It must be called for what it is and the public must, at least, know about it.
The behavior of the San Francisco Archdiocese Corporation Sole on the matter of Our Lady of Guadalupe's Sanctuary in San Francisco is below contempt. Even by the loosest standards to measure human behavior, theirs, on December 12, 2011, is beyond the pale.
To wit: On November 15, 2011, Señorita Clementina Garcia Landgrave*, personally hand-delivered a letter to the Office of the Archdiocese requesting them to open the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, (Located on 906, 908 and 910 Broadway St. San Francisco in the Russian Hill District), so members of our Community could honor Our Lady on her day by serenading her with the traditional Mexican Mañanitas, following in a primarily Mexican San Francisco tradition that started 87 years ago (December 12, 1924). It followed a 480 year old tradition of honoring her that started in the Great Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, at El Tepeyac, where our Mexican-Native-American Ancestors had been honoring her for far longer than that, to even before the genocidal european invasion.
A staff person took the letter from Srta. Clementina, dated and signed its receipt.
Last Dec. 12, Monday, we did arrive at the Church and found its doors closed and locked.
We can not think of anywhere in the world where there is a temple dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe that has been closed on a December 12, even without asking; in our culture and traditions, it is a given. And it happened in San Francisco California.
In our hearts, albeit laden with sadness, it didn't make a difference in fulfilling our commitment to our devotion, we knew we'd be there, rain or shine, open or closed doors, we wanted to do what our ancestors have been doing for so long; and we did.
For The Record: I learned today, Tue. Dec. 13, 2011, from a reliable source, that a letter from the Archdiocese dated Nov. 30, 2011 was received on Fri. Dec. 9. The envelope's Postmark is Dec. 7, 2011. In it, according to my source, it names our church and Dec. 12, but no answer to the petition of 'if they would please open the doors of the SF Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe so we could honor her as is has been traditionally done in that church and on that Day'.
Instead it says that 'devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is a most precious treasure of Hispanic Catholic Spirituality". It suggests not to be devoted to any particular 'building', like this one 'that once served as a place of worship', pointed to the pilgrimage from South San Francisco to the San Francisco Cathedral (Aprox. 10mi.) Held on the Saturday closest to December 12 and urging us to go to other parishes which also have the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
There are several factors at play worth considering for the purpose of a closer understanding of past incidents that culminated in the event of Dec. 12, 2011.
The Church was built in 1875 with the money of Mexicans who were then living in that area - around a street aptly named Street of The Mexicans - and their allies, mainly from Spain and Portugal to receive Ministry in Spanish. It was burned to the ground in the fire of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The framed image of our Lady survived the fire because a young Mexican couple rescued and buried it in the ground, thus preserving it for the temple that was rebuilt in 1912. It is probably the first church in SF built with reinforced concrete.
Citing decline of churchgoers mainly due to changing demographics and over the pleadings and objections of the parishioners, it was closed in 1991 alongside 3 other parishes in the first round of church closings in the San Francisco Archdiocese. Upon learning that the Archdiocese was going to sell Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and that it may even be demolished (High price value land), members of the Latino Community mobilized to stop the sale and possible demolition. The two year struggle that ensued ended in 1994 when they saw the result of their efforts in petitioning and lobbying the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and The Historic Preservation Commission, when the church was designated San Francisco Historical Landmark # 204. Under this status the sale was stopped and non-parish uses for it were considered.
The Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 caused slight damage to the building that housed the St. Mary's Chinese School, hence the children had to be relocated until retrofitting upgrades and repairs to the building were made, the church of Our Lady fit the bill, albeit cramped, it could provide temporary shelter for them - the parishioners were told - their requests that the church be returned to the community were put aside because it was for the children's need. Fittingly, it was Our Lady of Guadalupe Church that was going to provide refuge for them.
No soon after a three year term for housing the school was agreed on, word came down from the Archdiocese that it was going to be for five years, members of our community protested the unilateral change of terms to no avail. Church Officials estimated that the retrofitting costs to the old building were prohibitive, a decision was made to sell the old building and with its sale proceeds buy an empty lot and build a brand new school building. It turned out to be sixteen and one half years that the school was housed at Our Lady's Church. The St. Mary's Chinese School brand new approx. $27 million total cost, 4 1/2-story building was ready to be occupied in June 2011.
Prior to this, over the past few years through 'friendly' channels in the Archdiocese, word was coming out that the Archdiocese planned to sell the church as soon as it was vacant again. Attempts to have the Archdiocese inform us of its plans for the church, or to acknowledge that members of our community wanted to have the church for our community. Or to have an opportunity to talk or negotiate were futile. Back in the 90s, our community's representatives made a serious offer for the church to the Archdiocese. Nothing came out of it. Early 2011, we were still trying to get a meeting with legal representatives of the Archdiocese to discuss the final disposition of the church, or at least to let us know their plans for it.
