The following comes from a Nov. 13 posting on the blog of Father Joseph Illo in San Francisco.
Early Sunday morning I knelt before the tabernacle in a large empty church in a big city. The church is my church, Star of the Sea in San Francisco. My prayer is distracted by thinking of all the work that must be done to keep this parish alive. In New York, Archbishop Dolan is closing 31 parishes and merging another 81. One of them is the church in which I was baptized, Star of the Sea in the Bronx. When the Archbishop of San Francisco asked me to take Star of the Sea here, I told him confidently that I could certainly bring more life into the parish. But kneeling in this vast empty church, my confidence is waning. Confidence in myself, that is.
Over the past 20 years of parish work in the Central Valley, I worked hard and expected people to respond. People did respond—our Mass attendance, lay apostolates, and income doubled in a few years. That made me feel good, and naturally led to the pride common in successful pastors. Now, however, kneeling in this vast empty church, I get the feeling that it is humility time. I begin to see that nothing I do will double the number of Catholics coming to this parish. There’s too much competition for their time and money in this city; secularism has devastated family life in San Francisco. I can’t drive success here like I did in Modesto.
I’m 53 years old and it’s time to surrender to God. In the first 25 years of the priesthood, I worked at a frenzied pace, depending a lot on myself. As I get older, God is giving me the gift of weakness, so that He may be strong. As my aging father said recently, “I’m getting too old to keep denying reality.” The reality is, it is God who grants the increase. Even if He is pleased to accept our help, He certainly doesn’t depend on it.
So I stay in this empty church, and it is God I find in it, not myself. He has largely erased my own powers, and the affirmation that comes to a priest when his church bursts with people. In a greater measure, then, I have found the only beauty and love that never wanes, but only grows brighter with time. God has brought me to this vast empty church to find Him, in whom my heart is glad.
To read the original posting, click here.
In addition to prayer, teaching the TRUTH of the Faith by encouraging all Literate Laity to read at HOME –
Sacred Scripture, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition which contains the Doctrine of the Faith are the main things one can do to combat RELATIVISM, Secularism, and Materialism.
As others have stated, these are the two most important books in our Faith.
I will pray for you and your Church tonight.
Jesus said few will get to Heaven and many will not.
Never doubt His words.
Mt 7:13-14; Lk 13:23-28.
At 53, Father Illo is one of the rising Stars of the Church in California. If anyone can improve a parish it is he. I have been priviledged to attend Fr. Illo’s TLM in Ventura Mission (before the new pastor Fr. Thomas Elewaut expelled us after 16 years of every-Sunday TLMs) and then in St. Mary Magdalen Chapel in Camarillo (high mass every Sunday at 10 am, do try us). This Holy priest is a force of nature and was a tremendous blessing as Chaplain of Thomas Aquinas College. He has established an Oratory at Star of the Sea where priests and seminarians pray and together like St. Philip Neri did in Rome. I am happy that I contributed financially to the foundation of Illo’s Oratory and fully expect it will be one of the best investments we ever did for the Church. Star of the Sea parish will be flourishing in no time, I am certain. Thank you dear Fr. Illo for your service to the Catholic Church.
Que Dios se lo pague.
Do not lose heart! The evil one is after you.
Know that many of us faithful Catholics are praying for you!!!
Father Illo- keep the faith! I wish that I lived in SF so that I could be one of your parishioners. Keep praying- God will show you a way! You are loved by God and his people!
A Catholic Church is never empty. God bless you.
And it appears as if He has. The Church is filled with the Lord, His Mother, the angels that constantly worship at each tabernacle and if you ask, He will send a saint for each “empty” place in the pews.
Now that is a smaller holier Church.
You are in fine company.
This is a lovely response to a wonderful priest. Thank you.
Absolutely beautiful, Anonymous, and true!
Fr. Joseph Illo your church looks so beautiful as a Cathedral should look. I will keep you in my prayers. Father even if you have a few parishioners, as long as they are faithful, then consider yourself blessed.
“… I will keep you in my prayers. Father even if you have a few parishioners, as long as they are faithful, then consider yourself blessed.”
Well said, Abeca.
