Rising Star: Controversial priest has helped San Francisco parish be reborn

Father Joseph Illo, pastoral administrator of Star of the Sea Parish in San Francisco, greets parishioners after Mass July 2. (CNS photo/Valerie Schmalz, Catholic San Francisco) See STAR-OF-THE-SEA Aug. 18, 2017.
Some of you may remember a few postings from a couple years ago on Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco—and the administrator, Father Joseph Illo, who was raising eyebrows and blood pressures. 

What’s happened since? Suffice it to say: whatever Father Illo is doing, it’s working.


On the the solemnity of the Annunciation this past spring, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone dedicated the Star of the Sea Church’s renovated St Joseph Adoration Chapel, calling it “a pivotal moment in the history of the parish.”

“We want to base the renewal of our parish around the Holy Eucharist,” said Fr Joseph Illo. “Our mission statement is to evangelize God’s people beginning with the gift of the Holy Eucharist. That means putting a lot of energy into our music, our preaching, our Sunday Mass.”

Three years after Fr Illo was appointed parish administrator in August 2014, bringing his powerful commitment to traditional Catholic practices to the famously progressive city, Mass attendance and the number of parishioners registered have increased about 10 percent each year.

“For the first time in my life, I feel I belong to a parish, I mean really belong,” said Eva Muntean, Walk for Life West Coast co-chair, who organizes street evangelization twice a month at a farmers’ market not far from the church.

One of Fr Illo’s first actions was to open the Romanesque-style church from 6:30 am to 5:30 pm daily, improve the lighting and turn on the heat. “Now people can stop in, light a candle,” Father Illo told Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocese’s newspaper.

When he arrived, the parish founded in 1887 in the city’s Richmond District was struggling. Despite its location facing a busy boulevard, its doors were closed most of the day except for Mass times.

The parish has been one of the first to meet its Archdiocesan Annual Appeal goal each year, and the offertory has more than doubled. There is a new Knights of Columbus chapter, revitalized homeless outreach, Gabriel Project for pregnant women in need, a young adults group, and a speaker and a film series as well as Filipino and Chinese parish groups. Masses in English and Latin feature Gregorian chant and polyphony.

The backbone of the parish remains “good, faithful, longtime parishioners,” Fr Illo said.

That’s not all. He’s expanded hours for confession and offered more opportunities for Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Read it all.

Photo: CNS/Catholic San Francisco 

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