Father Oreste Trinchieri was a member of the Salesian order, which was founded in 1859 by a young Italian priest, Father John Bosco. Father Bosco made it his life’s work to help street children in his native Turin, using a then-unheard-of approach based on love rather than punishment. Bosco’s tenets were simple: love children because they are children; always take time to listen to them; love what they love. Bosco’s efforts on behalf of these despised and abandoned youth led to his canonization in 1934. 

In 1897, four Salesian priests came to San Francisco to head the moribund SS. Peter and Paul Church, at the time located at the corner of Filbert and DuPont (now Grant) streets. They had worked in missions in Palestine, Mexico and Argentina, pursuing their order’s special emphasis on helping Catholic youth. They revitalized SS. Peter and Paul, making it the church for all the Italian immigrants in the city.

But they were unable to vanquish the epidemic of youthful misbehavior in the neighborhood. As Donald Andrew Casper writes in his 1964 biography “Oreste Trinchieri, S.D.B.: An Apostle of Youth,” “The North Beach of 50 years ago was infested with juvenile delinquency. Gangs congregated on street corners, thronged into the alleys, and made the area unsafe … Little or nothing was done to help the delinquents of North Beach before the arrival of Father Trinchieri.”

Father Trinchieri’s first move was to establish the first Boy Scout troops in North Beach, following the credo that boys who had gotten into trouble simply needed something constructive to do. The change was instantaneous. Wayward boys that the two North Beach beat policemen, officers McDonald and O’Conner, had held in suspicion, and sometimes had to lock up, started going on 14-mile night hikes in Marin to Camp Taylor, singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” around campfires at 2 a.m., marching in parades and selling Liberty Bonds to help the war effort. When the war ended in 1918 and scouting became less popular, Father Trinchieri began what would prove to be his most important intervention in the lives of North Beach youth: organizing sports teams. In 1921, he started the Salesian Boys’ Club, whose clubhouse was in the old church parish house on Grant Avenue. Drawing on the 300 Boy Scouts he had signed up, he started a Salesian basketball team.

All the while, Father Trinchieri was a constant presence in North Beach. He was The City’s original “street priest,” unafraid to walk into the quarter’s most disreputable dives at any time of day or night. “Each day the North Beach police department welcomed his visits and released their most notorious, case-hardened boys into his care,” Semenza recalled. “At night, you were bound to encounter him pacing the alleys and saloons, a striking figure in those dark back streets, heading off trouble.”

His efforts paid off. North Beach went from being the neighborhood with the largest number of juvenile delinquents in The City to the neighborhood with one of the lowest.

Father Trink’s legacy lives on. On June 18, 2022, the club he founded — now called the Salesian Boys’ and Girls’ Club — celebrated its 100th anniversary. It has over 600 youth members, of all races and ethnicities, to whom it offers a wide range of activities. Last year, it awarded over $250,000 in scholarships to more than 50 members to assist with grammar, high school and college tuition.

Full story at SF Examiner.