You are also in my prahers Fr. Illo.
I think that our recent Popes and Church leaders have all desperately needed to get very serious, about their commitment to Catholicism! Take the Faith seriously– and run our Church and its institutions correctly! Otherwise– we will have more and more closures of Catholic schools, universities, hospitals, seminaries– and parish churches, all over the world! Since Vatican II– our poor Church has been on very shaky ground! The Vatican II Church is too worldly, superficial, and too incorrect— falsely ecumenized, “Protestantized!” It is not the correct religion of Christ! The bizarre “non-leadership” concept, of post-Vatican II Church leaders– is too destructive!! With good, dedicated leadership, and a Pope and Church leaders who stand strongly for Christ’s teachings, and with excellent, traditional Catechism programs– all of our parish churches would be full of eager Catholics, daily practicing their Faith! And tons of religious vocations would also result!
Fr. Joseph Illo, start a Underground Catholic! Church that teaches the whole truth, love the sinner, but hate the sin!!
Start doing Eucharistic adoration. Spend your time with Jesus.
I agree, With Eucharistic Adoration how can you go wrong as Jesus, the Foundation of the Church is here present in the Eucharist. Be humble to adore Jesus alone, someone will come because the rays of Jesus Mercy will reach far and wide.
God Bless you Father! Hang in there! I will keep you in my prayers.
Ed H., Fairfax, VA
I am about to leave for Mass (San Diego area). I will offer Mass for you and all the “good priests” who are so committed to saving souls by teaching the Truth. Satan and secularism have a stronghold on our country and our world. Don’t despair — we are rooting for you and God is on our side!
I worship in a Catholic Church with many other Catholics. The problem is that they all have grey hair. Most all of the young families have gone. Where? They have gone to a non-denominational church where I am told that worship is alive, the pastor is involved in every aspect of family life, and scripture has become a lifeway for them. They have found meaning, redemption in Christ, and joy (not happiness) is present. Just leaving a comment.
Kicking a man when he is down and lording this Protestant church’s success over him? Is that what Jesus would do? If you want to see hundreds of young Catholics at a Sunday mass, then attend a mass in Latin at an FSSP parish. Its easier to count (usually on one or two hands) the number of people in attendance over the age of 50 than under. BTW, I do not attend an FSSP parish though one is available in my area, so I am not endorsing these parishes per se. Just leaving a comment.
The young families are at the 9:00am Sunday Mass at Thomas Aquinas College Chapel in Santa Paula. Fr. Illo used to be a chaplain at this fine school.
Growing up in San Francisco, we attended a Catholic School…..the Finest, the
Greatest and the Best. The whole school attended the 9:00 a.m. mass. Is this a possibility at Star of the Sea grammar school. That would fill the church, at least once a week and perhaps bring the parents of the students to mass also. Fr. Illo
and Fr Driscoll, you are in our prayers. Also, as was suggested, could you start Eucharistic Adoration, perhaps 3 hours a week to start with. The Evil One is at work so you must be succeeding. God Bless you and your efforts. You are in our prayers – especially the Rosary. Our Blessed Mother will never let us down.
Pray the Rosary for your intentions, Father. Ask Our Lady to bring the people. She is the signpost that points everyone to Her Son. God bless you.
“Pray the Rosary for your intentions, Father. Ask Our Lady to bring the people. She is the signpost that points everyone to Her Son. God bless you.”
See You Tube The Legion of Mary: it’s global mission Part 1
San Francisco Senatus Office Address: 2748 Juniper Serra Blvd, Daly City, Ca, 94015 Telephone: 415-665-5542
Email Address: contact (at) sfsenatus (dot) com
May God bless continue to bless you Father Joseph Illo. Our Lady has great confidence in you!
JESUS I TRUST IN YOU
praying for your intentions Father. South Carolina
It sounds like the plans discussed here only six months ago have been scrapped or not even tried. Maybe it’s time to look to younger priests to head up young adult ministries?
When it comes to the Sacraments, and accurately teaching the Faith according to the Bible and CCC, age does not matter.
TRUTH knows no age.
