A step through Mission San Juan Capistrano’s Gate House entry doors is a welcoming journey to the past. One is greeted with the energized spirit of a caring staff, the beauty of gardens and a unique setting steeped in history. The Mission is a historical treasure unique to Orange County that is and will be, with adequate preservation by a community that cares, a gift to future generations.
This year the Mission celebrates the 300th birthday of its founder, Father Junipero Serra, whose impact on the California mission system is still seen today in the Serra Chapel, California’s most historically significant church and a beauty to behold. Father Serra is recognized as a major force in what led to the founding of the State of California and is also in the process of becoming a saint in the Catholic Church. Serra’s dual significance as a person in church and state history reflects the larger than life iconic importance of Orange County’s only mission as both a place of learning and continued spirituality after 237 years.
Recognized as the “birthplace of Orange County,” Mission San Juan Capistrano serves as an indoor and outdoor museum, a designated California landmark and a site where mass continues to take place daily after 230 years. Within the landmark setting are exhibits telling the stories of the padres and Native Americans, the traditions of the past and the evolving nature of a site from a place founded in faith to one that serves as an educational facility for over 67,000 fourth graders, teachers, and chaperones annually.
When school is not in session or during weekends, children and their families enjoy hands-on activities like adobe brick making, panning for gold, lasso making, hide branding and more. There are special tours aimed at students as well as the Mission Clubhouse: A Place for Inspired Learning. The Clubhouse lets kids discover what it takes to build a mission at the brick making center. Students can also spin the “Wheel of Jobs” to see what kind of role they might have had as a mission builder. The Clubhouse is home to the Giant Native American Basket (kid size) where teams of kids can learn more about the native people’s tradition of basket weaving.
As a museum, the site hosts several free exhibits, including one that tells the story of the landmark’s historic cemetery, or Camposanto – the Holyfield – which serves as home to over 3,400 who were buried on-site from the 1780s to the1930s. The site also celebrates the role of preservationists and the evolving identity of the Mission as a destination, in its well-regarded Mission Treasures Exhibit: Historical Collection Revealed. This in-house curated display showcases unique and meaningful art, artifacts, and religious items from the Mission’s history – items that continue to be discovered and shared with the world – while underscoring the need to save the Mission through active programming, fundraising, and stewardship. The Treasures Exhibit rotates unique items and is worth repeat visits.
The Mission also offers an award winning audio tour in six languages for adults and older children, as well as a shorter kids audio tour in two languages. Additionally, there are private specialized tours offered daily without a reservation. Larger group tours (field trip for students or adult tour groups) are available by advance booking and include a discounted admission fee.
As a destination of faith, culture, history and continued learning, the Mission welcomes the international, national and California visitor. In doing so it hosts a series of signature annual events such as the St Joseph’s Day and Return of the Swallows celebration each March. The Mission hosts a summer concert series that features vintage music of the 20th century, and a well-loved Mariachi festival featuring the completive spirit of youth mariachi bands from all over Southern California. Finally, at calendar’s year-end, the Mission rings in the Christmas spirit by hosting local musical groups from churches, schools, and nonprofit organizations to capture the spirit of the season. The Mission boasts a five-year calendar of events which is featured on its website so that guests can plan in advance. All events are generally free to members in the Mission Preservation Society.
Mission Juan Capistrano receives no church or state funding, and to stay open must charge an admission fee or grow its membership in the Mission Preservation Society. Funds keep the Mission open, help to maintain the site, and are directed to special preservation projects, thereby ensuring that California’s legacy continues to shine bright as a place of inspiration, preservation and education for all who visit today and far into the future. In the 21st Century the Mission is a home to the famed swallows, the international visitor and the local who seeks a connection with the past and the opportunity to reflect, celebrate and connect on life’s many meanings.