Because most of the California missions went on to become the centerpieces of cities, they’re well known and well visited. Not so for Mission San Antonio de Padua, east of King City, California, in a remote setting that hasn’t changed much since the days of the Spanish explorers.
“You get a feel for what life might have been like in the mission days … the peace and quiet and solitude is very special,” said Susan Gill, president of the foundation that’s seeking to preserve the mission buildings.
The little mission, founded by Father Junipero Serra and named for the patron saint of oppressed peoples and lost items, is now working hard to make a name for itself. Like other missions in the state, it must be retrofitted for earthquake safety – a daunting expense for a tiny parish.
“It’s one of the smallest, if not the smallest in the Diocese of Monterey,” said mission administrator Joan Steele, who said only about 35 families attend Mass regularly here. About 20,000 outsiders visit each year, a fraction of what other missions draw.
Even people who have lived all their lives here are surprised to learn that there is another mission besides the famous one in Carmel. In all, there are three missions in Monterey County – San Antonio de Padua, San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, and Nuestra Señora de Soledad.
To reach Mission San Antonio is a 25-mile drive east from Highway 101 in the south part of the county; visitors must drive through a section of a military base, Fort Hunter Liggett, to get there.
But those who do brave the journey will find themselves time-traveling to an earlier era. Circled by pristine, oak-studded hills that were once part of the Hearst Ranch, the mission and adjunct buildings are a vision of what life looked like in the days of the padres.
The mission entrance is guarded by a massive olive tree planted in the mid-1800s, and artifacts from other centuries greet guests at every turn. The mission remains vital and active, though, hosting several events during the year to raise money for the upkeep of the mission and its grounds, including History Days in April and the Mission Fiesta in June.
And visitors – especially fourth-graders with mission projects for school – flock to view the buildings. Accommodations in the mission’s restored cloister are offered to to groups and individuals for retreats.
This type of interaction is vital, says Steele: “Missions are meant to be the center of a community. Otherwise we’re just a museum.”
Like other missions in the state, San Antonio de Padua has had its challenges. Founded in 1771, the mission was built two years later, and here California’s first grapevine was planted, first gravity-fed aqueduct built, and first marriage celebrated. But the buildings fell into disrepair after the missions were turned over to the Mexican government in the 1830s, and Mission San Antonio was abandoned for a time in the late 19th century, most of its walls tumbling down.
But rebuilding by the California Landmark League in the 20th century marked a comeback, as did the continuation of the mission’s reconstruction by the Franciscans. The order of the Franciscans gave the caretaking of the mission back to the Diocese of Monterey in 2005. It’s now considered one of the state’s most faithfully restored missions.
Even so, there’s more work to be done.
Foundation president Gill said the first phase is to retrofit the main chapel and church, and other parts of the mission will be completed in phases as money is available. Altogether the foundation plans to raise $15 million for the work.
What makes it harder, Steele said, is that other California missions are also raising money for their preservation campaigns, and are competing for donations.
Donations can be given for the Mission San Antonio campaign through the foundation’s website (www.preservesanantonio.org), and there you’ll also find an online gift shop offering books, collectibles, jewelry, kitchenware, and other items, with proceeds going to the nonprofit foundation.
Information and directions: missionsanantonio.net