Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption (San Francisco, California)

Coordinates: 37°47′03″N 122°25′31″W / 37.784201°N 122.425297°W / 37.784201; -122.425297

Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption

Cathedral from the DePaul Campus of the Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory
37°47′3.13″N 122°25′31.07″W / 37.7842028°N 122.4252972°W / 37.7842028; -122.4252972
Location 1111 Gough St.
San Francisco, California
Country United States
Denomination Roman Catholic
Founded 1891
Dedication October 5, 1996
Architect(s) Pier Luigi Nervi, Pietro Belluschi, John Michael Lee, Paul A. Ryan and Angus McSweeney
Style Structural Expressionist Modern
Groundbreaking 1967
Completed 1971
Capacity 2,400 seats
Diocese Archdiocese of San Francisco
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone
Rector Arturo Albano

The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, also known locally as Saint Mary's Cathedral, is the principal church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco in San Francisco, California. It is the mother church of the Catholic faithful in the California counties of Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo and is the metropolitan cathedral for the Ecclesiastical province of San Francisco. The rector of the cathedral is Msgr. John Talesfore.

The cathedral is located in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. The present cathedral replaced one (1891-1962) of the same name. The original Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception was built in 1853-1854 and still stands today. It is now known as Old Saint Mary's Church.

Second cathedral

The 1891 cathedral

In 1883, Archbishop Patrick W. Riordan purchased the northwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and O'Farrell Street in Western Addition. Riordan broke ground in December 1885. On May 1, 1887 the archbishop placed the cornerstone. Archbishop Riordan dedicated the edifice to Saint Mary of the Assumption on January 11, 1891. The second cathedral served the Archdiocese of San Francisco for seventy-one years. During the episcopal terms of archbishops Riordan, Edward J. Hanna and John J. Mitty. Papal Secretary of State Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, (future Pope Pius XII) said Mass at the high altar in October 1936. On April 3, 1962, Joseph T. McGucken was installed as the fifth Archbishop of San Francisco in the cathedral on Van Ness Avenue, five months later the landmark was destroyed by arson on the night of September 7, 1962.

Rectors of the cathedral from 1891 to 1962

Catholic Directory Archdiocese of San Francisco

New cathedral: 1971

The present cathedral was commissioned just as Vatican II was convening in Rome. Prescriptions of the historic church council allowed the Archdiocese of San Francisco to plan boldly in the building of its new cathedral. That resulted in the modern design of the present structure. Monsignor Thomas J. Bowe served as first rector of the new cathedral from 1962 to 1980. The cornerstone was laid on December 13, 1967, and the cathedral was completed three years later. On May 5, 1971, the cathedral was blessed and on October 5, 1996, was formally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the name of Saint Mary of the Assumption. The first Papal Mass was celebrated by Pope John Paul II in the cathedral in 1987.

It ran the private all-female Cathedral High School, in a building adjoined to the present-day cathedral itself. CHS merged with nearby all-male private Sacred Heart High School in 1987. St. Mary's Cathedral still has close ties to the resulting Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, which uses the cathedral as its principal church for masses and other special events, such as graduation.


The cathedral was designed by local architects John Michael Lee, Paul A. Ryan and Angus McSweeney,[1] collaborating with internationally known architects Pier Luigi Nervi and Pietro Belluschi at the time, the Dean of the School of Architecture at MIT.

Its saddle roof is composed of eight segments of hyperbolic paraboloids, in such a fashion that the bottom horizontal cross section of the roof is a square and the top cross section is a cross. The design is reminiscent of St. Mary's Cathedral in Tokyo, which was built earlier in the decade.

Measuring 255 feet (77.7 m) square, the cathedral soars to 190 feet (57.9 m) high and is crowned with a 55 feet (16.7 m) golden cross. Due to its resemblance to a large washing machine agitator, the cathedral has been nicknamed "Our Lady of Maytag" or "McGucken's Maytag". The building was selected in 2007 by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects for a list of San Francisco's top 25 buildings.[2]

Interior photos

See also


  1. "St. Mary's Cathedral". Archdiocese of San Francisco Web Page. 2008.
  2. "It's official: Emanu-El is a San Francisco gem". Jewish Weekly. 2007-04-20.
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37°47′03″N 122°25′31″W / 37.78423°N 122.42537°W / 37.78423; -122.42537

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