“….. let us ask ourselves if we have actually taken a few steps to get to know Christ and the truths of faith more, by reading and meditating on the Scriptures, studying the Catechism, steadily approaching the Sacraments.” – Pope Francis , May 15, 2013.
In addition to the Rosary, which is of huge promise, also ask your dear patron- St. Joseph to guide you and your flock. In a city so highly influenced by the demonic,go to Joseph the terror of demons!
It is wonderful, to see so many prayers and good wishes, offered for this good priest! I fear that a lovely, traditional parish church like Star of the Sea, may someday be on the list of church closures! The beautiful Tridentine Mass is offered here, yet few people attend it! So sad! After Vatican II, Catholics were so discouraged from all interest in the old Latin Mass and pre-Vatican II devotions and traditions, that most of them gave up, thinking that their old Mass and traditions were worthless and inferior, compared to the Church’s modern innovations! Star of the Sea church has a perfect location, on Geary Blvd., easy to get to, in San Francisco! The 11a.m. Sunday Latin Tridentine Mass should be the easiest thing in the world to attend, for interested Catholics! Too bad this Mass is not packed, requiring more than one Sunday Tridentine Mass, as in the era prior to Vatican II!! I, too, pray for SUCCESS for Fr. Illo’s beautiful church!
I will add one more thing, to my above post. This is in regards to modern “wreckovation” projects, in Catholic churches. I read recently, that Fr. Illo is planning to “wreckovate” his Confessionals, to allow for “face to face” confessions, for some parishioners, including children. I think this is a terrible mistake, very destructive to a lovely, 100+-year-old traditional church, and a pitiful waste of money!
Please Father keep the faith you have the TLM there, that alone is your connection to Jesus Christ. Start adoration times, enlist as many boys that you can to serve with you at the TLM, Remember you are the altus Chirstus he will never desert you. Proclaim to the city that you offer the Mass of All Times and they will come young and old white, asian, black , hispanic. Start a Gregorian chant schola, many people do not know the TLM is offered there. We will pray for you good Father.
I attend a very orthodox church (St. Margaret’s, Oceanside) and there are many young families. Most receive on the tongue (including young children), in one form. There are “smells and bells”, altar BOYS only, everything is done in precision and very reverently. Starting 30 minutes before every Mass, and throughout Mass, lines of people go to confession. Music is sacred — chant, organ music only. Masses are packed. Do not break from tradition. Too many parishes are already “Protestant”.
I agree one hundred percent. When the churches were like these years ago, the churches are packed.
Father, I can’t believe I saw this picture of Star of the Sea Parish on your blog site, linked to Spirit Daily. I was confirmed at this church as a 12 year old 8th grade student, along with almost my entire class of 40 students, 34 years ago this month. If not for that school, and the excellent catechesis I received there from the Sisters of St. Joseph, I would likely not be a Catholic today. Never EVER give up! You never know how your presence will affect someone for the better, even years later.
From the biography of St. Philip Neri:
“he went out to work at the hospital of the incurables and starting (sic) speaking to others about God, everyone from beggars to bankers.
In 1548 Philip formed a confraternity with other laymen to minister to pilgrims who came to Rome without food or shelter. (Maybe those days of SF are over, but it is still a tourist town.)
“Be humble and obedient and the Holy Spirit will teach you.”
Hit the streets and be joyful and say something uplifting to everyone you meet.
Take a page from the evangelicals who feel as if they have failed God if they have not brought someone to Jesus every week (or to at least have tried.) (They report it for praise in their churches.)
You are a missionary now. I live in a mission area of the US. There are whole counties with less than 100 Catholics. The first thing they do after setting up the Mass schedules and contacting Catholics in the area, is start a ministry to the poor. I know that your ministry was to be to young adults. Even in San Francisco, men lead lives of quiet desperation. People are looking for success because they are looking for significance. I know a lot of priests who would love to have your parish. Do you need donations? Praying for you and your ministry.
