The Great Jewel of Education (1880–1905)

In its third campus on Hayes and Van Ness, SI became the premier college on the West Coast, with the greatest enrollment of any Jesuit college and some of the finest scientific equipment and collections found in any university in America. Many consider this the Golden Age of SI, when, it seemed, nothing could diminish the school’s luster.

Adding to that sheen were several distinguished alumni, among them John Montgomery ’78, the first person ever to make a successful glider flight. SI students also added to the school’s history when they played rugby against Sacred Heart College in 1893, inaugurating the oldest athletic high school rivalry west of the Rocky Mountains.

In 1905, when SI celebrated its 50-year anniversary with grand parties and high Masses, everyone in the community felt on top of the world. They did not know tragedy would befall them one year later.

John Montgomery Makes Aviation Historyof the Second Campus: 1861-1862

Ask any child in school who invented the airplane, and you’ll hear a chorus of Wright answers.

According to the authors of two upcoming books, that answer, and the question prompting it, are both deeply flawed.

These authors credit the airplane’s invention to the combined efforts of dozens of early aviators and inventors who toiled for decades on several continents.

The better question, they argue, is this: Who made heavier-than-air controlled flight possible? And they have no doubt that John J. Montgomery, a graduate of St. Ignatius College (BA 1879, MS 1880) and a professor at Santa Clara College from 1898 to 1911, flies higher than any other aviator in this regard.

Montgomery is all the more significant, the two books argue, as his efforts helped make the early Silicon Valley the epicenter of aviation development in the Western U.S.

Despite the historical facts, only a minority of history books make mention of Montgomery, the result of a concerted effort by Orville Wright and the many advocates of the Wright Brothers, according to the authors.

In short, the friendly skies haven’t been that friendly to Montgomery’s legacy.

To set the record straight, Craig Harwood (a descendent of Montgomery’s brother, James) and co-author Gary Fogel wrote Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West, published in October 2012 by the University of Oklahoma Press

When their book was released, California State Historian and USC University Professor Kevin Starr (’58) praised the book as being both “informed and vividly written. Quest for Flight revises the chronology of aviation in America decades prior to 1903 and, in terms of geography, locates its emergence on a far, far shore from Kitty Hawk.”

Fogel and Harwood aren’t the first to write Montgomery’s biography. The late Rev. Arthur Dunning Spearman, S.J., a former SCU archivist, wrote the seminal biography, John Joseph Montgomery: Father of Basic Aviation, in 1967.

In addition, two cousins, John Burdick (SCU ’65) and Bernard Burdick (SCU ’63) are nearly finished with their book, which has the working title The First American Pilot.

What makes these two recent books all the more significant is the scholarship and scrupulous research done by all four authors, three of whom are trained scientists. Harwood is a geologist, and Fogel is a skilled model glider pilot who holds a BA and Ph.D. in biology. Bernard Burdick holds BS, MS and Ph.D. degrees in physics. John Burdick, the only person not rooted in hard science (he was a political science major at SCU), is skilled at rooting out answers, as he worked as an intelligence agent in Vietnam. (He is now pitching his book, A Sphinx: The Memoirs of a Reluctant Spy in Vietnam, to Hollywood producers.)

“Montgomery was the only designer of ‘aeroplanes’ at the time who was well-educated and who had done fundamental research in the nascent field of aeronautics,” said Bernard Burdick. “All his [gliders] were based on a sound understanding of the physics of fluids. Montgomery was most concerned with stability and control prior to adding a motor. All the other builders were just guessing. Today, all modern airplanes possess many of the features of Montgomery’s early aeroplanes, such as cambered and tapered wings, tandem wings or canards on some, advanced flight controls, ailerons [flaps] on the wings, and control surfaces at the rear.”

In July, Harwood was interviewed at the Hiller Aviation Museum and Institute inSan Carlos, which houses several replicas of Montgomery’s gliders. While sitting in a lounge of a 747 on display at the museum (only one of the ironies involving Harwood’s book; the other is that he is a self-proclaimed nervous flier), Harwood told the story of how Montgomery became fascinated by flight.

“After moving from Yuba City to Oakland with his family, Montgomery’s life changed forever when he saw a demonstration flight of an airship, The Avitor, in Millbrae on July 4, 1869,” said Harwood.  “At home, he built a model, complete with undercarriage and wheels, and he tried to lift a hatchet with it, but it lacked sufficient buoyancy.”

At 16, Montgomery attended the preparatory division (high school) at Santa Clara College (1874–76) to prepare him for St. Ignatius College, where he studied under Fathers Joseph Bayma, S.J., and Joseph Neri, S.J., two gifted and influential educators.

As a student in San Francisco, Montgomery must have mentioned his desire to build a flying machine, according to Fogel and Harwood. They include an observation in their book, made by Montgomery’s contemporary, Rev. Fred Morrison, S.J.: “In those days anyone who even mentioned ‘man being able to fly’ was considered a little bit off. So, when John was in the vicinity, there was a general tapping of heads, which in our present day would be the sign that the party was crazy.”

After leaving SI, Montgomery worked as a foreman on his family’s farm in the Otay Valley near San Diego, where his fascination with flight led him to study the flights of birds as well as insect wings under a solar microscope. “He would encourage his sisters to chase his grandmother’s geese across the property,” said Harwood.

“John would lie down by a fence and watch the geese take off so that he could study the shape and movement of their wings. John’s grandmother, Bridget Evoy, who knew nothing about this, always remarked that her geese could fly farther and faster than her neighbors’ geese. John would grin slyly whenever repeating that story.”

Those experiences led Montgomery to perform years of comprehensive experiments and mathematically formulate theories of how the curved surface of a bird’s wing gave it the lift needed for flight.

Given the nearly universal suspicion at the time that anyone building a flying machine must be crazy, Montgomery pursued his glider construction in secret while working on his family’s ranch. He built his own wind tunnel to test the lift of various airfoil shapes, he experimented with “the ratio of wing surface area to lifted weight, and he studied how birds’ wings interacted with air currents,” according to Fogel and Harwood.

Some controversy still remains as to the date of Montgomery’s first glider flight. Both Spearman and the Burdicks hold with evidence that points to 1883, while Fogel’s and Harwood’s research has led them to an 1884 date. A dam break in 1916 caused the Lower Otay Reservoir to flood the Otay Valley and wash away important documents that could have resolved the dispute.

Both James and John Montgomery often recounted those first flights. The two men went to the Otay Mesa at the edge of the farm, taking along in a hay wagon their disassembled 38-pound wood and fabric glider. Still fearful of ridicule, the two brothers brought rifles so they could pretend to be hunting in case anyone stumbled upon them.

The Montgomery brothers pushed their wagon to the edge of the mesa, assembled their gull-winged glider (later named The Gull) and waited for the wind to pick up. When it did, they were ready. James positioned himself a dozen feet below the glider, holding onto a rope attached to its front, and John, at all of 130 pounds, sat inside the glider. When John cried, “Now!” James ran, and John rose 15 feet high and flew for 600 feet. John landed on his feet, holding the 38-pound craft in his arms. All of this happened 20 years before the Wright Brothers flew their plane at Kitty Hawk.

This wasn’t the first glider flight in human history. That occurred in 1853 when Sir George Cayley’s coachman took to the skies above England. “The coachman was so frightened by the experience and lack of control that he refused to do it anymore,” said Harwood. Another early pioneer, Louis Mouillard, flew a glider in 1856 that didn’t approach Montgomery’s in terms of stability. That same year, the first controlled flight occurred when Jean Marie Le Bris flew more than 600 feet in France in his glider.

