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The United States, as it has often been said, is a nation of immigrants.  When immigrants arrive in any new place they usually settle in affordable (usually poor) areas and cluster together with others of their language and culture.  These enclaves of nationality persist until families begin to make their way into mainstream society.

San Francisco in the later 1800’s was composed of individuals and families coming out of various population moving forces: the gold rush, the silver rush, the building of the transcontinental railroad and upheavals of many kinds in the countries of Europe.  Some came for adventure, some for wages, some for peace, some for room to expand, but all came with a wealth of customs, skills, ideas, inventions and (a nice condition that still exists in San Francisco) books full of national recipes.  One of the most famous districts in the City was and is North Beach, with its lively Italian population.

The Hispanic and Italian people of North Beach were served by the Church from the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The newly formed group of the Sisters of the Holy Family had been conducting catechism, sewing and cooking classes, as well as home visiting in the area since 1881.  Their day care center – St. Francis Day Home – had been operating there from 1880 onward.

Father Franchi, the assistant at Our Lady of Guadalupe, convinced Archbishop Joseph Alemany that a parish ought to be opened up for the very large and needy Italian immigrants settling in North Beach.  The parish of Sts. Peter and Paul was therefore established in 1884.  The Sisters served along side the diocesan priests until 1897 when the Salesian Fathers arrived and they remained to attend to the religious education of all the children.

They operated summer schools which included religious classes, arts and crafts and involved the children for most of the mornings and afternoons rather than being a simple catechetical hour.  They assisted in preparing and costuming the children for the famous Columbus Day parades each October, and for musical and dramatic entertainments for families and for funds. The  Salesian Sisters arrived in 1950.  When the Salesians opened their school, Holy Family continued the catechetical instruction of the large group of public school children.

They continued to home visit and to offer the other ministries that were appropriate to the parish.   The Day Home at 1441 Powell Street remained a refuge for the children of the working poor, adding more and more Chinese children to its rosters as Italian families moved out of the area.

The very first Holy Family vocation to come from North Beach was Miss Linda Joanna Musante, who entered the community on December 8, 1918.  Sister was a trained public school teacher and excelled in catechetical work, but it was at the Day Home where she truly shone in her work with the pre-school and Kindergarten children.

In 1906 during the aftermath of the great earthquake and fire, the Sisters continued their Day Home, catechetical and sewing school work in tents erected in Washington Square, right across the street from Saints Peter and Paul’s church.  The Sisters and the children offered practical service to their neighbors who had lost everything in the April cataclysm.  The sewing schools prepared clothing for refugees of the disaster, the children prepared entertainments for the tent dwelling families of the area and helped the Sisters to put on Christmas parties at the Washington Square camp.

St. Francis Day Home, opened in 1880, burned out in 1906, and reopened in 1907, the children being cared for in the Washington Square tents during the interval.  The Day Home was phased out in 1976 because its clientele, while charming and delightful, were no longer poor.

The area of North Beach is still a lively and colorful place with a strong heritage of Italian influence and many people of Italian descent still residing and working there.  The Sisters of the Holy Family have many fond memories of their days at St. Peter and Paul’s parish and St. Francis Day Home.  They are grateful for the more than 30 Sisters of Italian descent who have contributed so generously to the works of the Community, and those associates, friends and former sisters whose Italian fire has cast them so enthusiastically into work for the Kingdom of God.

Viva Italia !