Parish are Rev. Francis King, SJ. (1960), Msgr. John O’Connor (1960), Msgr. Russell Rock (1962), Rev. Donald S. D’Angelo (1968), Rev. Carl Schipper (1968),Rev. Craig W. Forner (1975), Rev. Gerry Robinson, S. J. (1977), Msgr. Steven Otellini (1978), Rev. Peter G. Neeley, SJ. (1981), Rev. Robert Hurd, S.J. (1991), and Rev. Daniel Nascimento (1998).

By February 1960, the Parish was out of debt and plans for the new church were almost complete. The parishioners were steadfast in their support of the Parish. A Drive for funds for the new church was organized, and once again the people left the comforts of their homes for their labor of love. A kick-off banquet at Riordan High started things off with a bang and Monsignor Flanagan’s enthusiasm spread throughout the flock. The men walked from door to door, striving toward that $500,000 goal. The people generously pledged enough to provide a down payment for the new House of God on the corner of 39th Avenue and Lawton Street.

Were the original plans the most suitable for the existing site? This was the crucial question that gave Monsignor Flanagan some anxious days and sleepless nights. How could the design be coordinated with the site and with the many changes in the Liturgy? Finally having consulted with the architects frequently, he selected the design for the new church: beautifully modern, yet exceptionally functional.

If Monsignor had any doubts as to the acceptance by the parish of the new plans, they were quickly dispelled. Everyone greeted the design for the new church with an enthusiasm that went far beyond his expectations.

Back in 1962 the convent, rectory and church occupied all but one corner of the area (U-shaped) and the remaining space was clearly too small to accommodate the proposed building. One alternative was to tear down the church (now Ryan Hall), but after consideration, this plan was rejected, as there was no adequate Church to use during the many months of construction. In addition it was agreed that upon completion of the new Church this building would become an important part of the Parish as a hall and/or an enclosed recreational space for the school children

Exhaustive studies were made of many possible arrangements including buying a large piece of land, but this proved an impossible choice both because of its cost and the unavailability of land in the vicinity. It was finally decided that the most efficient and economical plan would be to purchase a small amount of property and move the Rectory, thus providing the necessary space for the present Church on the main property itself. Three homes on 39th Avenue and one on Lawton Street were purchased from the owners for a “fair” price.

The Parish purchased four vacant lots on 44th Avenue, moved the homes down there and fixed them up. The Priests lived in two of them while the Rectory was being moved and restored. When the Rectory was ready for occupancy, the priests moved back and the houses were refurbished and sold.

In January of 1962, the first physical operations began. The Rectory was slowly moved across the street. Then the rains came, and two Holy Name men, Mel Brocato and Sal Spingola, sat night after night guarding the Parish treasures until the storm stopped. The move took three months but by March of 1962, the Rectory was finally at the present site.

His Excellency, Archbishop Joseph T. McGucken came to the site of the present church and presided at the groundbreaking ceremonies on a Sunday afternoon, September 30, 1962. After eight years of waiting and sacrifice, the parish came to see the Archbishop turn over the first spadeful of dirt to what was then to become one of the most modern and liturgically contemporary churches in the city.

The Second Vatican Council had just opened and with it came many liturgical reforms. This was the first church in San Francisco where the design was geared towards accommodating these various changes. On his return from Rome in December 1963, His Excellency, Archbishop McGucken, gave permission to install a main altar arranged for Mass to be facing the congregation with a higher placed second altar for the Blessed Sacrament and Tabernacle. All of the candelabra, the Tabernacle and altar fittings have been designed and made especially for the Church and to suit the special requirements of the placing of the altar.

In a parish letter to the people that week in 1962, Monsignor Flanagan gave thanks to God and to the parishioners “for making it possible to have the House of God in the Sunset a most beautiful gem in architecture; a most beautiful home for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and a most beautiful church for all of us in which to worship.”

Then everybody watched the progress of the construction eagerly. Every day, Monsignor Flanagan himself was “on the job” – an honorary superintendent with his own “hard hat” – capturing each stage of the church’s growth on film. On October 26, 1963, about two thousand people were shown through the partially completed structure.

Approximately five hundred attended a dinner after the tour and were shown movies and slides of the new church. Holy Name of Jesus is a strong community where “No One is a Stranger”. The modern concrete and steel structure Church dubbed in the 60’s as being “as modern as tomorrow” was dedicated on April 5, 1964.

Fast forward to today,  eighty seven years after that first Mass on Kirkham Street and  almost five decades after the “Open House” “Open Church”, we come to this magnificent structure in thankful prayer for all those hearts and hands who have contributed to this great Church.

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