Montgomery’s flight reached new heights of control and stability. In a speech to the Aeronautical Society of New York, Montgomery noted that after “a little run and a jump … I found myself launched in the air. I proceeded against the wind, gliding downhill for a distance of six hundred feet. In this experience I was able to direct my course at will. A peculiar sensation came over me. The first feeling in placing myself at the mercy of the wind was that of fear. Immediately after came a feeling of security when I realized the solid support given by the wing surface. And the support was of a very peculiar nature. There was a cushiony softness about it, yet it was firm. When I found the machine would follow my movements in the seat for balancing, I felt I was self-buoyant …”

In the 1880s, Montgomery built two more working gliders. In 1893, he spoke at a convention in Chicago organized by the aviation pioneer Octave Chanute. There, for the first time, Montgomery’s ideas about flight did not lead to a tapping of heads. He lectured on his first flights and his experiments with wing design and controls, and he met other aviators, including Samuel Langley. Montgomery felt buoyed by their support and by their joint efforts. Years later, Montgomery would write, “I was working purely as a scientist, with no intention of making money, and I proposed publishing my discoveries for all investigators, and giving it to the world as I did, I did not think it necessary to take out patents in those circumstances.”

Montgomery put aside his study of controlled flight for a time to work on other inventions (more on those later), to teach at a Jesuit college in Humboldt County and, starting in 1898, at Santa Clara College. He returned to his gliding experiments in 1903 when a former circus performer, Thomas Baldwin, suggested to Montgomery that a hot air balloon could lift a glider, which upon release would perform aerial acrobatics and then land in front of a crowd. Montgomery began again his experiments with small gliders, just months before the Wright Brothers flew 120 feet in 12 seconds at Kitty Hawk. (That first powered airplane of 1903, Harwood argued, lacked the stability and controllability of Montgomery’s gliders.)

Montgomery also perfected propeller designs to help Baldwin’s efforts to build a working airship. He first began with six screw blades, similar to those found on boats, but rejected them for a two-bladed propeller designed with a parabolic curve. He also built two more gliders, each with one set of wings behind the other – the scale model Pink Maiden and the full-scale Santa Clara, the latter piloted by circus performer Daniel John Maloney. Montgomery took up Baldwin’s suggestion and, in 1905, had a hot air balloon lift Maloney in a glider to 4,000 feet before sailing to earth before 1,000 gathered below. (An obelisk near the Ricard Observatory marks the spot of those flights.)

The same year as Maloney’s first aerial demonstration, Montgomery filed for a patent, issued the following year, for “Aeroplane,” which would become the basis of lawsuits stretching for years after his death.

Among those who praised Maloney’s flight and Montgomery’s glider were Alexander Graham Bell, who claimed that, “all subsequent attempts in aviation must begin with the Montgomery machine,” and Victor Lougheed (half-brother to the founder of Lockheed Aircraft), who called the flight “the greatest single advance” in aviation. The press also praised Montgomery’s achievement and used Montgomery’s term “aeroplane” to refer to the entire craft — the first time the word was widely used to mean more than a part of the machine.

For the next three months, Montgomery’s aeronaut flew the Santa Clara in front of large crowds. Tragically, when Maloney repeated the stunt three months later, he failed to see a tangled cable that broke a strut and led to a fatal crash. As he fell, Maloney waved, according to Spearman’s book, “in a kind of farewell” to the crowd below just before the impact.

Montgomery continued experimenting with models in wind tunnels, trying to perfect wing design and controls. His final flight came in 1911. Despite his physician’s advice to stay on the ground, Montgomery took a new glider, a monoplane called The Evergreen, named after the region south of San Jose where he and Joseph Vierra made 55 successful flights. He launched it from a rail to gain enough lift to take off. He hoped, at the end of his experiments, to install an engine to give it powered flight. On October 31, 1911, The Evergreen got caught in a whirlwind and crashed, and a stove-bolt in the fuselage frame entered Montgomery’s head behind the ear. He died before help could arrive; he now lies buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma.

More than a century of controversy and attempts to discredit Montgomery followed his death. Some attempts to honor Montgomery succeeded (see sidebar) though his widow, Regina, failed in her lawsuits to seek compensation for her late husband’s 1905 patent. A 1912 lawsuit was dismissed and two 1917 lawsuits, one against the Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation and another against the U.S. government (which had pooled patents to expedite plane production during World War I), both proved unsuccessful.

Compounding matters, Orville Wright, in an attempt to secure his legacy, described Montgomery’s accomplishments as “mere aeroplane hobbies” and spread misinformation about the glider designs, according to Quest for Flight. Advocates for the Wright Brothers published that misinformation in the press whenever attempts were made to honor Montgomery. Even as recently as 2005, author Herbert Lockwood published The Montgomery Myth: The Flight That Never Was, citing Orville’s writings.

As a boy growing up in Soquel, Harwood often heard stories told by his grandmother and mother, who were “obsessed about how unfairly John had been treated. As a teenager, I perceived the injustice in this, which gave me a desire to see that John was given the credit due to him.”

The scope of the task seemed daunting. Then, when documentary filmmakers from the PBS series California Gold approached Harwood and Fogel in 2003 to be interviewed for a piece on Montgomery (a piece that has yet to air), the two men met, discovered their shared passion and formed a friendship.

An expert glider enthusiast, Fogel grewup “fascinated with aviation and its history. At an early age, I learned about model gliders and also heard stories of Montgomery’smany accomplishments.” He also wrote about Montgomery for a book called Winds and Wings: The History of Soaring in San Diego, but he felt the section on Montgomery was lacking.

Fogel later convinced Harwood to undertake Quest for Flight, and, knowing that their book would come under attack from those who believed Orville Wright’s account, they sought primary sources from court records, the SCU archives, the Library of Congress and newspapers from the 1800s and 1900s recently made available online. Harwood admitted that “attempting to be objective was hard given my bloodline. Thankfully, I have a co-author who let nothing slide and who was good at excluding anything indefensible, including stories I had heard from my mother that had been passed down through the years.”

Harwood and Fogel finished their book in 2010 and found a publisher, the University of Oklahoma Press, with a reputation for producing noteworthy histories of California.

Their book, Harwood added, “is also a history of technology and aviation in the American West, one that happened primarily in the Bay Area. Montgomery and his fellow aviation pioneers started their work before most people believed that heavier-than-air flight was possible. Montgomery inspired others and connected all the main players.”

Fogel also hopes that their book and the one written by the Burdicks will help others recognize Montgomery “as the first American to fly and as the passionate scientist and naturalist that he was.”

Montgomery, who designed an electric telegraphic typewriter, also played a part in the establishment of California’s first state park at Big Basin. “He was a polymath, involved in such diverse fields as electricity, wireless telegraphy, astronomy, recycling and gold recovery,” said Bernard Burdick. “His patent on ‘rectifying electric currents’ was a highly efficient means for recharging storage batteries and was sold to the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company for $500,000. He also provided technical assistance to [SCU professor] Rev. Richard Bell, S.J., in his improvements to Marconi’s wireless invention and helped Rev. Jerome Ricard, S.J., in setting up and calibrating his telescopes.”

John Burdick first became interested in Montgomery while exploring the Mission Gardens as a student in 1962. There he discovered the obelisk in front of the Ricard Observatory. He sought out Fr. Spearman for more information on Montgomery and discovered that the priest was in the midst of writing his book. “I was stunned that I had never heard of Montgomery,” said John. “These meetings left me with a desire to learn more about him and why he was unknown. But life intervened, and I ended up serving in Vietnam.”

“John never lost his infatuation with Montgomery, and he eventually sought me out as a co-author,” added Bernard. “He knew he would need someone with a science background. I’ve invested thousands of hours in this project, but for John, this book culminates a 50-year quest.”

That fascination with Montgomery also inspired John to lead his students at Watsonville High School in 1987 to build a replica of the Santa Clara. “Insurance concerns prevented us from flying it manned, but we did fly it tethered and unmanned in a stiff breeze twice,” said John. “That research led to many more questions about Montgomery, but I was forced to stop exploring them after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. I was left with a lot of unanswered questions.”

In the intervening years, he found many answers to those questions, which he shared with an audience at SCU in February 2012 as part of the School of Engineering’s centennial celebration.