Within the 50 years of being Catholic, I have seen and heard the good and bad homilies, liberalism among the clergy, unfriendly and friendly priests, unholy and holy priests. And the following is what impresses me of a priest. A bold priest who teaches what sin or holy action does to a soul, how the sacraments helps a soul to reach heaven or where it goes without sacraments, how caring the priests is to someone needy, how vigilant he is in rules of order inside the church, and the kind of reverence given to Jesus/Blessed Sacrament. His main goal should be saving souls and not the management of the Parish trying to look good in the eyes of the Bishop. And finally, a role model and a prayer warrior.
“Fr. Illo”: A strange lament, given the opening provided by Abp. Cordileone to provide Tradition to a starving San Francisco. Forget the present direction of the Church, as Pope Francis seeks to decimate all conservative (much less Traditional) priests and bishops, to better grind out his vision of a Latin American–Liberation Theology Catholic Church. Stand up for Mother Church and Her teachings and beliefs for two centuries.
You have a power to assist in saving what little is left of Christ’s Holy Church. Do not be so self-possessed and do not raise your prior victories; what was it that someone said, “false modesty is the worst conceit.” You have a gift, Father, now use it like never before; make the Church shine with her glory. Increase use of all sacraments in the Extraordinary Form and include teaching of these to all parishioners (so that none can claim, “we did not know”).
You may well suffer, really suffer, if you follow Tradition, Father. The Pope does not like this, and the Archbishop certainly knows which way the wind blows within the Church. (Although, Abp. Cordileone is clearly conflicted, and may be trying to do the right thing — help him with prayer, and example, Father.) Good luck, we will pray for you.
Father Illo, thank you for sharing your thoughts so honestly. I so agree, that only through weakness can God work through us. If only more people learned this, they could avoid the sin of pride that comes from self-conceit in one’s own cleverness and strength . When the pews start filling up, as they are sure to do, to God be the glory and the joy of one humble priest. I don’t know why people seem to think you’re in need of advice as I it’s obvious you’re learning from the hand of the Master.
Dana, thanks for saying what i was thinking:)
What the Archbishop has done, bringing the TLM and Oratorio to this parish, is a great thing. It provides a parish for those who prefer the TLM and the location is convenient. But, why the empty church? In business we referred to companies who were trying to renew themselves as 75 year old start-ups. In other words you managed the company as if it were brand new, and not 75 years old. Church is not a business, we know that. But some of the “rules” for managing a start-up may apply. The Parish needs a solid Vision of what it wants to be and a simple, easily understood Mission Statement. The Mission Statement should be a few words, a sentence at the most. The Vision can be a couple of sentences that describe what it will be in five or ten years. Then it needs an honest assessment of its strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities. This involves not only looking at the prayer life of the parish, but the makeup of the intended parishioners. Whom are they trying to attract. It needs to know the demographics of the area it serves. What percent of people in The City are Catholics, how many go to church, what is the age breakdown of the potential parishioners, etc. and etc.? There needs to be a good understanding of the “product” (sorry for the business terms) you are using to attract potential parishioners and how you will do it.
If ever there was a time for a “flash” Mass to a church, this is the time, but I am too old and too far away to be involved in one, so Fr. Illo from me you will get prayers. You and other priests like you gave me strength when I needed it before, so today I went to a prayers for priests website and said prayers for you and all priests. I do get on your website at times, though I have not subscribed, and find it very lovely and uplifting, so I pray the Lord uplift your soul, too, this morning. Just remember, “It is always darkest before the dawn”, and “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” It happen literally one time in my house when I had a dark hour in the middle of the night and was praying and asking the Good Lord what I should do, then a gush of wind came through a uncovered pipe in my kitchen wall, slammed a door to one of my rooms which blew open a crank window. A miraculous sign for me indeed that I have never forgotten. He really does open a window when he closes a door. May he open doors for you is my prayer.
I have never set foot inside the big glass Cathedral in Oakland, although I hear it is a very nice place – but I have taught as a Substitute in the Oakland Diocese at nearby schools where they didn’t even have jungle gyms for the youngest – or gym class for the older students.
Saint John Paul II Catholic High School was supposed to be a reality by now, but those in charge of building funds had priorities ‘grander’ than Faith Development for the Young and Free Catholic Education to those who could not afford it.
