Mission San Francisco de Asís

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Mission San Francisco de Asís

Mission San Francisco de Asís, or Mission Dolores, is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco and the sixth religious settlement established as part of the California chain of missions. The Mission was founded on June 29, 1776, by Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga and Father Francisco Palóu (a companion of Father Junipero Serra), both members of the de Anza Expedition, which had been charged with bringing Spanish settlers to Alta (upper) California, and evangelizing the local Natives, the Ohlone.


The settlement was named for St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order, but was also commonly known as "Mission Dolores" owing to the presence of a nearby creek named Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, meaning "Our Lady of Sorrows Creek." A member of the Anza Expedition, Friar Font, wrote about the spot chosen for the Mission:

The original Mission consisted of a log and thatch structure dedicated on October 9, 1776 after the required church documents arrived. It was located about a block-and-a-half east of the present Mission, near what is today the intersection of Camp and Albion Streets, on the shores of a lake (long since filled) called Lago de los Dolores. A historical marker is currently placed at that location. The present Mission church was dedicated in 1791. At the time of dedication a mural painted by native labor adorned the focal wall of the chapel. The mission was constructed of adobe and part of a complex of buildings used for housing, agricultural and manufacturing enterprises (see architecture of the California missions). Though most of the Mission complex, including the quadrangle and convento, has either been altered or demolished outright during the intervening years, the façade of the Mission chapel has remained relatively unchanged since its construction in 1782–1791.

According to Mission historian Brother Guire Cleary, the early 19th century saw the greatest period of activity at San Francisco de Asís:

The Mission chapel, along with "Father Serra's Church" at Mission San Juan Capistrano, is one of only two surviving buildings where Father Junípero Serra is known to have officiated (although "Dolores" was still under construction at the time of Serra's visit). In 1817, Mission San Rafael Arcángel was established as an asistencia to act as a hospital for the Mission, though it would later be granted full mission status in 1822. The Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821) strained relations between the Mexican government and the California missions. Supplies were scant, and the Indians who worked at the missions continued to suffer terrible losses from disease and cultural disruption (more than 5,000 Indians are thought to have been buried in the cemetery adjacent to the Mission). In 1834, the Mexican government enacted secularization laws whereby most church property was sold or granted to private owners. In practical terms, this meant that the missions would hold title only to the churches, the residences of the priests and a small amount of land surrounding the church for use as gardens. In the period that followed, Mission Dolores fell on very hard times. By 1842, only eight Christian Indians were living at the Mission.

The California Gold Rush brought renewed activity to the Mission Dolores area. In the 1850s, two plank roads were constructed from what is today downtown San Francisco to the Mission, and the entire area became a popular resort and entertainment district. Some of the Mission properties were sold or leased for use as saloons and gambling halls, racetracks were constructed, and fights between bulls and bears were staged for crowds. The Mission complex also underwent alterations. Part of the convento was converted to a two-story wooden wing for use as a seminary and priests' quarters, while another section became the "Mansion House," a popular tavern and way station for travelers. By 1876, the Mansion House portion of the convento had been razed and replaced with a large Gothic Revival brick church, designed to serve the growing population of immigrants who were now making the Mission area their home.

During this period, wood clapboard siding was applied to the original adobe chapel walls as both a cosmetic and a protective measure; the veneer was later removed when the Mission was restored. During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the adjacent brick church was destroyed. By contrast, the original adobe Mission, though damaged, remained in relatively good condition. However, the ensuing fire touched off by the earthquake reached almost to the Mission's doorstep. To prevent the spread of flames, the Convent and School of Notre Dame across the street was dynamited by firefighters; nevertheless, nearly all the blocks east of Dolores Street and north of 20th street were consumed by flames. In 1913, construction began on a new church (now known as the Mission Dolores Basilica) adjacent to the Mission, which was completed in 1918. This structure was further remodeled in 1926 with churrigueresque ornamentation inspired by the Panama-California Exposition held in San Diego's Balboa Park. A sensitive restoration of the origial adobe Mission was undertaken in 1917 by noted architect Willis Polk. In 1952, San Francisco Archbishop John J. Mitty, announced that Pope Pius XII had elevated Mission Dolores to the status of a Minor Basilica. This was the first designation of a basilica west of the Mississippi and the fifth basilica named in the United States. Today, the larger, newer church is called "Mission Dolores Basilica" while the original adobe structure retains the name of Mission Dolores.