For the past year, he has been building and testing replicas of the Pink Maiden model. “I went through five versions before I began to be successful. Every failure brought me closer to the answer. Learning how to fly it also brought me closer to Montgomery and the story we were writing. My first successful flights filled me with a feeling I’m sure Montgomery must have experienced when he was successful.”

Nearing the end of their book, Bernard says he is “mystified by the attitude of many who disregard or disparage Montgomery’s achievements. One gets the impression that giving Montgomery any credit will somehow diminish the achievements of the revered Wright Brothers.”

Montgomery’s accomplishments are all the more real and significant for Fogel whenever he takes to the air with his model gliders. “Gliding is the purest form of flying itself. Many people feel that flying has to involve a motor, but glider pilots are always looking to do more with less. This engineering principle provides a challenge and a unique gratification when you are able to stay aloft for hours with no motor simply because of skilled design and piloting.”

It’s that feeling, one of freedom and exhilaration, the stuff of legend and flights of fancy, for which Fogel, and all of us, can thank Montgomery.

John Montgomery: A Legacy

Despite the efforts to discredit Montgomery, his many supporters managed to secure a variety of honors including the following (all documented in Quest for Flight):

1920: San Francisco renames the Marina Flying Field the Montgomery Field.

1924: SCU establishes the Montgomery Laboratories on the site of the present-day Mayer Theatre.

1934: SCU holds a celebration to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Montgomery’s first flight.

1943: Disney features Montgomery in an animated movie called History of Aviation.

1940s: A number of San Diego organizations undertake efforts to form a memorial committee, establish the Montgomery Trophy for a soaring contest, construct a Montgomery Memorial at Otay Mesa and rename the Gibbs Flying Field to Montgomery Field.

1946: Columbia Pictures releases Gallant Journey, a movie about Montgomery, starring Glenn Ford.

1946: The John J. Montgomery Elementary School opens in Chula Vista; SCU constructs the memorial obelisk to commemorate the 1905 Maloney flight.

1960s: A group of aeronautical engineers from Lockheed construct a replica of The Evergreen; Santa Clara County establishes a monument on the Evergreen site; the National Society of Aerospace Professionals creates the John J. Montgomery Award; Montgomery inducted into National Aviation Hall of Fame; Spearman book published.

1970s: The first Montgomery Meet, a hang gliding competition, is held outside San Diego; John J. Montgomery Elementary School is completed and dedicated in San Jose’s Evergreen district; the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol Squadron 36, based in San Jose, is named the John J. Montgomery Memorial Cadet Squadron; the Experimental Aircraft Association establishes the John J. Montgomery Chapter.

1990s to date: Santa Clara makes the Montgomery home an historical landmark; Montgomery’s first glider is recognized as an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the ASME; Norman Mineta reads into the Congressional Record an address commemorating the 70th anniversary of Maloney’s 1905 flight; Montgomery is inducted into the U.S. Soaring Hall of Fame; Montgomery is honored at the Centennial Celebration of Soaring Flight in 2005 in Aptos; a 30-foot-tall steel sculpture is dedicated in 2008 in the Evergreen district; that same year, the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos celebrated the 125th anniversary of Montgomery’s first flight; in 2011, SCU’s School of Engineering and ASME establish a $40,000 endowment fund for the John Joseph Montgomery Gold Medal.

Montgomery’s legacy remains at SI, too, as many of his descendants attended St. Ignatius High School and College Preparatory. Montgomery married Regina (Gene) Cleary, the sister of Frank Cleary (Class of 1882) and Alfred J. Cleary (Class of 1900). Both men sent their children and grandchildren to SI, including Mark Cleary ’64, who served as chairman of SI’s Board of Regents and Board of Trustees. Cleary also served as an altar boy at his aunt Regina’s funeral and recalled that even as an adult she would love driving around the city with her brother, Al, who served as San Francisco’s first chief administrative officer. “She loved riding with the siren blaring,” said Cleary. “After her brother’s death, she had no sirens to play with. She tended to ‘faint’ in public just to ride in ambulances and hear the sirens. In the movie version of Montgomery’s flight, Gallant Journey, the actress who played my aunt fainted, and my father commented how true to form it was.”

The Third Campus Opensof the Second Campus: 1861-1862

Students went on vacation January 21, 1880, but most returned the next day to help move furniture from the old school on Market Street to the new school on Van Ness Avenue. Bouchard preached his last sermon January 25 in the church that for years had existed on the second floor of the old school, and on January 31, the SI Jesuits heard confessions there for the last time.

Those same priests were on hand for the February 1 dedication of the new Hayes Street Church, presided over by Archbishop Alemany and Bishop James A. Healy who delivered the homily before nearly 7,000 people, only half of whom could fit inside the church. Those who could not fit stayed outside during the Mass. By the end of the day, 15,000 people visited the church and school buildings.

At the February 10 dedication of the school’s exhibition hall, Bishop Healy told the SI students that “yours is a great state and a great city. You have great mountains, great trees, and I might say a great college.… I would like to impress upon the minds of these young gentlemen that labor is necessary in every walk of life. What you acquire easily is of little value.… Above all it is essential to possess an experimental knowledge of Christianity, not that which is culled from the catechism, but that which is felt in the heart. This is the great jewel of education.”6

Fewer students took advantage of that jewel of education in the 1880 term, as the new location made it more difficult for them to commute to school. Enrollment fell to 652. Ironically, student population increased on an unexpected front. In 1881 the Jesuits started a Sunday school program for girls and began with nine pupils and one teacher. One year later, the program numbered 700 girls and 45 teachers. This foreshadowing of coeducation came to an end in 1891, according to Riordan, “only when it could be done by others.”7

The new college also elicited praise from the local press. A Journal of Commercearticle from the 1880s held that the “new college is to be preferred to the old one…. There is certainly not a better equipped college in this city, as we said before, and the low rate of tuition excites surprise; but this is explained in the foregoing where we mentioned that the aim of the Jesuits was not to gain money but to give education.”8

Those who had previously benefited from that education gathered in 1880 for the school’s first official Alumni Association meeting, with the Hon. Jeremiah F. Sullivan as its inaugural president. “The devotion of the old boys to Alma Mater … had made Father Kenna’s task a comparatively easy one.” Even before this formation, the classes of 1875–1877 held a joint reunion on May 30, 1878, at the Maison Doree, presided over by Alfred Tobin (SI 1876). “The gathering was large and enthusiastic. The trials, and successes, and varied incidents of college life were rehearsed amid much applause, and when it was proposed to renew college friendships by a yearly banquet, there was no dissenting voice.”9 This reunion was the first for any Catholic college on the Pacific Coast. This organization, quite active at first, eventually grew dormant until the school resurrected it in 1902.10

St. Ignatius Church also enjoyed a remarkable popularity in the early 1880s. When two East Coast Jesuits, Fr. Bernard Maguire, SJ, and Fr. Jeremiah O’Connor, SJ, came to St. Ignatius Church to give a two-week mission in February 1881, they drew as many as 15,000 to their services. People were turned away each night for want of room and 17 priests heard confessions until midnight one night. On the Sunday of the mission, priests started distributing communion at 5:15 a.m. and didn’t finish until late in the morning.11

That year, the church again drew massive crowds on September 19 upon the death of President James Garfield, who had been shot July 2 by an attorney angered that he had been denied a consular post. At the September 26 Solemn High Mass in memory of Garfield, Fr. Kenna eulogized the president and warned parents “concerning the evils that flow from a lack of respect for authority, especially in the young.”12 As with Lincoln’s assassination, the Jesuits draped their school in black for this sad occasion.

