The financial end was near for St. Ignatius College and its science programs. In January 1919, the institution stood on a fiscal cliff looking down at bankruptcy, a denouement with many causes. The destruction of St. Ignatius Church and College in the 1906 earthquake and fire had forced the Jesuits to borrow sizable amounts of money to rebuild their institution. By the end of 1906, the purchase of land on the corner of Hayes and Shrader Streets and the building of a temporary church and college on that site put the Jesuits $230,000 in debt. In 1909, the debt rose another $100,000 with a loan secured by the Jesuits to purchase a second site on the corner of Fulton Street and Parker Avenue for their permanent church. Although the estimated budget for a new St. Ignatius Church was $300,000, by the time the church was dedicated on August 2, 1914, it had cost $478,500, and overall institutional debt stood at more than $835,000. With the enrollment decline caused by World War I, financial matters got even grimmer. By January of 1919, the school’s debt had risen beyond $1 million. Each year, $50,000 in interest was due to various banks and loan companies. For months, no interest was paid on the principal, and the Jesuits of St. Ignatius Church and College had reached the end of their financial rope.
Francis Dillon, S.J., provincial of the California Province, decided to assist the Jesuits of San Francisco in their economic crisis. He met with Edward Hanna, the archbishop of San Francisco; Patrick Foote, S.J., president of St. Ignatius and rector of the Jesuit community; and several prominent businessmen and civic leaders, including San Francisco Mayor James Rolph, Jr. The results of these meetings were a public acknowledgment of the financial crisis, the formation of the St. Ignatius Conservation League, headed by Dennis Kavanagh, S.J., and a public appeal for aid. Members of the St. Ignatius Alumni Society, the Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ Sodalities, the Knights of Columbus, and many other organizations promised to solicit funds. Individual Jesuits of St. Ignatius Church and College were also delegated to make personal appeals for money. In April of 1919, Archbishop Hanna issued a proclamation calling for the citizens of San Francisco to come to the aid of St. Ignatius Church and College. San Francisco newspapers also urged financial support for the institution in its hour of need. The San Francisco Call, in an editorial on June 2, 1919, declared, “St. Ignatius is San Francisco itself.” The editorial continued, “Every citizen of San Francisco is a son of the old college, and the friends of St. Ignatius now ask those sons to keep death away from its doors. They ask one million dollars to give back to St. Ignatius the strength it had before the fire. In withholding aid, San Francisco kills a part of itself. In giving this money, it gives life to a force that must never die.” The call for financial support for St. Ignatius Church and College was made loud and clear. An answer to that call came soon.
To initiate the fundraising drive to save St. Ignatius Church and College, Mayor Rolph formed an executive committee that sponsored an alumni banquet on May 12, 1919, at the St. Francis Hotel. Mayor Rolph addressed the 400 individuals present at the banquet, as did Senator James Phelan, a graduate of St. Ignatius College and a former city mayor. At the end of his speech, Senator Phelan presented the Jesuits with a check for $10,000. A famous Irish tenor, John McCormick, then sang several songs and contributed an additional $1,000. After the banquet, members of the alumni association and other organizations that were part of the St. Ignatius Conservation League sought contributions in stores, shops, hotel lobbies, theaters, cafes, and by going door to door at private homes. In three months, more than $200,000 was collected.
In August 1919, during the first phase of the fundraising efforts, the Jesuits decided to sell their vacated property on the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Hayes Street, where St. Ignatius Church and College had stood before its destruction in the 1906 earthquake and fire. After several months of negotiations, the firm Heller and Esbery, San Francisco realtors, purchased the property for $311,014. A second phase of fundraising was coordinated in 1920 by Richard Gleeson, S.J., who succeeded Dennis Kavanagh, S.J., as director of the St. Ignatius Conservation League. This phase included benefit concerts, dinner dances, and festivals. On January 31, 1921, $6,500 was raised at an event held at San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium, billed as “America’s Biggest Whist Tournament” and featuring card-playing, bands, and dancing. A “May Festival” held at the Civic Auditorium from May 16 to May 22, 1921, featured speeches by Archbishop Hanna and Mayor Rolph, entertainment, lottery drawings, games, and booths where the attendees could purchase everything from talking dolls and hams to diamond rings and Persian rugs. The festival raised almost $98,000 after expenses.
