Angry parents at Star of the Sea School ask Archdiocese to oust church leaders

Photo: Michael Macor / The Chronicle

The Chronicle reports that on Wednesday night, more than 100 parents of Star of the Sea School students asked the San Francisco Archdiocese that the controversial leaders of their school’s church be removed from their posts.

It’s been a rough start to the year for the Star of the Sea community as Father Joseph Illo, the new head priest at the Star of the Sea Church, has come under fire for new policies and practices.

In January, Father Illo instituted a new policy banning girls from being altar servers. This despite girls had been allowed to serve alongside boys since the 1970’s.

Illo told the media that he had “no choice but to exclude girls because the future of the Catholic Church is at stake.”

“The specifics of serving at the altar is a priestly function,” Illo said. “And the Catholic church does not ordain women.”

Then in February, Illo was criticized again after another church leader, Father Driscoll, handed out pamphlets to young students at the adjoining Star of the Sea school that many parents felt were inappropriate.

In preparation for their first confession, second graders were given a pamphlet asking questions about sexual topics like “Did I practice impure acts on myself or masturbate?”

“It talked about some pretty serious things, that pamphlet,” said parent Meghan Parent. “So yeah, obviously we want to protect our kids as much as possible.”

The Star of the Sea School and the adjoining church share a name and real estate, but not leadership and members. The two organizations are technically separate, and most of the students and their parents are not members of the church.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, parents “took turns at a microphone and cited examples of how they believe the men had disrupted the open, tolerant atmosphere of the school,” wrote the Chronicle.

Some parents feel that Father Illo’s new policies and attitudes have excluded many children from participating in the school’s spiritual activities.

At Wednesday’s meeting, which was organized by the school parents’ club, speakers said recent policy changes have shaken their school community and left many children confused about their role in the school and the church.

“It is with such great sadness and such a heavy heart that I find myself right here, right now,” said parent Brenda Kittredge, who went to school at Star of the Sea herself and now has four children at the school. “It frightens me that for a second I actually thought about sending my children somewhere else.” SF Chronicle

Father Illo and representatives from the Archidiocese’s office were present at Wednesday night’s meeting, but did not speak. The representatives told parents that their concerns would be taken to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who would ultimately be the one to make any decisions about the Star of the Sea religious leadership.

Father Illo acknowledged to the Chronicle that it’s a difficult situation and that there is a lot of tension and anxiety between himself and the school parents

“It was a good forum,” Illo told the Chronicle. “It’s important to hear their perspective.”

Sarah B.


  1. Let me see if I get this correct. A bunch of parents, with the resources to do so, abandon the public school system to get their children educated.

    A public school system that is by definition all inclusive as it has to take all kids rich and poor.

    Then when an institution with a 2000 year history of being conservative in the extreme exercises that conservatism; the parents are aghast?

    I appears that a lot of parents want their cake and eat it as well.

  2. JD- welcome to San Francisco and its over-the-top entitled, pseudo-liberal “elites”.

  3. yeah but let’s be real. how many of those parents only took their kids to private school after the SFUSD told them their kids would have to bus across town instead of go to the school down the block

  4. I believe that the teachers also want their cake and eat it too. They want the privilege of teaching at a school where children are well-behaved and respectful and serious about being educated, but at the same time their “rights” to teach their own progressive agendas and cafeteria style approach to Catholicism. Furthermore, no institution in its right mind allows its employees to undermine its essential message. Catholic schools exist to teach Catholicism…That’s why our ancestors sacrificed their time and treasure to build them. Let the discontents move on to the public schools who exist, apparently, to serve the progressive agenda. And suffer the product of progressive thinking.

  5. I look forward to articles that also explore positive aspects of the many religious institutions in San Francisco.

  6. I am a confessing protestant, so I take many of the things taught by Catholicism to be heretical and blasphemous.

    However, despite those serious differences I still support their social and legal right to run a school in accord with their beliefs and doctrines. If non-Catholics or nominal Catholics believe otherwise, they should take them to a different school, not start a revolution at Star of the Sea.

    One should minimally expect Catholicism to be practiced in a Catholic school!

  7. @Chris & @Johannes:: it seems that the Catholic Church itself engages in “the cafeteria style approach to Catholicism.” For over 40 years the Carholic Church apparently had no problem with alter boys AND girls serving. Now, suddenly, the very future of the Church (!!) depends on denying girls at Star of the Sea the very opportunity their older sisters and maybe even mothers were allowed to experience. I, too, support the Church’s right to “run a school in accord with their beliefs and doctrines”–if only they could decide once and for all what these doctrines and beliefs are. Were the previous heads of the Star and the Sea violating Church doctrine and beliefs when they allowed girls to serve? For 40 years no one noticed? Parents who have enrolled their daughters in that school had no way to know that the policy would change when some new guy showed up. Does anyone really believe that denying girls the opportunity to serve in this capacity will mean the demise of all that is holy in this Church?

  8. It’s a better decision to remove yourself and your children immediately and completely from the Catholic church, which is a church of organized childrape, in brutal defiance of Jesus in Matt 18:6-14, and filthy riches, in brutal defiance of Jesus in Matt 19:21.

  9. renee

    The question is whether, on the particular issue you seem to care about, having altar girls runs parallel to or detracts from the Catholic belief in an all-male clergy. The answer to this question is best answered by someone whose commitments are thoroughly sympathetic in his approval of the male priesthood. Once this condition is met, the question is whether leadership at SOTS school has been consistent in implementing the policy, whether inclusive of females or not. As an outsider, it seems to me the idea is that having female altar servants could be plausibly seen as encouraging female participation in priestly functions, a theological impossibility.
    This line of thinking also presumes that the Catholic church is a top-down organization, composed of “shepherds” tending “flocks.”

    “Were the previous heads of the Star and the Sea violating Church doctrine and beliefs when they allowed girls to serve? For 40 years no one noticed?” In some sense, the answer to this would be yes. In another sense, it isn’t that there is some direct violation of doctrine going on, but rather the question is, “Does this promote or detract from efforts to keep the priesthood male.” Furthermore, because some policy is allowed to stand for 40 odd years is no proof that it is a unanimously held and settled position (See abortion sentiments in the US after Roe v Wade, as an example.)

    And to Neil: As I said, I disagree (to the point of assigning the label of heretical) with Catholic theology, but it is absurd to imply that the Roman Catholic church is willingly an institutional structure to promote “childrape.”

  10. I’m shocked to discover that the Catholic priests at this Catholic school are teaching Catholicism!!!

  11. Non sequitur, but speaking from experience, there were no girl altar servers in the 80’s. I believe they started in the mid-ish 90’s. As conservative as he was, Msgr. Burns eventually allowed it. Again, as conservative as he was, I doubt Msgr. Burns would have ever tried to pull this stuff.

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