For the march commemorating Garfield that day, 500 of the SI student body walked from Grove Street to Market Street. After waiting for two hours, they learned that the Industrial School Band was to lead their part of the parade. The boys grew angry, having imagined that they would be at the head of the procession and fearful that people might confuse the two groups. They threatened not to march, but the Jesuits persuaded them not to cause trouble on this solemn occasion. “No sane mind would mistake them for boys from the [Industrial School] reformatory,” they argued, and the students agreed to follow the band.

In 1883, Fr. Joseph Sasia, SJ, took over as college president and also took over the enormous debt of $1,008,511 — a staggering figure for those days. Interest on this grand sum for the past eight years had amounted to $285,264. Fortunately, Mrs. Abbie Parrott (whose husband, Tiburcio Parrott, had earlier acquired and donated to SI the electro-magnetic machine used in the Siege of Paris), purchased the old Market Street school site for $900,000 in 1886, paying far beyond the value of land and buildings in order to help the Jesuit fathers pay down their debt. Her family later built The Emporium on the site, which closed in the 1990s. (A brass marker near the main entrance of the building, soon to open as a Bloomingdale’s, commemorates the site of the first St. Ignatius Academy and College. The school also celebrated its 125th anniversary there in 1980 and added a new plaque to the site.)

The year 1883 also saw the school’s enrollment rise to 704, making it by far the largest Jesuit school in the country. Of the Society’s 23 colleges, only three schools, aside from SI, had more than 300 students.13

Fr. Imoda, took over as president in 1887, and his term would last until 1893. During his tenure, fire destroyed the old church and school on Market Street, which had become a cheap lodging house and a warehouse for a furniture company. While the Jesuits mourned the deaths of three who died in the fire, they were not sad to lose the old buildings, which “had long been an eye-sore to the public and a heart-sore to the Fathers, who, had circumstances permitted, would have torn the buildings down rather than have seen them turned to profane uses.”14

Imoda turned the administration of the college over to Fr. Edward Allen, SJ, in 1893, and he would lead the school for three years. Imoda, the head of the California Mission, believed the college could support itself without tuition from college students enrolled in the “classical course” (meaning those in the grammar, literary and historical departments who had added Latin and Greek to their studies). The Jesuits, hearkening back to their traditional European roots, also decided only to award degrees to students taking this classical course; thus, despite the free tuition, enrollment went down when the 1893 term began.

The Jesuits hoped to raise those numbers through an advertisement that read: “We fear that many Catholics in this city and state are not aware that, following the rule of their founder, where it is possible to do so, the Jesuit Fathers have made of St. Ignatius College a FREE COLLEGE, in all that pertains to superior education, classical and ordinary. To all young men of good character, the Society of Jesus will give education absolutely gratuitous, not an ordinary education but a superior education comprising classics, mathematics, science, philosophy and all cognate matters. To those who do not desire a classical education, the ordinary commercial branches will be taught. Any young man who may desire to acquire knowledge in its fullest sense, to prepare for the professions, for a full university course, has here an opportunity which few in this country possess. San Francisco is, we believe, the only city in the United States which is so blessed, and our young men ought to take advantage of this splendid opportunity offered them. In this respect, the rich have no advantage over the poor, since no other condition is required than a good character and a determination to study.”

In 1896, the experiment with free tuition ended, due in large part to the school’s enormous debt. The Jesuits once again charged tuition, with college students paying $8 a month and another $10 to receive an academic degree. High school students paid $5 monthly while sixth through eighth graders paid $3.

Joseph Stack was one of the students whose parents paid for him to attend SI in those years, even though he was a reluctant pupil. When he was 16, Stack found himself assigned to a Latin class by the “formidable” prefect of studies, Fr. Henry Woods, SJ. Many years later, Stack wrote the following account of that class:

“At Christmas time [in 1895], Fr. Woods suggested that I move up to a poetry class taught by Mr. John Hayes, SJ, a scholastic. Here I found myself with those who had already mastered Latin and Greek grammar and who were reading Homer in Greek and Virgil in Latin with great facility. I had to sweat to keep up with these branches. I recall writing a bit of verse, which Mr. Hayes remodeled for me. He wished me to read it at one of the class specimens given before the whole student body. Fr. Woods refused permission, using a familiar argument of his: the verse was too well done for me to be the author and too poorly done if the scholastic were to acknowledge himself as the writer!” Stack later grew fond of his classes at SI and, after graduating in 1896, entered the Society of Jesus and served as a teacher and retreat master.15

The Great Rivalry of the Second Campus: 1861-1862

This era of the school also marks the start of a great athletic rivalry between SI and Sacred Heart, the longest of any school west of the Rocky Mountains, which started with a rugby game played on St. Patrick’s Day in 1893. (The centenary of that rivalry was celebrated in the fall of 1992 at Kezar Stadium with a crowd of 7,000 witnessing SI’s 7–3 victory over the Irish. Mention of this grand tradition can be found in the 2002 National High School Sports Record Book on page 151 under the “Oldest Current Rivalries” section. There, the SI vs. SH match-ups are tied for ninth with two other schools. The oldest rivalry dates from 1875 between New London and Norwich Free Academy, both of Connecticut.)

San Francisco Chronicle writer Will Connolly ’28, in the November 4, 1949, edition, wrote about that first game in an interview with Warren White ’39, an English teacher at SI at the time who had researched the history of the rivalry. He told Connolly that the game began when Cornelius Kennedy, a Sacred Heart College student, “bought a pamphlet on ‘How to Play Football,’ written by a young man under the style of Amos Alonzo Stagg. Kennedy collected a team at Sacred Heart and elected himself coach and captain because he owned the textbook and the football. He had an investment of $12 and needed competition to protect it. So he visited St. Ignatius and cajoled the boys into fielding a team. Kennedy was magnanimous. St. Ignatius had no coach, no team. He generously agreed to teach them the fundamentals gleaned from the Stagg book. For two weeks he tutored the Ignatians late in the day, after putting in licks with his own Sacred Heart eleven.

“The game was played on March 17, which is St. Patrick’s Day and a holiday for the schools…. The game was held in Central Park at Eighth and Market streets where the Crystal Palace now stands. Fifty-seven years ago, the corner was on the outer fringe of the downtown district, virtually in the sticks. Both Sacred Heart and St. Ignatius had to practice surreptitiously, for the Brothers and the Jesuits considered football a brutalizing sport at that time and a distraction from scholarly pursuits. The way it was played, they were right. Injuries were common.

“Sacred Heart won, 14 to 4. The Irish of SH were accoutered in canvas jackets, red and yellow stockings. St. Ignatius wore black and gold, a radical change from the colors they now affect. You could suspect that Kennedy deliberately under-coached St. Ignatius. As a matter of fact, he gave his best effort. The game was close. Under association rules … at that time, a touchdown counted 4 points and a field goal 2.”

Connolly also noted that “the Kennedy in question later embraced the sacerdotal cloth. He is now pastor of St. Paul’s, a basic parish in the Mission. Surely the Rev. Cornelius Kennedy, in his salad days, wouldn’t have stooped to trick the poor, benighted Ignatians. He was simply trying to help.”

Passing the Torch: The Death of Fr. Maraschiof the Second Campus: 1861-1862

In 1896, Fr. John P. Frieden, SJ, succeeded Allen as president, and he served for the next dozen years, leading SI through the triumph of its 50th anniversary celebration and through the tragedy of the destruction of the school and church in the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906.

Born in Luxemburg, Frieden had worked as a teacher even before entering college. He entered the Society of Jesus after completing his college work and, while still a novice, traveled to Missouri where he taught at St. Louis University. After several other assignments, he became president of Detroit College in 1885 and, in 1889, head of the Missouri Province. He trained novices before his appointment to SI.

Even before Frieden came to SI, most of the Jesuits who were involved with the founding of the school were in failing health or had died. On March 18, 1897, Maraschi, SI’s founder, died, and his body was borne to the Gentlemen’s Sodality chapel. As the school’s founder, first president and treasurer, he had come into contact with thousands of San Franciscans who knew and loved him for his charity.

