Dominican priest Joseph Sadoc Alemany did not want the job of being the first archbishop of San Francisco. He wanted to keep doing missionary work. He had been happy working in that field for 10 years in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. But he was a man who answered when duty called.

The Spanish priest was 26 years old when he first arrived in the United States in 1840. During the next 10 years he mastered the English language and learned how people lived in a republic. He became a U.S. citizen. Then he was called back to Rome. Pope Pius IX appointed Alemany bishop of Monterey.

But Monterey wasn't the right spot. In 1853 Alemany moved to San Francisco, and Rome created the San Francisco diocese, which reached to the Oregon border, with Alemany as its first archbishop.

There were 21 adobe missions scattered up and down the state of California. And there were only a dozen or so priests in the whole place.

During the next 32 years Alemany worked to recruit priests, nuns and friars, and build churches, schools and seminaries. He succeeded so well that by the time he retired in 1884 the Archdiocese of San Francisco had 175 priests, hundreds of female religious and more than 125 parishes.

He was instrumental in the creation of Saint Mary's College and the College of St. Albert, which became the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.

During Alemany's tenure the Jesuits founded Santa Clara University, St. Ignatius College Preparatory High School and the University of San Francisco.


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In 1884 Alemany retired and went back to Spain. Before he left he spoke at a confirmation ceremony for a group of children at St. Mary's Cathedral, which he himself caused to be built.

"My children, my body alone departs, but my heart is with you and will remain with you. When I shall have left and the breadth of many a league of land and of ocean divides us from each other, many will be the moments when the tears shall spring to my eyes at the thought that perhaps never again will I be permitted to see you," he said.

Alemany died in 1888 and was buried in the family vault in Vich, Spain.

In 1921 San Francisco Archbishop Edward J. Hanna petitioned the cathedral chapter of Vich in an attempt to bring the first archbishop of California back to his adopted home. Alemany's family opposed the removal. Then came the Spanish Civil War, and there were fears that the family vault would be desecrated, so all identifications were removed. For a while no one knew where Alemany was buried. World War II delayed further negotiations. Finally, in 1962, Alemany's family agreed to have the body moved to California.

On Jan. 27, 1965, Alemany's body was flown to San Francisco. On Feb. 6, 1965, a pontifical Mass of requiem was celebrated, and Alemany now rests with the other archbishops of the San Francisco Diocese at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.