The San Francisco de Asís cemetery, which adjoins the property on the south side, was originally much larger than its present boundaries, running west almost to Church Street and north into what is today 16th Street. It was reduced in various stages, starting with the extension of 16th Street through the former Mission grounds in 1889, and later by the construction of the Mission Dolores Basilica Center and the Chancery Building of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in the 1950s. Some remains were reburied on-site in a mass grave, while others were relocated to various Bay Area cemeteries. Today, most of the former cemetery grounds are covered by a paved playground behind the Mission Dolores School. The cemetery that currently remains underwent a careful restoration in the mid-1990s. The Mission is still an active church in San Francisco. Many people attend services in the Mission church and even more attend mass in the adjacent basilica. The Mission is open to visitors, and is located on Dolores Street near its intersection with 16th Street. The Mission District is the name of the San Francisco neighborhood adjacent to the Mission. The current Pastor of Mission Dolores is Reverend Arturo Albano. The current Curator of Mission Dolores is Andrew A. Galvan.

Other historic designations
  • San Francisco Historical Landmark #1 — City & County of San Francisco
  • California Historical Landmark #327-1 — site of original Mission Dolores chapel and Dolores Lagoon
  • California Historical Landmark #393 — "The Hospice," an outpost of Mission Dolores founded in 1800 in San Mateo, California
  • California Historical Landmark #784 — El Camino Real (the northernmost point visited by Father Serra)
  • In Vertigo, Inspector Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) follows Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) into Mission Dolores and out to the cemetery, where she lays flowers at the grave of "Carlotta Valdes". Although the grave marker was fictional and set up specifically for the film, it was reportedly left to stand in the cemetery for a number of years after filming.
  • In Class Action, the Old Mission was featured in the funeral scene of the movie.
  • A dining car named Mission Dolores was part of the City of San Francisco train, jointly operated by the Chicago and North Western Railway, the Southern Pacific Railroad, and the Union Pacific Railroad between Chicago and Oakland, California until 1971.
  • It is referenced in the song "San Francisco" by Vanessa Carlton
  • America's first African-American millionaire William Alexander Leidesdorff is buried within the Old Mission—he was not Catholic.
  • The mission is the subject of the Jerry Garcia song "Mission in the Rain."
Transportation information

The Mission Dolores Basilica is located at the intersection of 16th and Dolores Street. Mission Dolores Basilica is easily accessible by public transit. The 22 Fillmore electric bus stops at the front door, the 33 Ashbury/Stanyan bus stops at Church and 18th Street (two blocks away), and the J-Church streetcar stops one block to the west at Church Street. The 16th and Mission BART station is 3 blocks to the east at Mission Street.

Mass hours
  • Monday - Saturday 7:30 am Old Mission & 9:00 am Basilica
  • Saturday/Sábado Vigil (English) 5:00 pm Old Mission
  • Sunday (English ) 8:00 am Basilica 10:00 am Basilica
  • Domingo (Español) 12:00 Mediodia Basilica

Holy Days / Dias de Percepto

  • English 7:30 am Old Mission 9:00 am Basilica
  • Bilingual / Bilingüe 7:00 pm Old Mission

Devotions/Holy Hour / Devociones/Hora Santa

  • Fridays / Viernes 6:00 pm Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament / Exposición del Santísimo Sacramento

Reconciliations/Confessions / Reconcilición/Confesiones

  • Saturday or by appointment / Sábado o por cita 4:00 - 5:00 pm Basilica
Succession of rectors, pastors and administrators

Founders: Father Francisco Palóu, O.F.M. , Father Pedro Benito Cambón, O.F.M.- June 27, 1776

Father Francisco Palóu, O.F.M. - June 27, 1776–1784

Father Eugene O'Connell- 1854

Father Richard Carroll- 1854-1860

Father John J. Prendergast- 1860-1867

Father Thomas Cushing- 1867-1875

Father Richard P. Brennan- 1875-1904

Father Patrick Cummins- 1905-1916

Father John W. Sullivan- 1916-1939

The Most Rev. Thomas A. Connolly- 1939-1948 (First Auxiliary Bishop, First Rector)

The Most Rev. James T. O'Dowd- 1948-1950 (Rector)

The Most Rev. Merlin Guilfoyle, VG- 1950-1969 (Rector)

The Most Rev. Norman F. McFarland- 1970-1974 (Last Rector)

The Rev. Msgr. Richard S. Knapp- 1974, 1974-1983 (Served first as Administrator, then Pastor)

The Rev. Msgr. John J. O'Connor- 1983-1997

The Rev. Msgr. Maurice McCormick- 1997-2003

The Most Rev. William J. Justice- 2003-2007 (Became a bishop after he left Mission Dolores)

The Rev. Arturo Albano- 2007–present