A newspaper account of the funeral Mass offered this commentary: “With impressive simplicity, without pomp or ceremony, a low Mass of requiem was offered yesterday morning (Saturday, March 20), by Fr. Frieden, president, at 9:15 in St. Ignatius Church for the repose of the soul of the late Fr. Anthony Maraschi…. There was no sermon, no word of commendation for the dead, no account of his deeds of sacrifice and acts of holy zeal. But deep in the hearts of the vast concourse that filled pews and aisles and pressed against the sanctuary rail, the eulogy of that life was engraved in indelible characters.”16

As a testament to how many people loved Maraschi, “a continuous stream of people commenced moving along the line of Hayes Street toward St. Ignatius Church, growing more dense” as more people joined the throngs coming to mourn the late, great priest.17 Even the Southern Pacific Railroad Company transported his body to Santa Clara for burial at no charge.

Of Maraschi, Riordan offers up this accolade: “Prominent businessmen of the city sought his advice in business matters, while the poor and ailing found in him equally a friend, for he was no discriminator of persons. Many believed that he could work miracles and begged his assistance in all manner of diseases; and, indeed, it seems certain that, whether in recompense of their faith or the merits of Father Maraschi, more than one special favor answered their requests. He was a man of action, not words; seemingly cold and distant, but, for all that, possessing a warm heart. He has every right to be considered the founder even of the present church and college, for it was the property on Market Street and the land near Richmond, both acquired through him, that supplied the funds to build St. Ignatius and to liquidate its debt.”18

Fortunately for the Society of Jesus, just as it was losing members of the old guard to death, young men were entering its ranks. One such Jesuit, George P. Butler, was ordained a priest in June 1897, the first SI alumnus of the Van Ness campus to have that distinction.

During this period, the school stopped offering classes for elementary students as the Jesuits attempted to solidify the school’s reputation as a world-class school of higher learning and as more and more parishes opened their own grammar schools. As a result, enrollment fell; “it was hoped, however, that the raising of the standard of the college would more than compensate for any numerical loss.”19 The school still struggled to repay its debts, and by 1899 it re-established the Ignatian Society, friends of the school who had earlier provided the school with financial assistance.
In 1901, President William McKinley visited San Francisco, and SI dressed itself up to honor the president, who passed by the school in a grand procession. “The pupils were ranged on the steps and balconies of the building and gave three rousing cheers as the President passed. To mark his appreciation, Mr. McKinley stopped his carriage and gracefully returned the salute of the young men. He made no effort to conceal his pleasure, and turned several times to look back and admire the beauty of the buildings in their festive attire.”20

That same year, Mrs. Regina Pescia created what may be the college’s first named scholarship in honor of her husband, Dr. Joseph Pescia. The scholarship provided a student with an annual gift of $130 for four years. Students competed for this academic honor, and its first recipient was Owen McCann.

Young Owen was not the only financial beneficiary that year. The East Bay land near Richmond that Maraschi had purchased in the 1870s, and adjacent parcels that he had acquired over the years, had grown in value as they were near the Santa Fe line and Standard Oil’s property. The Jesuits sold the land for $200,000 in 1901, and for the first time in its history, the school was out of debt. The Jesuits thanked the donors of the Ignatian Society and disbanded this organization. They looked to the new century with confidence and, for the first time, with solvency.

Celebrating the First 50 Years

The first years of the new century proved to be propitious ones for the school’s drama program. Students staged Macbeth in January 1900, and Julius Caesar a year later. In 1903, they performed Richard III and, in 1905, Henry V. The school also experimented with its classical program by introducing, in 1902, practical business courses such as bookkeeping and stenography at no extra cost to students.

Also, as part of their commitment to mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a sound body), the Jesuits strengthened their athletic program in 1902 by building two handball courts and, in 1903, a $40,000 gymnasium for use by students and members of the Gentlemen’s Sodality. Riordan writes that “on February 2, 1903, after assisting at Mass, the students repaired to the college lot on Franklin Street, there to assist at the beginning of the work.”21 This use of student labor by the Jesuits was typical for its day.

The 10,000-square-foot gym contained handball courts, a billiard room, a reading room, a bowling alley, a 50x15-foot plunge bath, a boxing ring, gymnastic equipment, a locker room and a running course on the upper level of the 35-foot-tall structure.

To prepare for the 50-year celebration, 130 members of the Alumni Association gathered at the Palace Hotel on October 8, 1903, just a few blocks down the street from the site of the first SI. Others gathered to celebrate, too, though in an unusual place. In the basement of SI college, the women members of the Francesca Society (named in honor of St. Frances of Rome), had set up a free school for 240 girls to teach them sewing and cooking. During Christmas 1903, the teachers and Jesuits distributed presents to the girls and gave them a tree to decorate.

The jubilee year of 1905 began with an announcement that the school term would, from this year forward, begin in September and end in June. The Archbishop made this request to encourage uniformity among the schools and colleges in the archdiocese. The Jesuits also announced that no diplomas would be conferred during the May commencement exercises that year; instead, graduates would receive them in October during the Jubilee celebration.

In September, SI president Fr. Frieden received this note of congratulations from the Society’s Superior General, Louis Martin, SJ: “Happy to me beyond measure have been the tidings of the coming of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of St. Ignatius College, so dear to me, and of our church, begun under happy auspices by your worthy fellow citizens. For if, in thought, I dwell on the very abundant and happy fruit which, with God’s help, you have reaped in Church and College, and with which the well-known piety and favor of your pupils and fellow citizens have hitherto requited your labors, I cannot but give thanks to Almighty God for the past, and harbor the assured hope that, for the future also, we shall reap equal, yea even more abundant fruit.”22

Pope Pius X also sent his blessing to SI in August: “In this blessing, therefore, we shall rest, here in the dawn of the coming Jubilee, hoping, as we well may, that its brightness will not be ephemeral; and, that the seeds of sacrifice planted in the last half century of effort will take root and prosper unto the ripened ear of success, for the welfare of Catholicity in San Francisco.”

SI, in its jubilee year, was at the pinnacle of its success. It was one of the key centers for San Francisco Catholics who sought to study and worship. It attracted thousands to the various missions and retreats by visiting Jesuits. The famed preacher and future principal of St. Ignatius High School, Fr. Dennis Kavanagh, SJ, wrote the following in an article appearing in the St. Ignatius Church Calendar (an expanded church bulletin, published monthly for 70 years): “Perhaps the most striking features of St. Ignatius Church were the solemn services for which it was noted. Who does not recall the male choir of 50 voices under the masterful direction of Fr. Allen and Fr. Coltelli? Who does not remember the solemn occasions like the feast of Corpus Christi when 1,600 sodalists, decorated with medal and badge, moved in solemn procession through the aisles? Who does not know how, on days like Good Friday, the church was filled to overflowing two hours before the services began?

“We cannot explain this enthusiasm better than by attributing it to the well known and universally admitted fact that the Fathers connected with the church were remarkable for their eloquence and zeal and self-sacrificing devotion for the cause of religion. It mattered not whether it was the thundering eloquence of Fr. Bouchard or the whole-hearted appeals of the fervent Fr. Kenna or the gentle exhortations of Fr. Calzia, or the sweet paternal assents of Fr. Varsi or the catechetical instructions of Fr. Prelato — there was a ring of exceptional earnestness in it all which attracted people from all parts of the city.”23

The school began the weeklong jubilee festivities on October 15, 1905, with a Pontifical Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Ignatius Church celebrated by Coadjutor Archbishop George Montgomery of San Francisco. Many other celebrations and Masses followed and the alumni gathered on the Tuesday of that week. The next day, the Alumni Association took many of the visiting Jesuits, who had come to SI for the celebration, on a San Francisco Bay cruise and, on the following day, to the top of Mt. Tamalpais on the old railroad line that wound its way to the peak.

