The following comes from a story by Brother Larry Scrivani from Cuperino in Catholic San Francisco.
First part of an occasional series marking the birth bicentennial of Joseph Sadoc Alemany, the Spanish-born Dominican missionary priest who served as the first archbishop of San Francisco (1853-1884).
It came as a total surprise. Weeks earlier he had sailed from New York to attend a general convocation of his Dominican order in Rome. Upon arriving he learned the gathering had been cancelled.
But all was not wasted. The cardinal in charge of foreign missions had news for him. So Jose Alemany, a missionary from the Tennessee frontier, presented his short and wiry self to Cardinal Franzoni, the Prefect of Propaganda Fide.
He left Franzoni’s salon a shaken man. The “news” was that the bishops of the United States had nominated him to be Bishop of Monterey in the New Territories out West. Worse, Pope Pius IX had appointed him to that post and he was to have an interview with the pope five days hence.
Panic-stricken, Alemany poured out his heart to his Dominican superior who approved for him to decline the office. But when Alemany arrived for his papal interview, the pope spoke first. As if reading Alemany’s mind he said, “You really must go to California; there is no alternative.” And he added:
“Where others are drawn by gold, you must go to carry the cross. Do not ponder over what to say or do for the Lord will direct you at the proper time.”
Alemany’s response? “I shut my mouth.”
In retrospect, Alemany’s career seems to have prepared him for this mission as if providence had written the script for his life.
It had begun in his youth when the Bonapartist revolution in his native Spain forced him to accept exile as the price for becoming a priest. Anti-clericalism in Europe had made Alemany cosmopolitan.
It continued during his ten years in the frontier diocese of Nashville where he observed the best and the worst of Yankee attitudes toward the Catholic faith. He learned English and he took the oath of citizenship in Memphis.
He recalled how President Andrew Jackson had invited him and a French Dominican to dinner at his estate called the Hermitage. Jackson showed the two priests his private chapel and told them:
“Gentlemen, we shall always be happy that you or any other clergymen come here to preach to us the lessons of religion.”
From this experience Alemany concluded: “I prefer to adhere to the fearless old patriot of the Hermitage, and to the humane and noble sentiments of the Constitution, engraved in the breast of every American, which secures all the free exercise of their religion, and opens its ports and glorious blessings to the oppressed of all nations.”
So Alemany left Rome as a man on a mission. In France he arranged funding from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. He obtained three Dominican men and three Dominican women to accompany him to California. In Paris, he arranged for the Daughters of Charity to follow in 1852.
Then in Ireland he began the long association of his diocese with the Missionary College of All Hallows which was to send many priests to California. Finally, he visited John Henry Newman at the Birmingham Oratory in England.
His little band of seven took ship in Liverpool in September 1850 bound for New York; thence to Panama and finally to San Francisco. The voyage took 68 days. The party landed at Yerba Buena Cove on Dec. 7, 1850. The very next day was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Nine days later, Alemany wrote John Henry Newman, “The Providence of God will, no doubt, be good to us.”
JOSEPH SADOC ALEMANY
July 13, 1814: Born in Vich, Catalonia, Spain
March 27, 1837: Ordained to the priesthood in Viterbo, Italy
1840-1845: Missionary priest on the Ohio and Tennessee frontier
Oct. 27, 1845: Takes oath of citizenship in Memphis, Tenn.
June 30, 1850: Ordained bishop for the Diocese of Monterey in California
July 29, 1853: Transferred to the new Archdiocese of San Francisco
Dec. 21, 1884: Resignation from the see of San Francisco accepted by Pope Leo XIII
April 14, 1888: Dies in Valencia, Catalonia, Spain
1935: Alemany Boulevard in San Francisco named for him
1965: Alemany’s remains reinterred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Colma
To read the original story, click here.