Alemany, Joseph Sadoc
O.P. First Archbishop of San Francisco
Entry Author: Charles
Joseph Sadoc Alemany was born in Vich, Spain,
on July 13, 1814, entered into the Dominican order, and was
ordained a priest in Italy in 1837. He emigrated to the United
States in 1840, where he was a missionary in Kentucky, Ohio,
and Tennessee. In 1848 he was named provincial of the Dominicans
in the United States.
June 30, 1850, Alemany was consecrated "Bishop of Monterey,
Upper California," in Rome. The multilingual prelate
proceeded to Gold Rush California, where he traveled among
the numerous towns and mining camps of his diocese, organizing
parishes and Catholic institutions for his multiethnic flock.
Known for his personal humility, piety, asceticism,
and poverty, Alemany was tireless in developing ecclesiastical
institutions within his far-flung diocese. Where appropriate,
he established national parishes in San Francisco: Notre Dame
des Victoires (French, 1856), St. Boniface (German, 1860),
Our Lady of Guadelupe (Spanish, 1875), and Sts. Peter and
Paul (Italian, 1884).
Alemany moved the seat of his diocese from Monterey to San
Francisco; and on July 29, 1853, Rome established the Archdiocese
of San Francisco and appointed Alemany as its first archbishop.
Monterey became a separate diocese (its border on the north
just south of San Jose, and its southern border, Baja California).
Alemany's archdiocese went all the way to the Oregon border.
Even before Rome established the new archdiocese, Alemany
had laid the cornerstone for a cathedral at the corner of
California Street and Grant Avenue. Called St. Mary's Cathedral
(but dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed
Virgin Mary), it was dedicated at midnight mass on Christmas
Eve, 1854. The red brick church that structurally survived
two fires still stands today as Old St. Mary's Church.
Alemany had to rely primarily on immigrant priests and nuns
to minister to the needs of Catholics in his archdiocese.
After his consecration, he had traveled in Europe seeking
priests and nuns for his diocese, and this quest continued
after he arrived in California. Two attempts to found seminaries
to train a local clergy had both failed.
Within five years of Alemany's arrival, he was joined by fellow
Dominicans, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the Daughters
of Charity, the Sisters of Mercy, the Presentation Sisters,
and the Jesuits. Schools, orphanages, novitiates, convents,
and other Catholic institutions were started.
By the early 1880s, 30 years after he had been appointed archbishop
of San Francisco (a new diocese of Sacramento had been established
by then), the Archdiocese of San Francisco had more than 200,000
Catholics, 175 priests, hundreds of women religious, and more
than 125 parishes. The Jesuits had founded two colleges: St.
Ignatius College (now St. Ignatius College Preparatory High
School and the University of San Francisco) and Santa Clara
College (now Santa Clara University). At age 70, Alemany had
finally begun to grow weary of the demands of his missionary
episcopate and officially retired on December 28, 1884.
Alemany was succeeded by his coadjutor archbishop, Patrick
W. Riordan. In 1885, he returned to his native Spain where
he died in 1888.
McGloin, John B., S. J. California's First Archbishop:
The Life of Joseph Sadoc Alemany, O.P., 1814-1888. New
York: Herder & Herder, 1966.