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SF students voice concerns over policy to phase out altar girls at Catholic school

Students at a San Francisco Catholic K-8 school are speaking out for the first time in opposition to a new policy at the school’s parish to no longer train girls as altar servers, an emblem of what some say has become a more exclusive climate at the school.

The first installment of the online publication “We Are Star,” posted Friday, depicts a growing divide between the school’s pastor who installed the policy last November, and students and alumni of Star of the Sea School who say the change makes them feel unwelcome in the school community.

The change in policy by the Rev. Joseph Illo triggered a firestorm in San Francisco from parents at the school, who questioned the direction of the parish. About 20 students and 10 alumni of Star of the Sea School echoed such sentiments in the new publication.

“Since when does Catholic = exclusion?” wrote Dianne Simionato Balzer, who graduated from Star of the Sea in 1966. Balzer’s two grandsons now attend the school.

Amber Ly, the alumni editor of the publication, said she wanted to give the school community a safe place to publicly voice their concerns about the policy.

“It’s really disappointing and upsetting to see a place that a lot of us call our second home to be disappearing, almost,” said Ly, 17, who graduated from the school in 2012.

“Of course time changes things, but things have gone down a path where I don’t think it should. We all feel really sad about how it’s going right now,” she added.

Last week, parents met with Fr. Raymund Reyes, vicar of clergy, Bishop William Justice, auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Illo and Rev. Patrick Driscoll also of Star, to share their concerns about the school’s fragile climate and to ask that Illo and Driscoll be removed from the Star of the Sea parish.

On Tuesday, however, Illo defended the decision to no longer train girls for altar service, though he said the idea was never meant to make anyone feel excluded.

“I’m sorry that this decision on the altar girls upsets [parents],” Illo said. “I understand that has not been the practice here, but it is the practice in a lot of other countries. We think there’s room for that in San Francisco.” Illo said he’s open to changing the policy for school Masses, and is working to establish a school board to help address such issues in the future.

Illo has previously said his vision aligns with that of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who has also come under fire in recent months after proposing morality clauses for teachers at the four archdiocesan high schools in the Bay Area.


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