Archbishop Emeritus George Niederauer of San Francisco, who died May 2, was part of a quartet of Los Angeles-born-raised-and-educated priests who shared a remarkable and certainly unique link to the Catholic hierarchy. For rarely, if ever, has a single region produced so many future bishops in so short of a time period.
The four --- born within 14 months (and 30 miles) of one another, and ordained to the priesthood within 370 days of each other --- all attended St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo and were later ordained archbishops. Three were created cardinal, three served as archbishops, two served in posts at the Vatican, and all have been named “Distinguished Alumni” by St. John’s.
They are (in order of birth):
---Cardinal Justin Francis Rigali, born April 19, 1935 in Los Angeles; ordained to the priesthood April 25, 1961.
---Cardinal Roger Michael Mahony, born Feb. 27, 1936 in Hollywood; ordained May 1, 1962.
---Archbishop Niederauer, born June 14, 1936 in Los Angeles; ordained April 30, 1962.
---Cardinal William Joseph Levada, born June 15, 1936 in Long Beach; ordained Dec. 20, 1961.
Three were ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles except for Cardinal Mahony, for the Diocese of Fresno. Cardinal Mahony was the first to be named to the episcopacy, as auxiliary bishop of Fresno in 1975, then bishop of Stockton in 1980 and archbishop of Los Angeles in 1985. He was created cardinal in 1991 and retired in 2011.
Cardinal Rigali, within three years of his ordination, was studying and serving at the Vatican, where he was eventually ordained an archbishop in 1985 and served as secretary for the Congregation of Bishops and the College of Cardinals. He returned to the U.S. as archbishop of St. Louis (1994) and Philadelphia (2003, the year he was created cardinal), and retired in 2011
Cardinal Levada was named an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles in 1983, archbishop of Portland (Oregon) in 1986 and archbishop of San Francisco in 1995. In 2005, he was named prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope Benedict XVI, and was created cardinal in 2006. He retired in 2012.
Archbishop Niederauer, the only one of the four to serve as rector-president of St. John’s, was installed as bishop of Salt Lake City in 1995, then succeeded Cardinal Levada as archbishop of San Francisco in 2006, retiring in 2012.
Archbishop Niederauer and Cardinal Levada (born a day apart, and high school classmates at St. Anthony in Long Beach) also represent two of several episcopal links between Los Angeles and San Francisco that extends to the origins of the respective dioceses.
When the Archdiocese of San Francisco was established in 1853 (from what was previously known as the Diocese of Both Californias and included Mexico), the first Archbishop was Joseph Sadoc Alemany, a Dominican from Spain, who served for 31 years.
His successor, Patrick William Riordan (who served until 1914), was to have been succeeded by Bishop George Thomas Montgomery of the Los Angeles-Monterey Diocese, who had been named coadjutor archbishop for San Francisco in 1902. But Bishop Montgomery, who led the archdiocese in caring for victims of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 (and helped put out the fire in St. Mary’s Cathedral’s bell tower), died unexpectedly in 1907.
Following the tenures of Archbishops Edward Joseph Hanna and John Joseph Mitty, San Francisco received Joseph Thomas McGucken as archbishop in 1962. The new archbishop was a Los Angeles native, ordained a priest for the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego in 1928 and named an L.A. auxiliary bishop in 1941 before moving to Sacramento as bishop in 1955 and then San Francisco. He retired in 1977 and died in 1983.