SSADly there were also a whole lot of Attorneys to be paid (40% of the cut) for the unwillingness to police our own Priesthood from the Few Homosex Ephebophile Infiltrators and their ‘tolerant’ Enablers who have done so much harm – and in so many places still do.
Michael Voris of CMTV has warned about a ‘Retreat in to Piety’ when feeling overwhelmed by the Gaystapo Attacks on the Faith.
Yet it is the Church Militant that is so desperately needed here on earth which should be the guardians of the Faith and its Formation. ]
However, the cost of such a Church is not just money donated on Sunday, but Lives Lived with Grace in the face of growing persecution – and a willingness to stand up to such persecutors, even if they tar you with ‘Un-Happy’ names.
This is a holy priest I’m sure, otherwise the Archbishop would not have given him this challenge. He may be going through a phase in his life, so we need to pray for him. At the same time, however, he says he is only 53 years old. He is in the prime of life. He has fifteen to twenty years of good work ahead of him. I visited the parish web site, read a series of Sunday bulletins, scanned the “activities” available, etc. Very little would attract someone to that parish, except the fact that they have the TLM. Perhaps that is where he should put his emphasis. What is his strategic plan to grow the TLM attendance over the next couple of years? Where will he advertise? What will the ads look like? How can he change an old fashion web site into a powerful attraction and useful tool for potential parishioners? How will the parish keep the Facebook page up to date and useful for the older parishioners? How will the instagram and twitter sites be kept up to day on a daily basis to be useful to the younger potential parishioners? The job of the Pastor is to take care of the pastoral needs of the parish. Everything else should be done, under his direction, by other people. His staff should worry about the temporal needs.
The typical liberal man-centered thoughts turning a sorrowful situation into perceived beauty. It is good to see a man become humble and turn to our Creator for understanding; however, it is as though the man has given up, leaving it all up to God. Many of us probably get that way the old and more tired we get, but does God really want us to give up? Our own personal wills yes, in favor of His, all for the Honor and Glory of God, but not to give up on our zest for work for God. He will point us in His direction and He knows our abilities to carry through with His mission He has assigned us. Go therefore ye to all nations preaching the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Where have we heard all that before? Scriptures I think! That doesn’t mean each and everyone of us is expected to reach the very ends of the earth, for their is enough work to do in our own neighborhoods.
A very important point that has been ignored here is why? Why is the Star of the Sea church empty? One cannot fix a problem, like repopulate the church without understanding why people aren’t attending there anymore. How many souls should be expected every Sunday? How many are actually there on Sunday?
I used to live in Star of the Sea Parish, but it has changed. The majority of people in that neighborhood are not Catholics, so, if we don’t want to see yet ANOTHER solid, old Catholic Parish closed, we need to work hard.
And by working hard I am not talking about raising money, I am talking about converting the people who now live there to the Catholic faith.
My wife and I did census work there years ago for our pastor, and all too many people said they had “no religion” or were “Buddhists by culture” which of course means no real religion at all.
We need to work hard on saving souls, which means pounding the pavement and telling each person in that parish about the Lord Jesus, the Roman Catholic Church, and how conversion can bring them not only joy and community and bliss in this life, but eternal life with God!
Dear Father Illo: your church is not empty because Catholics in San Francisco are lured away by cafés and such. Your church is empty because the neighborhood has changed from Catholic families (Irish, Italian, etc.) to Chinese families, and you must reach out to bring the Good News to them.
Go door to door, like the Mormons, and evangelize these Chinese families so they can learn about Jesus, the Sacraments, and the joys of being a Roman Catholic.
Your prayer is good, but it must be coupled with a missionary zeal to transform the people of your new neighborhood from people with no religion to people who embrace the Catholic Faith.
It will not be easy, and many people will be indifferent or even hostile. However, if you want your parish to flourish, you need to realize that you truly live in a missionary zone.
God bless your efforts to evangelize the people among whom you live!
Perhaps it is because the modern church has left God, removing from it His 7 Holy Sacraments, and the Sanctifying and Actual Graces that flow from those Holy Sacraments. Without those Graces, we haven’t a chance to hold onto our Roman Catholic Faith.
Father Illo is very, very smart and a charismatic figure. This Parish and Oratory will be running perfectly in no time.