That Thursday, October 19, the school celebrated with a gala banquet at the St. Francis Hotel, attended by 175 priests, alumni, faculty and friends of the school. The Hon. W. Bourke Cockran, a Congressman from New York and noted orator, was the featured speaker. Judge Jeremiah Sullivan, the first president of the Alumni Association, offered these opening remarks: “Any American citizen who overlooks the portals of the Golden Gate can find much to gratify him both as an American and a Catholic. As he looks out upon the sea, he reflects that, for over 800 miles, it washes the shore of his beloved California. When he looks back on old Yerba Buena, where the Franciscan friars made their first home, he reflects on the wonderful growth of San Francisco. He looks back to the early days of the city where, closely following the discovery of gold, came the followers of Loyola, — there they laid the foundation of the great institution of learning whose fiftieth anniversary we celebrate tonight.”24 The next day, October 20, the Jesuits held a special commencement ceremony where they awarded nine Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees and 16 honorary degrees.

How the Transatlantic Debate Shaped SI

In Brokers of Culture: Italian Jesuits in the American West 1848–1919, the author, Rev. Gerald McKevitt, S.J., of Santa Clara University, writes, in part, of the tensions in the late 1800s at SI between teachers who believed in the European model of a classical education (such as Rev. Enrico Imoda, S.J., who served as SI president between 1887 and 1893) and others — McKevitt calls them “Americanists” — who believed in a modern system that favored practical courses such as bookkeeping and mineralogy. Foremost among these Americanists, ironically, was the Italian Jesuit Luigi Varsi, S.J., who served as president of Santa Clara College and Superior of the California Jesuit Mission. The chapter, below, from McKevitt’s book, offers insight into this pivotal point in SI’s history.

by Rev. Gerald McKevitt, S.J.

If President Imoda’s “rabbinical interpretation of our rules” (as [Rev. Giuseppe] Sasia put it) offended progressives, higher ups in Europe and conservatives in California applauded his rigor. Thus, when the time came to select a new superior to the California Mission in 1891, Imoda emerged as top candidate. That he had “many adversaries” was inconsequential, a backer argued; nor was it necessary that he “be able to speak in public or to the community or to the students in order to be a good superior.” What mattered was his unyielding asceticism. When elevating Imoda to the superiorship, Father General Anderledy tellingly borrowed a phrase from the Latin title of Pope Leo XXIII’s encyclical of that year. Imoda was worthy, he wrote, because the California Jesuits seemed “weakened by an enthusiasm for new things [rerum novarum] and for a freer discipline more in keeping with the temper of the times.” Traditionalists acclaimed Imoda’s elevation. “Thanks be to God,” one Italian exclaimed; “things are improving.”

If there was one aspect of Jesuit education that conservatives hoped to upgrade, it was its quality. Even liberals conceded that admission standards at the colleges had slipped. For the first time in decades, the California schools faced stiff competition from public institutions whose modern campuses, lower tuition and diverse curricula siphoned students by the thousands. Faced with an imperative need to improve, Americanists counseled compromise and patience lest the schools drive away their clientele. But conservative Europeans demanded immediate reform, which, they reasoned, meant a restoration of the ancient languages. Everyone recognized that Latin and Greek studies had declined. Even at Santa Clara, the order’s flagship college in the West, four times as many graduates took the Bachelor of Science degree as the classical Bachelor of Arts. Preference for a more vocational and utilitarian course of studies was not confined to the western states. In response to rapid industrial development, American education itself was moving away from the classical tradition. Of the nearly 6,000 students attending Jesuit colleges across the United States at this time, less than 2 percent graduated with the Bachelor of Arts degree in the classics.

Reports of Jesuits throughout the West made it clear that Cicero and Homer were more unpopular than ever. “The standard of classical studies is not very high,” a priest reported from Spokane in 1900. He ascribed the deficiency to the students’ “natural inconstancy, their dislike of the classics, their insatiable desire to make money, and because they are content with a purely commercial education.” In Denver, the Neapolitans of Sacred Heart College accepted the inevitable, making no pretense of giving primacy to Latin and Greek. “While appreciating the value of the ancient classical languages as a means of education,” we “believe that their value may easily be exaggerated and that much of the time commonly devoted to the study of them might with more profit be given to the study of the vernacular.” Hence they concluded, “The language of the school and the one to which most attention is devoted is English.”

Some California Jesuits, too, favored a conciliatory approach. Students are not disposed to “receive that education which we are ready and desirous to give,” the teacher Henry Woods wrote from San Francisco in 1884. Many pupils come from poor Irish working-class families, seeking only sufficient learning to give them a toe-hold in life. And because they are “too anxious to finish their college course when it ought to be only beginning,” a lengthy and expensive commitment to classical training was out of the question. We do what we can to promote the study of Latin and Greek, he insisted, by “discouraging, as far as prudence permits,” the commercial course. But to impose Caesar, Cicero and Vergil  “as strictly as we would wish [was] impossible.” We must proceed gingerly when trying to raise the standard of education, he warned, for in precipitate action “there is the risk of seeing our classrooms emptied and our work strangled instead of being strengthened.”

Woods’s caveats were spurned. Offered an escape from the cul-de-sac created by a rigid curriculum, conservative Jesuits from the Piedmont region of Italy refused to budge. In this, they were backed by stewards in Europe. Alarmed at the unraveling of classical studies, they waged a campaign to restore Latin and Greek. Rev. Nicholas Congiato, S.J. (SI president for much of the 1860s) writing to Rome in 1884, announced that the classics had been “almost abandoned by everyone.” Responding to the alarm, Father General Anderledy ordered the Californians to do all that they could to rehabilitate traditional studies. Although Robert Kenna (left) of Santa Clara countered that Congiato exaggerated, the president had no choice but to comply with Rome’s mandate.

Stalwarts of the classics achieved their greatest victory three years later. In 1887, the two Piedmontese colleges in California announced they would hereafter grant academic degrees solely to students who enrolled in the classical course and passed examinations in Latin and Greek. Those languages, which before had been optional, were now made mandatory; the study of English was downgraded; and the non-classical Bachelor of Science degree was terminated. To encourage acceptance, President Imoda of St. Ignatius College spread a coat of sugar over the distasteful reform by offering “an absolutely gratuitous education” [— meaning free of charge —] to students enrolled in the classical course. But the experiment was short-lived. Four years later, his successor, Edward P. Allen (SI president 1893 to 1896), discovering that students could not even be bribed to study the ancient languages, abandoned the scholarship program. European authorities, however, would not permit Allen to restore the non-classical diploma. The outcome? Enrollments continued to slip, a direct result, critics maintained, of “the enforcement of the strictly classical course for degrees and the discouragement of the commercial course.”

The imposition of classics from on high unleashed an avalanche of protest. The next Mission Superior, Giuseppe Sasia, S.J. (SI president 1883 to 1887 and 1908 to 1911), drawing on his long experience in the U.S., informed Anderledy that “due to special circumstances in this country it is a very difficult thing to persuade students and their parents of the great importance … of classical studies.” Rev. Robert Kenna, S.J. (SI president 1880 to 1883), echoed Sasia’s argument in a series of sharp appeals to Rome. “Greek keeps many [students] away and also drives some away after they come here,” he told to Luis Martín. “You will never convince Californians that a knowledge of Greek is of any great importance” because American students preparing for careers in business and the professions did not need the classics. “It is a fact that many of our most successful public men are not classical scholars.” Even “the president-elect, Mr. Cleveland, is not a college graduate,” Kenna told an uncomprehending Martín. And U.S. Senator Stephen M. White, “the most popular man in California,” had earned his Bachelor of Science at Santa Clara College before the degree was eliminated. “Had he come later, we would not give him a degree.” Senator White “is a power in the land, and there are others like him who now cannot and will not come to this college.… I do not think that Saint Ignatius would refuse to reach souls unless he could do so by cramming them with Greek. I realize that my words may sound like heresy to many,” the president concluded one of his many transatlantic appeals, “but they are true all the same.”

