“A Call To Action”

RE background in Letter to San Francisco Archbishop, Reverend George H. Niederauer, in reference to the possible sale and the final disposition of Historic San Francisco Landmark 204 and Latin-American Cultural Legacy and Icon, The Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church For approximately the last two years, there have been regular reminders that the solution found back in the early 90s' for saving the church from being sold and demolished, was a temporary one, the time has come once more for our community to decide what to do about it, and with it. In these same two years, a small group of Catholic members of our community, very respectfully and with deference, have been attempting to have the Archdiocese inform them of what it plans to do with the building, these very devote Catholic church-goers/activists were told 'behind the scenes' by, to them, reliable sources, that the church may be sold and possibly demolished -- to date, higher up church officials have not responded to their requests for confirmation on the little information in their possession, also, they'd like to have a conversation and maybe start negotiations on the fate of the church building, if what they were told, is true. The question as to why more members in our community are not getting involved, has been asked regularly, and a call for more involvement was sent out; some of us are answering that call with an effort to reach out to the source whence these answers should come, the owner of San Francisco's Catholic church property, the Legal Person (Persona ficta ) Of the San Francisco Archdiocese Corporation Sole, via the direct route of writing the Archbishop a letter -- considering that the Archdiocese has not responded to the small ad hoc committee to preserve the church, we feel that more support is needed, we think that perhaps a louder voice is needed in order for us to be heard. We hope that 500 signatures attached to the letter, will provide that amplification, so we are asking members of the community if they would co-sign the letter, once that goal is reached, it can be hand delivered to the Archbishop by a delegation of members in our community. To help carry out and meet the 500 signatures goal, we have created a pre-formatted form with the fields of Name, Signature, City and State, it is posted online for easier distribution, it includes the address of where to send it after the volunteers helping us have signed on and collected the signatures of their family members, friends, coworkers, etc. who would like to also help. The effort on this matter may be questioned on the basis that it is just another church, true, and that it is also just another building, also true, except that... There is much more about this church built by our community, 104 years and three generations latter, it appears that in the span of only two decades, it seems there may be a second time we would have to come to her rescue, fittingly, by the same people that Our Lady of Guadalupe [Tonanzin] called "The littlest of my children" And that since then, she has always preceded us as our symbol, into our struggles and our battles, from Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in 1811, to our dear and now departed, but not forgotten, Cesar Chavez in the 1960s, and always for the benefit of 'the littlest of her children', whomever they may be, a Mexican Cultural Heritage that many of us proudly claim and display in our struggles for freedom, social justice and equality of opportunity. While this story is not about the fines and settlements paid by the Archdiocese as a consequence of sexual abuse by Catholic Priests to minors, embezzlement, demographic shifts, loss of worshipers numbers, general conditions in the economy, etc., the fact that all of these play a part on a possible problem framing the scenario of a potential reenactment of an 18 year old battle to preserve and maintain the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as a San Francisco Historical Landmark and a Cultural Heritage for the Latin-American Community in general, and the Mexican-American Community in particular; it is important to include these factors as the genesis of the background of this story in order to understand the concerns, apprehension, fears and anger it raises in members of our communities, and our efforts to start mobilizing at the grassroots level in preparation for a possible upcoming struggle .


