Friday, February 25, 2011

St. Francis of Assisi Church - San Francisco

My great grandfather, George Q. Cannon, a participant in the gold rush, spent the greater part of 1850 in the gold fields near Sacramento. His journal for 1850 did not begin until September 24th. On October 25th, he and some other participants in the gold rush, arrived in San Francisco as they prepared to leave for the Sandwich Islands on a mission. On October 29th, he mentions a parade through the streets of San Francisco in celebration of California being admitted as a state "into the Union." As part of the celebration, he mentions a prayer by a "Rev.------" before an oration by the "Hon Nathan Bennet" which lasted 1 1/2 hours in the "Public Square." On November 15th they boarded the ship Imaum of Muscat in preparation for their departure.

George Q. returned to San Francisco from the Sandwich Islands on August 12, 1854 and helped Parley P. Pratt prepare his autobiography. He stated, "San Francisco has altered much; new wharves and new buildings have given the place another aspect. In levelling the streets they have had great labor in blasting, excavating &c, the ground being very hilly." On September 23rd he left San Francisco to return to Salt Lake. George Q. returned to San Francisco in 1855 to print the Book of Mormon in the Hawaiian language and to publish a newspaper. He arrived in late June 1855. He finished typesetting the Book of Mormon around January 26, 1856. Just a few weeks earlier than that, on January 4, 1856, he ran a prospectus for a weekly newspaper to be called the Western Standard. The first issue of the Western Standard appeared on February 23, 1856. In December 1857, with an army advancing on Utah, George Q. closed up shop in San Francisco and returned to Salt Lake City.

At the beginning of the gold rush in 1849, San Francisco had the Mission Dolores, or the mission church of San Francisco de Asis, which primarily worked with the native Indians. It was 3 1/2 miles from the docks. The city consisted of about 450 inhabitants. With the gold rush,  San Francisco quickly grew by thousands. On June 12, 1849, the Catholic Church officially established St. Francis Parish and had a small wooden shack serving as the church. This is the church George Q. would have seen before leaving for his mission to the Sandwich Islands. There is a drawing of the church at the church website. On June 17, 1849, the first parochial mass was celebrated in California. In 1851 an adobe structure replaced the wooden one. This is the church George Q. would have been familiar with while helping Parley P. Pratt on his biography, while preparing the Book of Mormon for publication and while printing the Western Standard. On October 2, 1859, the cornerstone was laid for the new St. Francis church to be built right over the existing structure. On March 17, 1860, a Norman Gothic church with twin campaniles, was dedicated. Following the San Francisco earthquake on April 18, 1906, the interior of St. Francis Church was gutted by fire, but the outer brick walls remained entirely intact. The church was completely rebuilt using the existing brick walls and rededicated on March 2, 1919. The church is now the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi and includes holy relics of St. Francis, Clare of Assisi and Anthony of Padua.

While Judy and I visited San Francisco recently, we stopped in to the St. Francis church. It is located in North Beach, now the Italian section, very close to Chinatown.

It is quite distinctive, sitting on a hill with almost a luminescent paint job and small crosses on each of the spires.
It would have been quite close to the water when built. The land extends quite a bit farther now than it did then due to ground fill. Just down the street is the landmark Transamerica building. 
The date 1849 adorns the church, the date when the first wood shack was built. 
A historical bronze plaque on the front of the church.
It is small but beautiful inside:


  1. It was fun to read this Bob. You may know that the series "Gold Rush" on Discovery Channel had its final episode on Friday night and it was fun to think of the parallels. I'm re-reading "My First Mission" at the moment so this put things into context nicely for me. Thanks for taking the time to help make George Q. Cannon's life come alive for me and for everyone else who benefits from your research and for retracing his life through various accounts and through pictures.

  2. Thank you and also thanks for the research.
    It was very enjoyable to read. This is my old parish and has so much meaning for me......lovely thoughts....beautiful experiences...wonderful area to grow up in and be a part of..will always miss it....!

  3. I came across your blog and interesting history by chance... you were very fortunate as the church just went thru a major exterior renovation as you probably noted, and thence the very white appearance. it was just completed at the end of 2010. thanks for the brief family history!! take care