Here’s to 150 years of beating back Babylon

So I’m headed to my high school’s 150th anniversary party this
afternoon. San Francisco’s St. Ignatius College Preparatory
– founded by Jesuits in 1855 as St. Ignatius Academy – is
pulling out all the stops for its sesquicentennial celebration.
So I’m headed to my high school’s 150th anniversary party this afternoon. San Francisco’s St. Ignatius College Preparatory – founded by Jesuits in 1855 as St. Ignatius Academy – is pulling out all the stops for its sesquicentennial celebration. An entire city block around the Sunset campus is being roped off for what organizers promise me in e-mails will be “the biggest S.I. party of all time!”

Having been to a few of the school’s parties, to that I can only reply: “Woo-hoo!” And, “Please hide my car keys.”

You know, 150 years is a pretty long time. By comparison, Gilroy High is a “mere” 129 years old, having become a public institution in 1876 after being run as a private high school for four years by the Methodist Church. (Thanks, guy who answers the phone at the Gilroy Museum!) San Benito High – formerly Hollister High – is also more than 100 years old, but not nearly as ancient as St. Ignatius. (Though I am informed there is meatloaf still being served in the San Benito High cafeteria that may predate either school.)

The first two Jesuits arrived in San Francisco on Dec. 9, 1849. One of the pair wondered in a letter, according to the school’s archives, “whether (the city) should be called a mad house or Babylon, I am at a loss to determine – so great in those days was the disorder, the brawling, the open immorality, the reign of crime which, brazen faced, triumphed on a soil not yet brought under the sway of human laws …”

That was a fair assessment of a rollicking, expanding city that had been little more than a weigh-station for Spanish missionaries just a few years before the Gold Rush hit. One can only wonder what the Jesuits thought of the town six years later, when they opened the doors of the first S.I. campus on Market Street. By that time, the original 49ers had plenty of later-arriving cohorts helping them to turn the City by the Bay into a den of debauchery, political corruption and ethnic tension.

Which, incidentally, the current 49ers are still doing 150 years later. Only now, we can hit the “pause” button when we don’t like what we see on the videotape.

But perhaps we might consider that, in a way, the Jesuits who founded St. Ignatius were pushing their own version of “pause” on the mad house in which they dwelled. The testimony to their success at that endeavor is that, 150 years later, they’re still bringing disordered, brawling young people (the former all-boys school went co-ed in 1990) under the sway of human laws.

It also helps that, somewhere along the way, the school’s caretakers decided that a wee bit of open immorality every now and again is good for the soul. Which is why I’m really looking forward to the party.

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