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The Crowd:

Fundraisers embark on a mission

October 03, 2008|By B.W. COOK

Religious belief, politics and power have blended and indeed conflicted throughout human history in all lands, and at all times. On Nov. 1, 1776, a brutal survivalist pioneer Catholic priest on assignment from the Spanish monarchy in control of Mexico arrived in the wild, unpopulated territory that would become California and established a mission on a coastal plain named San Juan Capis- trano. His name was Padre Junipero SerraJunipero Serra, and the mission at San Juan Capistrano would be his seventh settlement in a group of 21 Catholic missions established in the new territory.

In the late 18th century, this exploration was tantamount to modern man’s landing on the moon. Contrary to the lore enhanced by more than 200 years of distance, Serra was, according to historians, as tough as they come. He had to be to survive and succeed against all odds.

Serra’s legacy, the role of the Catholic Church in the new world, the coming of Mexican independence from Spain in 1821 and the subsequent western push of the fledgling democracy known as the United States of America would all be joined to create the California territory.

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Today, this history is a significant part of the fourth-grade curriculum of California students. And the mission, which is considered “The Jewel” of all 21 landmarks, greets more than 300,000 visitors each year and survives on donations and admission fees.

As summer began to turn to fall, Orange County residents dedicated to mission preservation gathered in San Juan Capistrano to celebrate the 10th anniversary of a fundraising gala known as “Romance of the Mission.” More than 550 guests, including a significant contingent of Newport-Mesa support, converged at sunset on a recent Saturday evening as the ancient bells chimed.

This year the event was formed around a tribute to the late Father Saint John O’Sullivan, an Irishman who came to California in the very early part of the 20th century for his retirement at the little church, and spent 23 years through 1933 dedicating his life to saving the crumbling and largely forgotten monument. Without his unwavering drive in difficult times as well, the mission, most probably, would have succumbed to ruination.

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