#2 Nora Fennell – Her love & labor of Mission Dolores Church

Nora Fennell – Her love and labor of Mission Dolores Church (San Francisco, CA)

Old Mission Dolores, SF, CA

Nora Fennell
b. abt 1843 Montreal, Quebec, Canada
d. 10/31/1910 San Francisco, CA

Her obituary reads – San Francisco Call 11/1/1910 – Miss Nora Fennell, Pioneer is Dead.
Was for years the organist at Mission Dolores Church:
Nora Fennell, one of the oldest and best known residences of the Mission District in San Francisco passed away. She was at the house of her sister Elizabeth Donahue, 1216 Cole Street. Miss Fennell was born in Canada and came to San Francisco in about 1854 as a child with her family. Her father was Michael Fennell, one of San Francisco’s pioneer builders of the Mission District. She had charge of Old Mission Dolores up to a few years ago and was active in many charitable movements. The funeral service will be held at Mission Dolores Wednesday, Intermit will be Holy Cross Cemetery.

A women like this deserves more than date by her name on the family tree. Nora never married, had no children so without myself or my cousin Bob, she and her accomplishments might go unrecognized. The news article below is one of many that praise Nora and her hard work and dedication on the restoration on Old Mission Dolores Church. Clearly, she was passionate about the church that she and her sibling grew up in.

San Francisco Call – 4/19/1905
Old Mission Dolores to open again tomorrow.
Three years have passed since the movement to save Old Mission Dolores Church. At that time Miss Nora Fennell, took the task up to raising money to restore the interior of the old church back to the original state. Succeeding wonderfully financial she gave the work of saving the tottering alter to the Mahoney Brothers, who performed their task so that a century from now the alter will stay firmly within the adobe walls.
While “whitewashing” the walls, lying behind the surface were found original traces of Indian Neophytes. With rare skill this were preserved. Beside the statues within the sanctuary, many of which were masterfully carved and colored, (none under a century old) have been repaired by Charles E. Fennell (Nora’s younger brother). For two years Charles has devoted his leisure time to restoring with love and labor.

Nora took on the task of restoring Old Mission Dolores out of love for the old church and the district of San Francisco that she grew up in. She attended Mass every Sunday and she organized the first choir. She was organist on the little old yellow melodeon until it no longer worked and she then raised funds for a new organ. Nora taught piano lessons to the children of the neighborhood and lived in the same house till her death. Another of Nora’s passions was painting. An oil painting, by Nora, titled – “Mission Dolores” hangs in the Officers Club at the Presidio. This is an oil canvas cir. 1890. My cousin Bob tells me there may be more of her work in his father’s attic; however, his brother will not let any of us enter the attic.  We’re working on him and when I do get in that attic look out blog.

After learning of Nora’s hard work and contribution to the Old Mission, I was interested in the Mission itself.  Briefly, without making this a California history lesson – Mission Dolores was built by the Spanish Padres of California. The mission San Francisco de Asis founded June 29, 1776. The settlement was named for St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order, but was also commonly known as “Mission Dolores” owing to the presence of a nearby creek named Arroyo de los Dolores, or “Creek of Sorrow. The main alter was made in Mexico and brought over to this spot in pieces over a century ago.  I reference the main alter because that is the piece that the Mahoney Brothers were commissioned to restore.

I spent an afternoon at Old Mission Dolores and couldn’t help but get a sense of pride that an ancestor of mine was responsible for the preservation of such significant part of San Francisco.

The two photographs were taken by Charles Fennell about 1906. 1) Nora is in her home; 2) Old Mission Dolores Church, the shadow in the bottom right corner is Nora.

Nora Fennell home


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