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Churches need money to repair, prepare for earthquake damage.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Earthquakes and churches do not sit well together. High up in Sacred Heart Church at Fillmore and Fell here, nets are strung across the ceiling to catch decorated plaster loosened by the 1989 earthquake in a building that since 1896 has withstood many earthquakes, including the big one in 1906.

Outside, the pastor, Father Kenneth Westray, stuck his bands in his pockets and wondered where the millions of dollars might come from to earthquake retrofit the church, as required by conscience and law.

The initial estimate is $3.5 million, perhaps beyond reach for a church with 200 active families, though a very active school. Church ($110,000) and school ($440,000) budgets already benefit significantly from $184,000 in annual archdiocesan subsidies.

A proposition on the recent San Francisco ballot further strengthened the local government's hand in demanding that the city's buildings be earthquake-proofed; it shortened the timeline and increased the level of retrofit for churches.

George Wesolek, archdiocesan special-project coordinator, recently said that as a result, the bill for 12 damaged San Francisco Catholic churches could be well in excess of $45 million to $50 million. Does the archdiocese have that kind of money? "No," said Wesolek.

Across the bay in Oakland, St. Francis de Sales Cathedral has remained empty -- closed and scaffolded -- since the 1989 quake. Bishop John Cummins has made a commitment to razing the building and the severely damaged Oakland Sacred Heart Church, also closed, rather than spend more than $10 million needed for repairs. Demolition of the two buildings would cost about $150,000. Cummins has said that, in conscience, in a diocese with serious social problems, he could not pour that kind of money into buildings.

Oakland's coordinator, Clem Finney, said that because the Hayward fault line runs through the east Bay area and a major earthquake is predicted along it within 30 years, the diocese is studying which other buildings will require work.

Oakland is suffering some post-earthquake headaches that San Francisco has yet to experience. Once Oakland's bishop applied for official permission to raze the cathedral, the preservationists and environmentalists sued -- but offered no funds -- to block the demolition. Legal fees over that litigation are already exceeding $70,000; there will be expensive environmental impact statements and engineering studies required, too.

Once the San Francisco archdiocese produces its plan, including possible recommendations for razing churches and amalgamating parishes, the preservationists and aggrieved parishioners will be heard from there, also.

Hardest-hit physically in San Francisco was the plant of St. Paul's Church, where Whoopi Goldberg filmed the movie Sister Act earlier this year. Father Martin Greenlaw has to contend with a minimum of perhaps $12 million to $15 million in repairs and supports to the church, two convents and three schools. Can he raise the money? "I don't know," be said, "it will be really tough to save them all. I've three committees (retrofit, fund-raising and engineering) working on it. But it's an archdiocesan question, too."

Meanwhile, at St. Dominic's Parish on Bush Street in San Francisco, earthquake damage has transformed the architectural appearance of a somewhat traditional neo-Gothic structure into what looks like a small medieval European cathedral. Pre-stressed concrete flying buttresses have added a certain style to the church building, which lost most of its tower in the 1989 earthquake, and added $6.6 million in budgetary bill.

St. Dominic's, a Dominican parish since its inception in 1873 and the fourth church on the site, was oddly lucky. For liturgical reasons, in 1984, the parish considered moving the sanctuary down into the congregation, but a physical examination of the building showed the church was seismically understable, explained project coordinator Kathleen Kearny.

The fund-raising campaign therefore had been under way for five years when the 1989 quake hit the parish, which lost one church in the great fire and earthquake of 1906. St. Dominic's raised $6.6 million, an amount that included two anonymous $1 million donations.

There is, of course, more than physical damage remaining after an earthquake. Father Kenneth Westray looked up at the nets in Sacred Heart Church, which is still in use, and said that the presence of the nets "is disturbing for some, because it reminds them of a disturbing time in their lives."

What disturbs yet challenges both dioceses now is the task of rethinking what parish needs are and how, physically, they might be met in new ways.
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Title Annotation:San Francisco, California Archdiocese
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 25, 1992
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