Kenna’s laments were disregarded, however. Higher ups refused to budge, and, as predicted, enrollments persisted in their downward slide. Educational practices whose efficacy had been taken for granted for generations were indeed becoming outdated. But too few Jesuit authorities perceived either the need for change or the way in which change might be accomplished within the context of their tradition. The order’s mantra about adapting to times, places and persons did not, it seemed, enjoy universal acceptance.

Student discipline further polarized Jesuits. The old European system of strict surveillance and faculty control frustrated teachers and pupils alike. “The only difference between Santa Clara and any other prison,” quipped one alumnus, “was that classes instead of a stone quarry brought a student out of his cell for a considerable period each day.… The college rules prohibited everything but study,” he groused, “and, once enrolled, the festive young student might as well have been waiting for the [electric] chair.” Traditionalists nevertheless insisted on adhering to European conventions. During his tenure at St. Ignatius College, Enrico Imoda forbade card playing, smoking, boxing and similar breaches of discipline. When the Americanizing Luigi Varsi “allowed the boys to be taught round dances” at Santa Clara — “we must adapt ourselves to the ideas of the country,” he said — Jesuit rigorists were scandalized.

Still more ink was spilled over money matters, particularly in San Francisco where the Jesuits had fallen into a sink hole of debt in the construction of a new St. Ignatius College. By 1888, liability had grown to $1,008,511, a figure roughly equivalent to 18 times that amount today. Americans criticized the bookkeeping of septuagenarian Antonio Maraschi (left), the College’s founder and for decades the treasurer of the California Mission. Even Roman authorities feared the failing priest was embroiled in risky transactions that endangered the financial security of the entire Mission. “If there were a sudden failure,” Superior General Anderledy warned, “we would probably be entangled in all manner of law suits.” Visitor Rudolph J. Meyer too had urged more diligent bookkeeping during his inspection tour in 1889.

Conservatives conceded that Maraschi’s account ledgers were “a real mess,” but they were reluctant to dismiss the venerable patriarch and could not agree on a replacement. Knowledgeable observers said Luigi Varsi — because of his “natural talents” and the “esteem and friendship” he enjoyed with many wealthy Californians — was the only person who could “pull the College out of its financial difficulties and manage it well.” But defenders of the status quo, offended by Varsi’s liberal views, blocked his advancement. In consequence, Maraschi, old and nearly blind, soldiered on. Some priests, disgusted by superiors’ foot-dragging reluctance to retire the elderly treasurer, alleged a double standard. “If an English-speaking Father had been guilty of Fr. Maraschi’s doings,” said John Frieden (SI president 1896 to 1908), “there would have been a terrible outcry.”

….

How should celibate Jesuits relate to women? That was another topic that divided young and old, liberal and conservative. According to gendered conventions of the past, separation was the rule; but by the end of the century, the bonds of tradition were unraveling. More Catholic women were involved in church work than ever before, and in California women were moving in greater numbers from the domestic to the public realm. Coeducation, for example, had proven so successful at Stanford University by 1904 that alarmed admission officers established a ratio of three males to each female student. In this shifting environment, Jesuits such as Michael McKey or Luigi Varsi, favored more relaxed relationships with women in accord with the principle of adapting to changing times. Cichi and others, equating the rules and Constitutions of their religious order with the mores of Europe, argued for retention of the old ways, an interpretation shared by overseas gatekeepers. In 1886, Father General Pieter Beckx, instructed Jesuits to avoid conversing with women because they “are generally speaking, inconstant in their resolutions, and talk so much, that a great deal of time is wasted with them, and very little lasting fruit comes from it.” Visitor Rudolph J. Meyer, an American, though progressive in some matters, betrayed the same intolerance. Jesuits should not undertake ministries to women “easily or without sufficient reason,” he decreed in 1889. If women approached priests on their own initiative, Jesuits “should not engage in lengthy and useless chatter but should excuse themselves in short order.”

If extreme caution was the fruit of a cramped interpretation of Jesuit tradition, it was also the fruit of fear — fear of females and fear of provoking public criticism and scandal. Allegations of illicit relations between priests and nuns was a favorite theme of salacious best-sellers of the day, such as The Escaped Nun: Or, Disclosures of Convent Life. Jesuits “endeavor to make us Americans believe that they are chaste and that nuns are virtuous women,” a San Francisco newspaper charged; but “we believe … that they live lives of sin and profligacy rather than that of virtue and chastity.” Dreading false accusations, Jesuits were highly circumspect in dealing with the opposite sex. When earthquake and fire destroyed San Francisco’s St. Ignatius College in 1906, homeless clergy were temporarily offered refuge in a convent of nuns. One elderly Italian priest, Telesphorus Demasini, anguished over the invitation. “He thought it was compromising for us,” a contemporary said, “and also for the poor sisters.”

Consequently, Jesuits wagged fingers at companions judged guilty of “excessive socializing” with women whom they met in their ministry. Luigi Varsi (right), a magnetic personality with great social facility, was a frequent target of cluck-cluckers who claimed he was “continually occupied with ladies.” Giuseppe Sasia (left) defended the popular priest, pointing out that his women friends were not only “persons of outstanding piety,” but also generous benefactors of the Society. Such assurances did not assuage the wary, however. Some old timers, dipping their pens in a kind of sagacious ‘I told you so,’ recalled Jesuits of the past who had fallen in love and left the Society. “So many cases of this kind have I seen in America in the 40 or more years that I’ve been here,” Congiato warned, “that I greatly fear the coming of superiors who are not vigilant and don’t follow to the letter the wise rules left by our Father St. Ignatius.”

Unable to hammer out their differences on so many issues, turn-of-the-century Jesuits ricocheted from one crisis to the next, their effectiveness blunted by the disparities that divided them. By the time Enrico Imoda’s term drew to a close in 1896, the chasm of disagreements had so widened and deepened that even former cheerleaders conceded the reclusive superior and his coterie had done “great damage” to operations in California. In a startling about-face, Domenico Giacobbi said that Imoda’s “diffidence and sharp manner” left scarcely no one unalienated. Instead of uniting personnel in opposition to himself, his arbitrary rule had exasperated divisions.

So vast was the rift that decision-makers despaired of finding anyone to replace Imoda. Whoever was appointed superior, if acceptable to one faction, “would be quite unsatisfactory to the other,” Luis Martín observed. Unable to light on an internal candidate, the Society cast its nets widely and in 1896 appointed an outsider, John P. Frieden (left), to head the California Mission. A native of Luxembourg, he had emigrated to the U.S. as a boy and grew up in the Midwest. Now 52, Frieden had extensive academic and administrative experience, including a just-completed term as provincial of the Jesuits’ Missouri Province. Like a deus ex machina, the newcomer appeared to expectant Californians as “the salvation of the Mission.”

Settling into his San Francisco office, Frieden was appalled at what he discovered. The Californians seemed incorrigibly provincial, he told officials in Rome. Their pygmy universe centered on the San Francisco Bay Area, and they had no residence more than 55 miles distant from the next. Even more shocking, they seemed “quite satisfied to remain isolated in this corner.” “Narrow and cramped in their ideas.… several Fathers of this mission have a strange idea of life in the Society,” he wrote, revealing that his sympathies did not lie with defenders of the status quo. These misguided souls “are conceited enough to imagine that the true spirit of the Society is preeminently in California, not in any other part of the United States.” They “imagine that they are doing all that is expected of them if they devote full time to their spiritual exercises. For the rest, they shut themselves so completely off from the outside world as if our vocation were monastic, solely contemplative, and not actively apostolic.” The damage resulting from this distorted grasp of Jesuit life was far-reaching. Our young men are being “trained on wrong lines,” Frieden went on. “We are losing our hold on the people; men especially are drifting away from us.” If Imoda and his advisors had “deliberately tried to break down Jesuit work and Jesuit standing in the city of San Francisco and in California,” he concluded, “they could not have chosen better means. … We must bestir ourselves to regain the hold which we used to have on the people years ago, and which simply passed away during the past 10 or 12 years.”