In a letter dated June 3, 2011, from F.A.N.S. de Guadalupe and the Latino Heritage and Landmark Preservation Foundation to the Archdiocese, in reference to a January 31, 2011 letter where they requested a meeting to discuss the sale of the church, was answered on February 28, 2011 in a letter from Monsignor Tarantino, Vicar for Administration/Moderator of the Curia, granting a meeting with him and father Moisés Agudo, archdiocesan vicar for Spanish-speaking, to be held on March 11, 2011.
During this process and also early this year, we discovered an online listing for the sale of Our Lady of Guadalupe, referred to as St. Mary's Chinese School (A former catholic parish) For $3.5 million, listed for sale on 11/19/2010 and Set Off-Market on 3/18/2011. But for whatever reason, on the meetting of March 11, 2011, when queried about the listing and why we were not being told by the Archdiocese about it, a factually incorrect statement was made, "That the church was Off-Market", that statemente was made a week before it went Off-Market. Our representatives let it go at that. It was not until 05/03/2011, in a letter from Reverend Monsignor James T. Tarantino who told us what they were not going to do "There are no plans now or in the future to reopen the church building as a parish or for any other religious purposes", to "Strongly encourage" Us and "Solicit our help" To support an Icon of the Italian-American Community, The Shrine of St. Francis, and pointing out the "Numerous other parishes named after our Blessed Mother that our Mexican-Latin-American communities should attend", but no answer to the question of whether or not, the Archdiocese of San Francisco Corporation Sole, still considers the sale of this church a viable option.
When the long requested meeting with legal representatives of the Archdiocese was finally held on March 11, 2011, it was suddenly cut short, but not before our representatives were told again to attend other parishes, that Our Lady of Guadalupe was 'just another church'.
The last speaks volumes to our having failed to convey to the Archdiocese that for our community -- or maybe it does show the stark reality of an uncaring and complete intransigent Corporation -- The Our Lady of Guadalupe Sanctuary is more than 'just another church', just 'another building'; for us it is infinitely more than that. Our position is that it was built and paid twice by our community. Therefore, it belongs to our community. We have been asking that negotiations toward reaching an agreement do take place. No yes or no, only ignoring us first and then evading the question.
Furthermore, these discussions must include the matters of prior understandings regarding the final disposition of the church and its condition before it is returned to our community. We also need to talk about the Crown for Our Lady, made by Mexicans, many women donated even their wedding rings to be melted down to make the Crown. It does not belong to the Archdiocese, but they took it and its whereabouts are unknown to us. The Archdiocese also has the church history's archives, our access to them was one extraordinary and extremely restrictive exception to date. There is much historical and cultural information that our community is being denied access to. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is the only remaining structure in San Francisco built by Mexicans. It reminds us that Mexicans once lived in San Francisco in that era and before. There is not much on it anywhere else. We share that distinction with the Native Americans living here before us. Except by the scant Wikipedia entry full of omissions, it is like if Mexicans all of a sudden 'appeared' in the Mission Distrit. Other than that, any search about "Mexicans in San Francisco" Will yield results about taquerias, tacos and burritos and not much else.
In a letter dated June 28, 2011 and signed by "Most Reverend George Niederauer Archbishop of San Francisco" (Cc: His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. Cc: Archbishop Pietro Sambi. Cc: Monsignor Tarantino) where he informs us that: "-- It is now the intent of the Archdiocese of San Francisco to sell the property and use the proceeds to complete the final phase of St. Mary's Chinese School. --", He goes on to cite Archdiocese's statistics of Hispanic Ministries (Not Latino? These are not interchangeable by definition or by culture.), he continues by noting, "those are merely highlights of Hispanic Ministry in this Archdiocese. As your shepherd I urge you to become involved in this fine and effective ministerial outreach, and to conclude your efforts to re-open a church that has been closed for twenty years and is located in a neighborhood where virtually no Hispanics live and worship".
Perhaps our good Archbishop, being from Los Angeles and not using it, does not know about the excellent San Francisco Public Transportation System, in addition to other modes of transportation, including our feet; because in San Francisco's 7 X 7 miles area, it seems that when it comes to districts situated on the side of the Bay, many areas are within 'walking distance' from each other.
Just for reference:
- Off BART at the Embarcadero station: Muni Lines #10 and #12, Travel time: about 16 mins, Cost: $2.00,( $0.75 for Seniors) - one bus every 15 mins during able hours.
- San Francisco Caltrain Station, route from San Jose through the Peninsula -- Muni line #10, Travel time: about 22 mins, Cost: $2.00 -- Muni Line #30, Travel time: about 27 mins, Cost: $2.00 (Since this line cuts through the Financial District (Kearney)and the heart of the highly populated Chinatown neighborhood, there seems to be one Muni bus #30 coming down the street every time you look).
After that letter arrived, on one occasion, Srta. Clementina sarcastically quipped 'the Chinese Community's School was housed in Our Church for sixteen and one half years, they have a brand new building, the Archdiocese wants to sell the church to finish paying off for their school and the Latino community gets less than a one hour meeting where mostly we were told to forget about it all?" And that our request for a follow-up meeting was answered over the phone with a...(?) "You are not entitled to a meeting". "It hardly seems fair. Our community was the one who built that church and has been telling them that it belongs to our people. That we want to return it to them". No response to even exploring for a mutually beneficial solution and agreenment to settle the matter.'
