Chinese youth orchestra to play benefit concert to save SF St. Mary's School

An effort is underway in San Francisco’s Chinatown to reopen a Catholic elementary school that serves immigrant families.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco closed St. Mary’s in June due to what they said was declining enrollment. But teachers, staff and students are hoping to reopen the 95-year-old school.

Since 1921, St Mary's School has taught children from kindergarten through 8th grade.

On Saturday, the school community is getting help from an overseas youth orchestra for a fundraiser. On Friday afternoon, they held a rehearsal at the Old St. Mary's Cathedral.

The 100 members, ages 10 through 18, of The Little Angels Symphony Orchestra played a Chinese love song. They travelled from Guangzhou, China to perform the benefit concert.

"It's children helping children around the world," said Nancy Fiebelkorn, who's been a teacher and principal at St. Mary’s. She's worked there for 24 years.

Supporters hope the concert will strike a chord with members of the wider Bay Area community to help save the school.

Former students said the closure has hit them hard.

"It makes me lose a part of myself, I guess. I've been with this school for 9 years,” said Ivy Tung, who graduated but still returns often to tutor and help the school in any way she can.

Tung and others say St. Mary's was a second home. They say the empty classrooms echo the void that is now in their hearts and the memories of teachers who made a difference.

"They treated us like family. They wanted us to succeed" said Jason Ng, a graduate of St. Mary's who also volunteered at the school.  The school is also well known for its drum and bell corps that performs in San Francisco's annual Chinese New Year Parade— a longstanding tradition that students cherish and hope to keep alive.

"It's exhilarating. It puts a smile on people's faces and that's what I would want to do," said Tung.

The preschool and weekend Chinese language program remain open.

School officials now hope to meet with the Archdiocese in August and come to an agreement to reopen the school in the fall of 2017.

"We are a family and we will stay together. Right now, it's like our family is being broken up, but we will come back together and be reunited," said Fiebelkorn.

She still comes to the school several days a week and volunteers her time in helping to maintaining the building, optimistic that it will open again.

The benefit concert will be held 3 p.m. Saturday, July 30 at Old St. Mary's Cathedral at the corner of Grant and California.

Tickets are available at the door for a donation.

More information: