The saga of the Catholic Church in San Francisco during this pandemic has led to a high-profile tragedy this week as we learn of the death of one of the priests at Saints Peter and Paul Church in North Beach.
The church announced an outbreak of COVID-19 last week that had affected three priests, and just over a week later we learn that one of them, Father Bob Stein, died on Tuesday morning. The death was announced on the church website, and while the church had hoped to resume services on February 13, they now say that it will remain closed with only online services through at least the 23rd. Father Stein was 72 years old.
"We are deeply touched and grateful for the prayers and support so many of you have sent for those of us (clergy and staff) who tested positive for COVID,” the statement reads. “We are sorry to say that Fr. Bob Stein passed away early on the morning of February 16. Please pray for the repose of his soul. We certainly will not be able to open the Church before February 23 at the earliest."
Also infected in the outbreak were Father Al Mengon, and retired priest Father Armand Oliveri, who is 100 years old, as well as three of Father Armand's caregivers, according to a now removed post on the church's homepage. Their respective conditions are not known at this time.
Father Oliveri was profiled in a May 2019 piece by Catholic SF magazine, and he lives in a modest room at the church rectory. He performed his first mass at Saints Peter Paul in 1950.
The Archdiocese of San Francisco gave a statement to KCBS radio calling Father Stein‘s death "a very sad development," and saying that the Catholic community is praying for the well-being of the other sick priests.
Saints Peter and Paul Church was one of at least several in San Francisco that flouted public health orders in 2020 to hold in-person services and mass when these things were not permitted. And in one nationally covered case last July, the church allowed a 100-person wedding to go on until city officials physically showed up to shut it down. In that case, it was another priest, Father Gael Sullivan, the pastoral administrator of the church, who had apparently given the go-ahead to the bride and groom.
That wedding — even though it was interrupted and held outside with fewer people — and its subsequent reception were then blamed for at least 10 cases of COVID-19, including the bride and groom.