Fr. Michael Accolti, S.J.
The history of Saint Ignatius College during its first quarter century is interwoven with the establishment of the Jesuit Order in California, European immigration to the Western United States, and the population growth of California and San Francisco as a result of the California Gold Rush. Few individuals better represent the confluence of these historical streams than Michael Accolti, S.J.
Michael Accolti was born into an aristocratic family in the Kingdom of Naples in 1807. In 1832, at age the age of 25, he became a member of the Society of Jesus in the Roman province. In 1844, he was sent by the Jesuits to the newly settled territory of Oregon, thus becoming one of the first of approximately 350 Italian Jesuit immigrants who came to America during the nineteenth century. The immigration of many of these Italian Jesuits, along with thousands of other Italians, was prompted in part by the political upheavals in Italy associated with that countrys unification. From 1844 to 1848, Fr. Accolti and another Italian Jesuit, Fr. John Nobili, worked as missionaries in Oregon. In 1848, Fr. Accolti was made superior of the Jesuit residence at Willamette, Oregon. In that same year, he and Fr. Nobili received a letter from Fr. Anthony Langlois, a French-Canadian priest working in San Francisco, asking them to help civilize and educate that tumultuous Gold Rush town, whose population was dramatically increasing as tens of thousands of people descended on the city on their way to the gold fields of Northern California. The overwhelming majority of these fortune seekers were young men, and many were Catholics, including a sizeable group from Fr. Accoltis own congregation in Oregon.
The arrival of Fr. Accolti and Fr. Nobili in San Francisco on December 8, 1849, the year before California attained statehood, marked the beginning of a permanent Jesuit educational and religious establishment in our city and in our state. Although Fr. Accolti was ordered to return to Oregon in July of 1850, Fr. Nobili remained in Northern California and founded Santa Clara College in 1851. Fr. Accolti sailed back to Rome in late 1853, met with Father General Peter Beckx, and in the following year secured the ?adoption? of the California and Oregon mission by the Jesuit province of Turin, Italy. This led to badly needed economic and manpower support for the California enterprise. For example, the Turin provincial ordered Anthony Maraschi, S.J., who was then teaching at Loyola College, Maryland, to head for San Francisco. In 1855, Fr. Accolti returned to San Francisco and assisted Fr. Maraschi in founding Saint Ignatius Church and College. He served as Fr. Maraschis assistant for six months before being transferred to Santa Clara College. At Santa Clara, Fr. Accolti was prefect of studies and professor of ethics for four years. He then served as parish priest of Santa Clara, retaining for one year the position of director of studies at Santa Clara College. In 1867, he returned to San Francisco, where he worked at Saint Ignatius College and was chaplain at San Quentin Prison. He died on the evening of November 7, 1878, probably of a massive stroke, shortly after leaving for the day from Saint Ignatius College. His funeral was held in Saint Ignatius Church two days later, after which his body was taken by a Southern Pacific Railroad train for burial in the Santa Clara Mission cemetery.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus in 1540, called for the establishment of Jesuit educational institutions throughout the world. Over 300 years later, in 1850, Fr. Accolti wrote ?once that our Society shall, like a vine, have been lawfully planted in California and shall have taken root, it will be easy for it afterwards to spread its branches; hence, when we shall have established one college, it will be an easy matter to put our minds and our hands to the starting of another. Thus will everything be more solid than if we keep many things at the same time before our eyes. Indeed we doubt not that many, nay, very many things for the greater glory of God will, throughout the length and breadth of California, present themselves to be done.?
Today on the University of San Francisco campus there is a meeting room dedicated to Michael Accolti, S.J., founder of the Jesuit Order in California. It is to honor a Jesuit who successfully implemented a mission of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a mission that continues to this day, and that will guide our institution into the future.
Bibliographic note: The life and times of Michael Accolti, S.J., are described in detail in The First Half Century: St Ignatius Church and College by Joseph Riordan, S.J., and in Jesuits by the Golden Gate: The Society of Jesus in San Francisco, 18491969 by John McGloin, S.J. Many of the missionary activities of the Jesuits in the west during the nineteenth century are described in Across the Rockies: Italian Jesuits in the American West, which appeared in the November 2000 issue of the magazine Company, written by Gerald McKevitt, S.J., a Santa Clara University historian. Finally, Michael Kotlanger, S.J., USFs archivist, supplied several important details about Fr. Accolti, his Jesuit colleagues, and their mission.