By 1922, the financial picture for St. Ignatius Church and College had significantly improved. An editor of the June 1922 Ignatian wrote, “With the well-equipped Scientific laboratories in charge of such men as Father Conlan and Father Gilbert, the College has begun to recover from the hardships imposed upon it by the burdening debt and the depopulating war, and can again look to the future.” Over the next three years, additional benefit plays, concerts, and dinners were held by the Conservation League. On May 24, 1924, another festival was held, and items such as automobiles, hope chests, washing machines, and a Spanish bungalow were raffled off, enabling St. Ignatius Church and College to repay a long-standing debt to Hibernia Savings Society in the amount of $100,000. From 1919 to 1925, during the presidency of Pius Moore, S.J., the huge financial debt that had brought St. Ignatius Church and College to the brink of financial disaster was reduced from more than $1 million to $150,000. The various fundraising activities during that period, plus the sale of the Van Ness location, brought the debt under control and saved the institution. Within two years, the Jesuits of San Francisco were financially prepared to embark on another venture: the construction of a new college on Fulton Street, the nucleus of the current home of the University of San Francisco.
Enrollment at St. Ignatius College also dramatically improved during the 1920s, helping to put the institution on more solid financial footing. In 1919, there were only 26 students enrolled in the college division of St. Ignatius College, exclusive of the high school and the College of Law. By 1925, enrollment had grown to 407 students in the college division, and in the fall semester of 1929, this number increased to 1,099 students. With the influx of new students, St. Ignatius College was able to reorganize and plan for the future. In 1925, the College of Arts and Sciences was formed, and Hubert Flynn, S.J., was named its first dean. Fr. Flynn served in that capacity until 1934. He oversaw enrollment increases and major curriculum developments, and he pushed for improving the debating societies, the drama program, athletics, and the sciences. Fr. Flynn also helped develop an evening program, beginning in 1925, and the institution’s first summer session, in 1932. Fr. Flynn stepped down as dean in 1934 to teach for a year at the University of Santa Clara. He returned to USF in 1935, where he began a nine-year tenure of teaching and advising students and their organizations. Fr. Flynn died in San Francisco in September of 1945, but his legacy continues at the University of San Francisco. At commencement every year, the Father Flynn Award is given to the graduating senior who has, throughout the entire undergraduate curriculum, maintained the highest grade point average. In addition, every year at the Fr. Hubert “Hub” Flynn Athletic Hall of Fame dinner, former USF student athletes and teams are inducted into the USF Hall of Fame.
During the 1925–26 academic year, under Dean Flynn, St. Ignatius College continued to expand its robust science curriculum. Students could take general biology, which included lectures and labs in the “fundamental properties of living matter, the cell structure, classification, functions, habits, development and reproduction of plants and animals.” Other biology courses included botany, zoology, comparative anatomy of vertebrates, and general vertebrate embryology, which covered “the processes of maturation, fertilization and cleavage in various typical forms, and embracing the essentials of organogeny.” Students could enroll in general chemistry, a class and lab that included the “history of the elements, stressing the applications of chemistry to technology.” The curriculum also included inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, quantitative analysis, physical chemistry, and biological chemistry. General physics included lectures and laboratory work in the fundamentals of mechanics, sound, heat, electricity, magnetism, and light, supplemented by courses in theoretical mechanics and advanced electricity and magnetism.
Notwithstanding the increased emphasis on the sciences in the curriculum, the development of moral values was still an important and complementary part of Jesuit education in the 1920s, as it is today. The St. Ignatius College catalogue of 1925–26 noted that “as an integral part of education, the Jesuit idea calls for a systematic effort to develop character; since both experience and common reason sustain the verdict that moral formation—the building up of an enlightened conscience for the right fulfillment of civil, social and religious duties—is never wisely assumed as the normal by product of physical and mental development.” In light of this Jesuit goal, the catalogue continued, “the acquaintance with facts, the getting of positive knowledge is duly insisted on; but, for the most part, as an instrument employed in a process, not the final purpose to be achieved.” The publications describing the goals of St. Ignatius College in the 1920s embrace concepts similar to those found in today’s documents about the University of San Francisco. The current Vision, Mission, and Values Statement of USF, approved on September 11, 2001, declares that the core mission of the university is to promote among its students “the knowledge and skills needed to succeed as persons and professionals, and the values and sensitivity necessary to be men and women for others.”
Core Jesuit values are timeless.
Alan Ziajka, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and University Historian