Historic San Francisco church says doors could close if it can’t raise money through donations

A 167-year-old San Francisco church is reaching out to the community for financial support following a drop in its income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Old St. Mary’s Church, California’s oldest Cathedral, has set up a GoFundMe in hopes that the community will help make up some of the income it has lost, Old St. Mary’s priest Father John Ardis said.

“We’re hoping that the GoFundMe will reach out to people and that they will share it with their friends and family and hopefully people who have a love for the ministry or the historical aspects of Old St. Mary’s Cathedral, which has served the community since 1854,” Ardis said.

The church used to receive about $3,500 each weekend in collections during services, around half of which was from tourists, according to Ardis. That amount has dropped to about $1,000 for each of the eight weekends during the pandemic it has been able to open for reduced services, he said.

The church “faces the very real possibility of having to close its doors to the community, and to the world,” the GoFundMe description states.

The church also has lost income brought in by its preschool program, which it had to shut down due to a drop in enrollment, and its bookstore.

As a result of the lost funds, the church had to lay off two priests and terminate 20 staff members.

The church will use money raised by the GoFundMe to pay for insurance costs and the Archdiocesan’s Annual Appeal, Ardis said. According to the GoFundMe, the church owes $250,000 in insurance payments.

Ardis said the church was built in 1854, but was rebuilt and reopened following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Because of the age of the building and the cost of insurance, the church hasn’t been able to attend to needed maintenance issues, Ardis said.

During a majority of the pandemic, the church has been livestreaming mass via YouTube with readings in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, Ardis said. The weekend of Feb. 20 was the second weekend it was able to host in-person, limited capacity masses with required masks and social distancing.

“Ultimately, we’re looking forward to the day when we can welcome back multitudes of people,” Ardis said.

Madeleine Beck

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Madeleine Beck

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