One hundred and [ten] years ago today, the city of San Francisco was struck by a terrible earthquake which caused an immense amount of death and destruction, and then caused fires that burned for days afterward and did even more damage than the quake itself.
When I was a child, Hollywood made the movie “San Francisco” with Jeannette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy, and Clark Gable which was a great box-office hit. Being a young and very impressionable child, I found the movie totally fascinating and have seen it many times. When I first went to San Francisco in the Navy, I made it my business to seek out people and things having to do with the events of April, 1906.
I met one elderly lady who had been a young nurse on duty when the quake struck at about 5:30 a.m. She and a doctor manned a horse-drawn ambulance, and for three days made their way through the rubble, seeking out wounded people and bringing them to hospitals and makeshift clinics. On another occasion, the sacristan at Old Saint Mary’s Church where I often served Mass, took me down into the foundations of the church and there showed me the original pilings which had been broken by the earthquake, to be replaced by new ones which are supporting the church today. The great Italian opera singer, Enrico Caruso, was singing there at the time and staying at the luxurious Palace Hotel on Market Street. After making sure that he wasn’t dead or injured, his sister back east sent a telegram to the mayor of the city, congratulating him. “You’re the only one I know who can get my brother out of bed before noon!” she said.
Back to the present, I again ask your prayers for those who died in the shootings at Virginia Tech this past Monday, for their grieving families and friends, and for the wounded, at least one of whom, I think, is still in very serious condition at a nearby hospital. Whether death comes through earthquakes or the sinking of ships like the Titanic, six years almost to the day after the San Francisco earthquake, or the madness of a young man who kills college faculty and students at random, it is tragic and deserves our prayers. However, Christ our Savior has robbed death of its eternal tragedy and made it the entrance into eternal life for those who live in union with Him, either consciously or not. So the joy of Easter overcomes even earthquakes, hurricanes, the foundering of ships, and murder perpetrated by deeply disturbed human beings. Eternal rest grant to all those victims, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.