St. Brigid Church at Van Ness & Broadway, San Francisco
In the fall of 1993, the Archbishop of San Francisco, John R. Quinn, announced the closing of 13 churches in San Francisco. As a parishioner of St. Brigid Church, one of the churches on the closure list, I was dumbfounded and heartbroken. I was shocked because St. Brigid was a vibrant parish with an average weekly attendance of 1,000 and an active laity. We were also financially solvent and had $700,000 in savings at the time we were closed.
Immediately after the announcement parishioners banded together and formed the Committee to Save St. Brigid Church. Early on, this Committee was chaired by attorney Robert Bryan. Our mission was to save the church for divine worship and to continue the work of Jesus Christ in this community. Shortly after the announcement another church on the closure list, St. Paul’s in Noe Valley, was saved from closure and is still open today. We were hopeful that St. Brigid could be reopened too.
One of the reasons given for closing the church was that expensive earthquake retrofitting would be needed. The cost estimate was $5.5 million. During a meeting with the Archdiocese on April 8, 1994, the offer was made that we, the parishioners, would raise any funds necessary to retrofit the Church. The Archdiocese rejected this, stating that allowing us to save our Church would favor a rich parish over ones that are poor.
We then made an alternative offer that we at St. Brigid would raise the funds necessary to save a poor church also. This offer was also rejected.
On June 30, 1994 the church was closed. We appealed this decision to the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome and to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s high court.
On August 17, 1995, William J. Levada was appointed coadjutor archbishop of San Francisco, and on 27 December of the same year he succeeded John R. Quinn as the archbishop. Archbishop Levada opened two of the closed churches, St. Thomas More and All Hallows.
From 1994 – 2005 we continued to engage the Archdiocese in dialogue. We wrote many letters during this time to the Chancery. Many times we were told that no decision had been made about the future of the church. So we held onto the hope that the church could be reopened and that one day we would again hold Mass in our beloved church.
Then in February 2005 our worst fears seemed like they were going to come true. The Archdiocese announced that they were going to sell the church to a developer who wanted to demolish the church. Our local government immediately jumped in and moved to landmark the church. To do so they would have to get an exemption to state law, AB 133. This law, passed in 1994, allowed religious organizations to be exempt from local landmarking laws.
In October 2005, the Archdiocese sold the church to the Academy of Art University. After the sale of the building, our group shifted its focus to preserving the building.
In 2006 our dear friend and Chair of the Committee, Joe Dignan, died of a heart attack. Joe was a founding member of the Committee to Save St. Brigid Church and worked tirelessly over the years for the cause of saving St. Brigid's. Although we were all saddened by Joe's death, we remain committed to finishing the work he started – the landmarking of St. Brigid Church.
The exterior of St. Brigid Church, including the Harry Clarke stained glass windows, became San Francisco Landmark #252 on October 24, 2006. At that time, however, the San Francisco Planning Code did not explicitly provide for landmark designation of building interiors, and so the magnificent interior of St. Brigid Church was not included in the original landmark.
In January 2007, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, introduced legislation that would allow for the landmarking of publicly accessible interiors of privately owned buildings. The legislation was co-sponsored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin. The ordinance was reviewed and approved by the San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, the Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors' Land Use Committee, and the Board of Supervisors. On April 20th, Mayor Newsom signed the legislation into law.
The passage of this law allows the Committee to pursue interior landmarking of St. Brigid Church. This is what we are currently working on and this is our final goal.
The closing of Catholic Churches is not unique to San Francisco. Nor are we the only Committee to Save St. Brigid Church. There is one in Manhattan. Countless churches throughout the country have been closed since 1994. How many churches have been closed in all? Is this downsizing really necessary? And how should parishioners of a church that is to be closed, be treated? These are questions that deserve answers.
Thank you for visiting our website and learning our story. We are also very grateful to the parishioners of St. Brigid, to our families and our friends for all the support and assistance they have given us. This has truly been a community effort, and we wouldn't have made it this far without them.
Beatriz St. John
Chair Pro Tem
Committee To Save St. Brigid Church