Catholic San Francisco


(Photo by Christina M. Gray/Catholic San Francisco)

Father Alturo L. Albano, pastor of Mission Dolores Parish, greets parishioners at a fundraising gala on Sept. 7 following a day of commemorative festivities marking the 100th anniversary of the laying of the basilica cornerstone in 1913.

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Mission Dolores: ‘Seedbed of faith’ for Californians past and present
September 25th, 2013
By Christina M. Gray

Tourists, neighbors and passersby at the intersection of Mission and 16th streets in San Francisco’s Mission District surveyed a colorful scene on Sept. 7 as the parish community celebrated the centennial of the laying of the Mission Dolores Basilica cornerstone. A band pumped out energetic tunes. The Knights of Columbus flanked the church steps with swords drawn. Banners flew.

But though the day started with the ceremonial unveiling of a 2013 centennial marker next to the original 1913 cornerstone and ended with a gala fundraiser kicking off a five-year capital campaign, the day was clearly not about an architectural structure. “This is the house of God. This is not just a building,” said Cardinal William J. Levada in a commemorative morning prayer service alongside retired San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer.

“I love the diorama (the illustrated corridor between the Mission and Basilica) – not a building in sight,” Cardinal Levada said. “Not one of us here today can remember a time when this wasn’t a city. It all began here. Mission Dolores has been a seedbed of faith for 237 years.”

The basilica church adjoins the old mission church which was founded in 1776 under the direction of Franciscan Father Junipero Serra. It is the last in a long history of parish churches that have been built to supplement the capacity of the old mission from which San Francisco got its name.

Misión San Francisco de Asis was named by Father Serra for St. Francis of Assisi, though it has become more commonly known as Mission Dolores after a nearby creek called Arroyo de Nuestra Senora de los Dolores, or Our Lady of Sorrows. It was the sixth of 21 California missions founded by Serra for the purpose of converting the native people to the Catholic faith and the Spanish way of life. The first baptism at Mission Dolores was in 1777. Baptisms peaked in 1794 at 180. As a whole, the California mission period saw the baptism of 53,600 adult Indians.

For Robert and Kati Huerta of South San Francisco, parishioners for over 50 years, Mission Dolores is the center of the religious, civic and family life. “All four of our children were baptized, confirmed and educated here,” said Huerta. “Three were married here.”

The Huertas are like many Mission Dolores parishioners who have kept close ties to the parish community, generation after generation.

“All six of my brothers and sisters went to school here and were married at Mission Dolores,” said Indiana Barrenchea at the luncheon following the commemorative Mass.

In an evening Mass, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone said the story of Mission Dolores holds lessons for the modern missionaries of the Catholic faith today. “There is a connection between discipleship and mission,” he said. “On this day, we can’t help but think of the earliest missionaries who planted the first seeds of Christianity and gave San Francisco its name. They paid a high price for their discipleship and we thank them. Let us take inspiration from our predecessors that the church may continue to grow, here and beyond.”

Events are free and open to the whole family.

Presidio Walk
Saturday, Sept. 28, 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
Four-and-a-half-mile hike from Mission Dolores to Rob Hill Campground in the Presidio. Listen to native “Chochecho” language, coyote stories and more around the campfire. Dinner, s’mores and shuttle back to the mission included.

Mission Day of the Dead
Saturday, Nov. 2, 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
Remember lost loved ones at an All Souls Mass and process to the mission cemetery where mission staff and volunteers will invite visitors to create traditional Day of the Dead art and sample cultural treats.

Guadalupe Festival Mass
Dec. 12, 5 a.m.
As part of Mexican tradition, thousands of rose petals are dropped from the cupola above the congregation during a traditional Mananitas Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mass is followed by a breakfast of Mexican tamales, hot chocolate and sweet rolls.

For more information, call (415) 621-8203 or visit



From September 27, 2013 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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