There is one fact of which the Archdiocese of San Francisco must be completely clear, we are not going away, even if our church is sold, the buyer(s) will inherit us. One must hope that, for a change, the SF Archdioces is honest enough to inform any prospective buyer of that fact. We will continue to fight, we will challenge any sale. We will inform any buyer that they entered into a deal over a property which has been for twenty years, and still is, in active dispute. That they entered into a deal with the SF Archdioces for a property that doesn't belong to the San Francisco Archdiocese Corporation Sole. That in reality is 'legal theft' of Mexican people's sweat and tears that is being carried out by acts of absolute abuse of Eclesiastical Power.
After all those years of dealing and struggling with the San Francisco Archdiocese, we knew how heartless, abusive and cold The Corporation is, but to not open Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on December 12?
Surprisingly, we were actually shocked to witness that they can also be asinine and vindictive.
The fight to save Our Lady of Guadalupe Church since its closing has lasted around twenty years and has spanned the times of three San Francisco Archbishops: John R. Quinn, William Levada and now, George H. Niederauer, with each one of them being at their respective times, "The San Francisco Archdiocese Corporation Sole".
An appropriate definition or characterization of their actions in regards to the Catholics in the San Francisco Bay Area who are petitioning them to return Our Lady of Guadalupe Church to our community and specially the ones who were bringing the traditional Mexican Mañanitas to Our Lady on Dec. 12 2011, escapes us.
But upon reviewing the history of "The Longest Standing Struggle in The U.S.A" That has been carried out by catholic parishioners. It is being waged in the Archdiocese of San Francisco against their Catholic clerical Hierarchy. There exists a famous question made by the army's chief legal representative, Joseph Nye Welch. On June 9, 1954 during the Army-McCarthy hearings, made on the 30th day of the hearings which I feel it is most appropriate for the de facto ultimately responsible 'legal person', The San Francisco Archdiocese Corporation Sole, aka The Archbishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco:
"...You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
Administration, communications and outreach volunteer
Ad Hoc Committee To Save and Preserve Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San Francisco
* Señorita Clementina Garcia Landgrave
She has been there since the beginning of the struggle. It was not her intention to be so involved, but 'it happened', she found herself in it ever since. She has been heading the group F.A.N.S. de Guadalupe (Feligreses y Amigos de la Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe). She has no title, expects no thanks or recognition. But I think it is important for people to know about her inspiring story.
She thinks of herself as 'only a messenger' and one of the few survivors left of a dying generation of people committed to saving our church, hence she is also a historian for those periods. A local spanish talk-radio host, Dr. Marcos Gutiérrez called her 'The Guardian at the Gate", she keeps updating and reminding us on everything RE Our Church. She coordinates the group's activities and tasks, including handling communications, mailings outreach, public relations and when needed, reluctant spokesperson in the Spanish format local media.
She is eighty years old, Mexican-born, emigrated to the United States of America 50 years ago. Has done her share of hard work in providing services in Spanish and a myriad of duties in Banking Institutions. While she confides that her gait is not 'as brisk as it used to be', still insists in being at the forefront of the group's activities, like the event we held on Dec. 12, and as was her attending Tuesday's (Dec. 13) Annual meeting of the parishioners of St. Brigid, a slightly younger sister struggle to save their own church too. She went to meet old friends and allies in the efforts. They are among the people that Julian Guthrie, who was present at the meeting, wrote in her book we suggest to read, and who knows? Maybe to remember the ones now departed. Her commitment is "until the church is returned to our community or until her death, whichever comes first". As with most all senior citizens, she has serious health problems and her biggest fear is to just drop dead one day and not fulfilling her mission to save the church. Her hope/dream is to one day go back to Mexico City to spend the rest of her life with her only family left; her sister and her descendants. New generations, many yet to meet and know. She hopes that when she goes to her final resting place, it is with the knowledge that the church of Our Lady ofGuadalupe in San Francisco is finally safe from the Archdiocese and is in the hands of a responsible Latin-American Community, its friends and allies, to maintain and preserve for many generations to come.
** Suggested reading
"The Grace of Everyday Saints": By Julian Guthrie.
Julian tells the story of parishioners of St. Brigid's church, banded together in a struggle to save their church after it was closed in 1993. And what they found, specially within themselves and about the San Francisco Archdiocese and how they 'play'.
San Francisco Chronicle
"The Grace of Everyday Saints": Joe Dignan
August 19, 2011
Julian Guthrie, a reporter with The Chronicle, wrote a series of stories in 2007 called "The Lost Parish", about the struggle of parishioners to save their historic church, St. Brigid, and unravel the mystery of why it was closed. Her new book, "The Grace of Everyday Saints" (Houghton Mifflin), from which the following excerpt is taken, looks at the lives of a misfit band of believers, the unfolding clergy-abuse scandal and the ultimate power of their faith. One of those believers was Joe Dignan, a lapsed Catholic with a secret of his own.