At it's core, there is the uncertainty on the fate of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, due to that we don't have all the answers in the current status and the plans that the Archdiocese of San Francisco has in relation to the property located at 906 Broadway St., Between Mason and Taylor, in the Russian Hill District, which was designated in 1994 as San Francisco Historical Landmark # 204, it was the result of a two year struggle by members of our communities to prevent it's sale and demolition. What we know: Veterans of the early 90s struggles to save the building and the 1994 partial victory, are concerned and are raising the alarm again, because in 2011 there will be changes to the church's building situation, questions about what are the intentions of the Archdiocese for it, plus their unsuccessful efforts, to date, to have the Archdiocese provide information on what is being planned, an opportunity to meet with pertinent church officials to start negotiations seeking a solution to preserving in perpetuity this Community Icon. Some of these veterans are even entertaining the thought, that in the event of a worse case scenario situation, which is that if it is true that the Archdiocese plans to sell the property, start a fund-raising drive to purchase the building and thus keeping it in the community's hands, idea that is emphatically rejected by others who ask. 'why should we pay twice for the same building/church? This church , designed by Shea and Lofquist, was originally constructed in 1906 and rebuilt in 1912. It is probably the first San Francisco church built of reinforced concrete. The church was built by our community in response to a need for a place of worship in the neighborhood, and according to our handed down oral stories, it included elderly Mexican ladies who sold their jewelry and organized all kind of activities for the project. It is also important to note, that the Irish Catholic Community, numerous and very strong in the neighborhood, played a strong role with their support to build it, collaboration which successful resurfaced in the struggles to save it in the early 1990s and the partial victory in 1994, when it was designated San Francisco Historical Landmark #204. They were joined by non-Catholics residents of the area, also politicians and business leaders who were instrumental in a settlement which consisted in finding non-parish uses for several church buildings, among them were, Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Shrine of Saint Francis in the North Beach area. Non-parish uses were found for four church buildings, one became a shrine, another a homeless shelter, a third (Our Lady of Guadalupe) houses a Chinese Catholic School, a fourth serves as a Newman Center. But at the center of that cauldron of controversy, was the Our Lady of Guadalupe church, and according to some of the accounts from that time, this church is what 'started all the problems' in this issue. According to the accounts of the living veterans of that campaign, it felt like a long struggle, and it was, two years of going against the interests of a cash-strapped corporation desperately seeking revenue sources, and of hearing 'the facts' for the need to sell it, such as, changing demographics brought about by the influx of members of the Chinese Community moving in and by many members of the Mexican community moving out to the suburbs, the loss of attendees for many other reasons, including the percentage numbers’ difference of Catholics in these communities, with much lower numbers in the Chinese than in the Mexican, which made the margin between operating costs and revenue, so wide, that the option of keeping it open had become an unsustainable proposition for the Archdiocese Corporation -- with the big elephant in the room being the fact that the San Francisco Archdiocese was paying left and right for settlements, fines, compensation and reparations to minors who were victims of sexual abuse by priests, also in the mix, was the prospect of upcoming complaints on the same issues, and further adding to that mix, were a range of controversial matters concerning the Archdiocese being heatedly debated and vigorously fought -- it has spanned the times of three San Francisco Archbishops, John R. Quinn, William Levada and now, George H. Niederauer.


In the romantic accounts of the struggle, the image of "elderly Catholic Mexican ladies marching downtown to the cathedral on their grandsons' arms," was implanted in people's minds, as Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was declared a historic site in 1994 and later renovated. It now serves as a temporary home for the Chinese Catholic School and Centers, accommodating the demographic changes of the 1990s. But the current situation at Our Lady of Guadalupe church is about to change. St. Mary’s Chinese Schools and Center "was originally established at the Stockton Street building which sustained little damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, but building codes passed in response, required costly retrofits of the original unreinforced masonry structure. So St. Mary’s and the Archdiocese of San Francisco opted to build a new school, the SF Archdiocese purchased the lot at 836 Kearney Street in the Chinatown area for $2.5 million, which was made vacant and later demolished after the brutal eviction of the residents of what used to be, “The International Hotel", to replace the housing of what started as the Chinese Culture and Language School, St. Mary's Elementary School and Chinese Social Center, which was founded by the Paulists Fathers in 1921. "A campaign to raise funds for the building of the new St. Mary's Schools and Center was launched on January 1, 1996. The original goal was seven million dollars. This milestone was surpassed in September of 2002." as of December of 2009, the project was in Phase III and a capital campaign was focused on raising the remaining $10 million of the $27 million total cost -- it is scheduled to be open in 2011 and the school will move in to their new home. And the church will be vacant again. On a personal note, as an aside, I feel sad to think that it is possible that our communities may one day not have the opportunity to frequent the building as it is, a church, at present, it only open once a year, each Twelve of December. But I think it is very significant, due to that is so appropriate, that the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe gave shelter to the children of a community that also knows of aspirations blocked by exclusion and discrimination, because they lived it, as always and once again, Lupita gave shelter and comfort to the needy. And this fills me with pride and gratitude. Also, this brings us to today and the question of what will happen to the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the uncertainty due to the lack of communication from the Archdiocese to our community, raises our concerns and fears for it's fate. This is the background of what we hope will not be a repeat of the past, but, we just don't know, because we are not being told what is the status and plans for the building at 906 Broadway St. in San Francisco. We believe an answer is warranted, to start with, it is not too much to ask. Specially considering that the bulding is for sale, yes indeed, here is the listing Special Purpose Property For Sale -- Price: $3,500,000 NOTE: I did find something very curious, the Church is located at 906 Broadway, the property for sale is 908 and 910 Broadway, the listing is for the sale of the school, but the description says “This property is a former Catholic Church converted to a School”. In my research on this matter, I didn’t find anything related to the sale of the church, but by a typing error while I looked up the Church’s address, albeit the keys are not close, I typed 908 Broadway instead of 906, and the sale notice popped up in the results. The name Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, does not appear anywhere in the ‘For Sale’ listing and the Archdiocese is not answering our questions about the plans for it, I wonder….