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COVID Closures: Old Saint Mary's Cathedral In San Francisco Makes Online Plea For Support

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A 167-year-old Catholic church in San Francisco is in danger of becoming a casualty of the pandemic, leading it to make a desperate plea for donations to keep the doors from shutting for good.

Built in 1854, the Old St. Mary's Cathedral sits at California Street and Grant Avenue between Chinatown and the Financial District. The old façade survived the 1906 quake and the church has become an interesting stop for sightseeing tourists, who usually leave something in the collection box.

"And even if it's a small amount, it provides for turning the lights on that day," said Father John Ardis.

But with business and tourism all but shut down, so are donations to keep the cathedral running. Father Ardis says he has cut costs and most of the staff, but the situation has become so dire that they have started a GoFundMe drive to try to save the cathedral.

"I'm afraid at some point the Archdiocese is probably going to look at parishes and their solvency and will have to probably make decisions about who all can remain open," he explained.

The church is facing heavy maintenance costs and also owes $250,000 in insurance payments.

It is a problem all churches are facing, but Old St. Mary's Cathedral is particularly threatened due to the lack of visiting tourists and because its elderly congregation isn't accustomed to online giving. That has not been the case at the Lake Merritt United Methodist Church in Oakland.

The church took a financial hit when the pre-school shut down and they couldn't rent out the sanctuary as a music venue, but church treasurer Patty Staggs says online worship services have been well attended and donations have remained steady.

"Our congregation has been very good in their congregational giving," she said. "They have stepped up. Those who are able have been even giving a little more, probably a bit more consistently."

Back at Old St. Mary's Cathedral, they're not giving up hope or faith. Weekday indoor masses resumed Monday with only seven people attending, including one regular parishioner. But Father Ardis said that regular churchgoer made a major contribution that they found when they opened the collection box.

"She had given us a gift of $5,000 yesterday because she knows the difficult times we're in," said Ardis.

Father Ardis says the Archdiocese provides administrative services for parishes but each church is expected to generate enough revenue to support its operation. For more information about the effort, interested parties can visit the cathedral's GoFundMe page.

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