Frieden attempted to chart a new course by appointing progressives to positions of authority. But his cranky personality and reversal of long-standing practices inevitably antagonized the old guard, prompting alarmists like Cichi to declare that “Father Frieden and his Irish consultors had destroyed the Mission.” Meanwhile, Americanizers cheered  his reforms. And his firm-handed leadership during the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, which destroyed St. Ignatius College, won him many admirers.

But when time came to find a successor, the old conundrum reappeared. Whom to appoint? “There is no one in California that could in the near future govern the Mission,” Frieden himself advised Rome. However, if the General was willing to merge the Rocky Mountain and California missions — a plan that had been under consideration for several years — a solution was at hand. There was an experienced administrator in Oregon, Frieden recounted, who could fill the bill. Thus it was that the two jurisdictions were reunited, and Georges de la Motte, a 46-year-old wunderkind from Alsace and eminent alumnus of Woodstock College, became head of Jesuit operations on the West Coast. A man of uncommon intelligence and culture, this highly respected missionary was well equipped for his new role. As restrained and diplomatic as Frieden was blunt and imperious, De la Motte integrated the two missionary jurisdictions and calmed the dyspeptic Californians, a task eased by attrition through death of some of the old guard. At the same time, he tackled a set of challenges unique to the Rocky Mountain Mission.

If you are interested in purchasing Brokers of Culture to learn more about Jesuits in the West,go to Stanford University Press’s website or to the Jesuit Retreat Center bookstore in Los Altos. 

Gentleman Jim Corbett's breif encounter with the Jesuits of St. Ignatius College

James J. Corbett, known as Gentleman Jim to boxing fans, became World Heavyweight Champion by knocking out John L. Sullivan. Corbett later earned entry in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

In 1880, when the famed boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett was only 14 and a freshman at the high school division of St. Ignatius College, he twice fought an older student, John Carney. As a result, the Jesuits expelled him. He finished his high school career at Sacred Heart before going on to boxing fame. Carney was later charged with murder in 1898 after a fatal brawl.

We first heard about Corbett’s time at SI from Mike Nerney, who was researching Carney, Nerney’s ancestor and Corbett’s opponent.

SI and USF Archivist Rev. Michael Kotlanger, S.J. ’64 noted that their brawl “must have been the final straw in their academic careers with the Jesuits because in all their time at campus neither student qualified for any of the end-of-the-year academic honors that the school awarded annually to the entire student body.”

Here is his story, taken from Corbett’s book The Roar of the Crowd, published in 1925.

From my first fight I started to run away. This scrap came at an early age, when I was about [14] years old. I was attending St. Ignatius College in San Francisco, and at noon and recess periods was confined to what they called the “Little Yard.” Up to a certain grade you were in the “Little Yard” with the smaller youngsters, and when you were promoted out of the “Little Yard” you could go in the “Big Yard” with the big boys; but I was always large for my age and looked much older than I really was, so I would go to the picnics and they would have prizes for boys under 12 years old, and they would never let me try for them, and I felt rather out of it and often lonely, so whenever I could I would sneak in the “Big Yard” at lunch times to play hand ball and prisoners’ base with the older boys.

The bully of the “Big Yard” was a boy called “Fatty” Carney, but I had never been warned about him. Now about this time, I struck up an acquaintance with a fellow by the name of Hopkins. We used to bring our own lunches, as we lived quite a distance from the school, and this Hopkins boy, whose folks were well-to-do, brought all the finest kinds of cakes and sandwiches. Perhaps this was one of the attractions of the friendship. Anyway, I used to go in and play with him and get some of his lunch, which was much finer than anything I had ever had. In playing prisoners’ base one day, I happened to chase him, and “Fatty” Carney, the bully I have just spoken of, was running after someone else, and Hopkins ran into “Fatty” and Carney promptly hit him. Of course I took Hopkins’ part, as he was my “pal,” and grabbed Carney’s arms and started to fight him then and there, but the other boys interfered and a Brother of the College came and ordered me back to the “Little Yard” where I belonged, but not before Carney had said, “I’ll get you after school!” Someone was then kind enough to inform me that I was up against the toughest fellow in the school.

When school was dismissed that afternoon, one of the boys whispered to me as we marched out in line that Carney was waiting for me outside. My first intention was to run away. There were two exits, and I was trying to decide which was the safer when it suddenly occurred to me that if I [were to run] away, [then] all the boys would laugh at me, and I would be looked upon as a coward. I kept thinking it over while I was marching, but my pride was now aroused, and I said to myself, “I will go out and get licked.” And out I marched on the street, and there was Carney with a bunch of fellows surrounding him, waiting. I was only a kid then, but that afternoon an idea came to me that has since stood me in good stead: to avoid trouble, if possible, but if it lay ahead of me, to be the aggressor and not let the other fellow think I was at all afraid. In my heart I was afraid of Carney then, but I marched right over to him, scared as I was, and said, “Are you waiting for me?” He said “Yes.”

We went around to a lot opposite the United States Mint, called the “Mint Yard,” and the whole school followed. We started to fight. He was a big, strong fellow. If we had been men and in a regular ring, they would have called him the slugger and me a panther, terms much used in descriptions of fights those days.

I had never had a boxing lesson, but occasionally had watched my older brother box. He was six years older than I, and I remembered a few of his tricks, such as looking at the stomach and hitting in the face, just the crude principles of the boxing art.

“Fatty” started to rush me, and as he was stronger and older than I, I began to jump out of his way, trying to make him miss. Then I’d jab at him and jump away, instinctively using my head even at that age, though I didn’t realize it myself. After a few minutes, the police came and scattered us, but by that time I was sure I could whip “Fatty,” and when we ran away from the police, I ran in the same direction that he took, as I wanted to have it out with him. He made for his home, and we came to the “Circus Lot,” used for the circus performances in those days. I had no supporters with me, just two or three of the boys of my own neighborhood who had followed me, while “Fatty” had his whole gang at his back. We started fighting in this lot and I was getting the better of him, and he realized it, so he grabbed hold of me and started to wrestle, and, being much stronger than I, threw me down and proceeded to punch me while I lay underneath him. An old gentleman with a cane stood near, watching us. He took the cane in his hand and stepped in and hit “Fatty” on the back with it and told him he ought to fight boys of his own age and size. I went home with a black eye.

My father, an old-fashioned Irishman, discovered this little souvenir of the fight. Pointing at it, he asked sternly, “Where did you get this?”

I explained the circumstances to him and told him it had been a case of either fighting or running away and being called a coward. I didn’t realize at the time that my father was really proud of me because I had not chosen the other entrance of the school. He asked me who it was I had fought with, and I told him “Fatty” Carney.

“Carney down on Howard Street?” he asked.

In those days San Francisco wasn’t as big as it is now, and everybody knew everybody else, and he repeated, “Carney down on Howard Street? H’m! What d’ye think uv that!” He seemed surprised to think that I had been fighting with this big Carney boy and couldn’t understand it.

I returned to school the next day; so did Carney. Then the older boys in the “Big Yard” came around, making a fuss over me, and I could hear the boys talking and saying to each other, “Why, you ought to have seen him yesterday! This kid was shifting and using judgment just the way professionals do.”

I was surprised and pleased, but the wind was taken out of my sails when the head of the College appeared and put us both out of school. He did not suspend us, but expelled us for good. Anyway, this fight grew to be a legend, a sort of historical event in the school, and was talked of long afterwards, so the boys told me.

From that fight I learned a lesson that has lasted me all my life: that the size of a man does not count, and that by using my head and feet I could lick a man much stronger than myself.

AMDG
St. Ignatius College Preparatory

Courage to Lead; Passion to Serve

2001 37th Avenue San Francisco, CA 94116
(415) 731-7500
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