Catholic San Francisco


Local floral designers such as Natasha Litsa communicate liturgical themes with flowers for the St. Mary’s Cathedral annual Festival of Flowers.

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Cathedral flower festival: Evangelizing through art and beauty
September 18th, 2013
By Christina M. Gray

Flowers have always added color and life to church occasions. But flowers are the occasion itself at the seventh annual Festival of Flowers Oct. 4-6 at St. Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco. The weekend event is free and open to the public. Featuring elaborate floral art exhibits from commissioned floral designers along with smaller displays from local parishes and ecumenical faith communities, the festival is an opportunity for visitors to encounter God through the beauty of creation, according to Msgr. John Talesfore, cathedral rector.

“Flowers, like all sacred art, inspire observers to become active contemplators of the beauty of creation,” said Msgr. Talesfore. “Whether people look at the exhibits spiritually or artistically, they are seeing the work of God.” The premiere of the festival coincides with the feast of St. Francis on Oct. 4.

The festival is open to the public on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for tours. A Gospel/Jazz Mass at 5:30 p.m. features the Bay Area Gospel/Jazz Mass Choir, Dave Scott on trumpet and saxophone, and composer Howard Wiley. On Sunday the festival welcomes visitors from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., although tours of the cathedral are closed during regular Mass times. A Choral/Organ Festival Concert at 3:30 p.m. featuring the cathedral choir concludes the weekend.

Doug Benbow, cathedral director of liturgy and Christian initiation, is the creator and longtime artistic director of the festival. “I was inspired by Brother William Woeger, a liturgical designer respected for his local renovation work at St. Peter’s Church in the Mission and Most Holy Redeemer in the Castro,” he said. Woeger started the first cathedral flower festival in the country at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha. “To my knowledge, we are the only two Roman Catholic cathedrals in the country hosting such events.”

The festival also serves as a centerpiece for the cathedral’s major fundraiser – the Assumpta Award gala – held in the Cathedral Event Center. This year’s recipient of the Assumpta Award is former San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer. A private preview and reception for gala attendees begins at 6 p.m. on Oct. 4.

Joseph Saligao and Yearsly Lizardo-Arce of Custom Floral Design Studio in Daly City will create the principal piece at the baptismal font this year. “It’s a big thing to be asked back,” said Saligao, who created a stir at the Assumpta gala last year with a fashion show of frocks made entirely of flowers.

Included in the weekend program is “Sacred Treasures,” an exhibit showcasing vestments, vessels and other sacred objects gathered from the cathedral’s vaults as well as items from Old Mission Dolores; and the “We Remember” exhibit, a floral memorial to lives lost through violence, war and trauma. After the event closes on Sunday a “Share the Joy” team of volunteers will gather the blooms left behind to create new arrangements for patients at local hospitals and nursing facilities.

The festival draws draws hundreds of people who have lived in San Francisco or the Bay Area all their lives but have never before stepped foot in the cathedral, mother church of the archdiocese.

“This in itself makes the event worthwhile,” said Msgr. Talesfore. “People come in and are awestruck by the building and the flowers.”

Benbow considers the festival a true evangelical event. “We are inviting all to enter and fall in love with the creator of all living things.”

Visit for information on the flower festival. For ticket information on the Assumpta Award gala honoring Archbishop George Niederauer, call (415) 567-2020.


From September 20, 2013 issue of Catholic San Francisco.



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