Status of St. Ignatius Church

St. Ignatius Church’s 43 stained glass window panes are currently under restoration in Chicago as a part of the $25 million renovation project. Photo by Leila Tselner/ SF Foghorn

While the St. Ignatius Church operates independently from USF, its presence on campus is significant. The black tarps and scaffolding that have emerged around the San Francisco landmark during its renovation have raised questions within the USF student body surrounding its completion date. The church hosts the biannual commencement ceremonies, and its renovation causes potential disruptions to December and May commencements.

Starting just a few weeks shy of the May 2023 commencement, Father Greg Bonfiglio, S.J., of the St. Ignatius Parish, told the Foghorn the cathedral will remain under renovation until June 2024. However, Bonfiglio said the interior of the church will be intact for December and May commencement. As stated by USF Media Relations Specialist Kellie Samson, “St. Ignatius Church is a separate entity and USF isn’t involved in the management of their current project.” 

According to Bonfiglio, the renovation was prompted when facilities management approached him. “Facilities came into my office and said, ‘Father, you gotta take a look at this.’ So, he went up into the spire at the southeast corner of the facade of the church and showed me the rust that was happening up there and so that triggered a series of studies on the building…There’s just a lot of deterioration over the course of the century.” 

The church was originally opened in 1855 on Market Street between 4th and 5th Streets, according to the St. Ignatius Parish. It was moved after the San Francisco earthquake and fire in the early 20th century. “In 1914, the top of the St. Ignatius spires were completed and were the highest points in San Francisco,” according to USF News. It remains a landmark of the city. 

“St. Ignatius church is part of the fabric of the students’ experience here at USF,” Bonfiglio said. “Every class of Dons have graduated from that building. What we’re doing is we’re preserving that building for the future.” 

Many long-time church members are appreciative of the renovation. In a May San Francisco Chronicle article, parishioner Brain Byrne said, “I’m glad we’re putting in the investment to make it last another hundred years.” 

The interior refurbishing efforts will work to preserve the 43 stained glass windows and replace the 110 year old pews. “The stained glass was removed in the late spring, early summer, and they’re back in Chicago being restored now,” Bonfiglio said. He added that efforts to make the church more eco-friendly are underway. The exterior light system from 1989 will be replaced with an LED color-changing light system.

The St. Ignatius Church has privately funded $25 million for the renovation, according to the Parish’s website. The funding began in July 2020, a years-long effort towards the restoration and preservation of such a pillar of San Francisco’s Jesuit community. “We started fundraising three years ago,” Bonfiglio said. The renovation began a day after Easter. When asked why the renovation began when it did, Bonfiglio explained, “We wanted to get going as soon as possible because prices continue to increase. This project has been in the works for about eight years.” 

“We finally had everything lined up, and so we pulled the trigger when things were ready. The schedule for commencement exercises was not part of the picture.” 

Due to the church renovation, USF students are disappointed by the impact on commencement.

“As a student who is going to be graduating this December, I am disappointed that the exterior of the church won’t look the same. I was inside the church last December when Clarence B. Jones talked, and the church seemed totally fine to me. Overall, I’m just a little disappointed, but I hope that they finish before the next class’ graduation,” said Celeste Baird, a senior international studies major.

Senior architecture major Mae Wong said, “Being a part of the 2020 class, the high school class that didn’t get a graduation, and hearing that we might not get the college graduation we’ve been looking forward to for our whole academic lives is really disappointing.” 

While members of the class of 2023-2024 are frustrated about commencement impacts, the renovation will benefit the historical beacon’s structural integrity.

“The restoration that we’re doing is going to last 75 to 100 years.,” Bonfiglio said. “So your children and… maybe even your grandchildren will have a church if they become a Don in which to graduate in.” 

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