Father Joseph Illo, Star of the Sea, San Francisco, CA
Submitted by: Eva Muntean
In the face of San Francisco’s restrictions on celebration of public Mass (only allowed outdoors, with a maximum of 12 persons in attendance including the priest) Fr. Illo has made superhuman efforts to serve the people of God. He outflanked the 12 person limit by adopting the suggestion of his parochial vicar, Fr. Matthias Wambua, to celebrate five Masses simultaneously at various locations throughout the parish complex at all Sunday Masses. This amounts to a total of 20 Masses each weekend, attended by 240 of the faithful. The success of this initiative inspired Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone to follow Fr. Illo’s example, and for the past two weekends there have been 12 Masses celebrated simultaneously in the plaza in front of St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Also, throughout the pandemic, he has made sure the Blessed Sacrament is exposed daily, so that the faithful may find comfort in this time of anxiety.
In serving the faithful, Fr. Illo has gone far beyond the bounds of his parish. When, due to fear of the coronavirus, both the Missionaries of Charity and the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration had no priest to celebrate daily Mass, Fr. Illo stepped up and made sure all their Masses are covered by him or by one of his parochial vicars. This in addition to the three daily outdoor Masses at the parish.
Further, each Sunday, Fr. Illo leads a Rosary Walk around St. Mary’s Cathedral where the faithful pray the Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and Consecration to Mary for the restoration of public Mass.
Further still, following the desecration and destruction of the statue of St. Junipero Serra in Golden Gate Park, Fr. Illo led the faithful in a Rosary and Act of Reparation, at the site of the statue. The following weekend he was joined by Archbishop Cordileone as the Archbishop offered exorcism prayers at the site.
Finally, in the midst of the epidemic, Fr. Illo has started the “Kenya Hospital Project”—an initiative to radically enlarge the “Kitengela Star of the Sea Medical Clinic” outside Nairobi. This little clinic, started two years ago under the direction of Star’s Fr. Matthias Wambua, now offers 28 cost-free outpatient visits daily. Under the “Kenya Hospital Project” the clinic will be transformed into a five story, 30 bed hospital. Fr. Illo said, “Imagine a parish building an entire hospital in Africa! I hope our parish medical mission will bring our community even closer together as we share our American abundance with the really poor on another continent.”
Fr. Illo’s fidelity to the needs of the faithful, the duties of the priesthood, and the rights of the Church, when so many have not done so, have strengthened my faith immeasurably and has inspired me to step up and help those in need. He is a living example of how, throughout the history of the Church, one man may make an incredible difference, although he is standing alone.
I think Fr. Illo deserves to be recognized for the 2020 "In Service of One Another" Catholic Humanitarian Award precisely because he is following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ: maintaining fidelity in the face of attack and derision, recognizing that his first duty is to God, and, finally, offering himself up in order that his flock may be protected, nourished, and enabled to grow in the love of Christ.