“You are a priest forever.”

Honoring those who laid down their lives for others

By Mary Powers

Priests play a pivotal role in the life of the Church. Upon them the sacred power for service of the faithful is conferred in the Sacrament of Holy Orders—exercising that service by teaching, divine worship, and pastoral governance. 1 Priests journey with us through triumphs and sorrows, caring for Christ’s flock and leading them to their eternal home.

In the month of November, as we remember those who have gone before us, we also hold deceased priests in our prayers—those who have impacted our lives over the years and those we may not have known in this life. In November, the Archdiocese of San Francisco particularly honors the many deceased priests who have served the faithful, most of whom are buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma.

“This is one of my favorite Masses that we have throughout the year,” said Monica Williams, director of cemeteries for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. “It is a very intimate day with just the priests gathering to remember their brothers.”

Nine years ago, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone established the Memorial Mass for Deceased Priests of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Held at All Saints Mausoleum Chapel at Holy Cross, the Archbishop celebrates Mass with priests serving in the Archdiocese, where the names of the priests who have died during the year are remembered by name. Then, the Archbishop and priests process to the Priest Plot at Holy Cross for final prayers and singing the Salve Regina.

“It is so touching to see them walk through the Priest Plot sharing stories and memories of their brother priests,” says Williams. “This day really defines what a cemetery is – a place to gather to pray and remember and console one another.”

Buried in All Saints Chapel are each of the former archbishops of San Francisco, including Archbishop Joseph Alemany, the first Archbishop of San Francisco. The Priest Plot at Holy Cross is a circle in the middle of the central road. Buried there are priests who served the Archdiocese from the very beginning, including several who were transferred from Calvary Cemetery in San Francisco when Holy Cross was founded in 1887. Each priest is buried facing a memorial etching of the Last Supper that reads, “You are a priest forever.”

Williams recounts that visitors to Holy Cross will walk through the Priest Plot and Chapel and recount stories of priests and bishops they knew as their pastors and friends. Some they served as altar servers, others baptized them, others were bishops who confirmed them.

Walking through Holy Cross and praying for the souls of those who laid down their lives to serve the Church is an important tradition, connecting to the roots of our personal faith and the history of faith in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. 

  1. Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd ed.). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. #1592 ↩︎

Mary Powers is the assistant director of communications for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.