Editor’s note: Today, we continue our special series with Kirk Whitney – “Man on a Mission” will take all of us along on Kirk and Debbie Whitney’s pilgrimages to view and pray at the California Missions. I thank Kirk personally for this amazing opportunity to share these treasures with our readers! LMH
Most of the 21 California missions are on or near El Camino Real, the King’s Road. Much of that road evolved into stretches of California’s Highways 1 and 101. A few are off the beaten path, Mission Soledad is a few miles off the freeway, La Purisima about fifteen. None are more remote than Mission San Antonio de Padua, more than twenty miles off of highway 101.
That does not mean you will arrive at the mission twenty minutes after exiting the freeway. These are twenty winding, narrow mountain miles. Did I also mention that the Mission is in the middle of Fort Hunter-Liggett, the nation’s largest military reserve?
The grounds of Mission San Antonio are an eighty-five acre island in the midst of a 165,000-acre US Army base. This means that you have to gain entry to the base to visit the Mission. That does not present any particular obstacle. On the day of our visit, the main gate was unattended; we were able to drive unimpeded to our destination.
You might think that a military base would be an unpleasant environment for a mission, but the opposite seems to be the case. Fort Hunter-Liggett is sparsely populated and the surroundings look, for the most part, like they probably did 300 years ago. When we pulled up to the Mission, we felt as if we had been transported back in time.
The buildings of the mission blend right in with its surroundings. Although it’s just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, Mission San Antonio rests in a small valley on the inland side of the coastal mountains. The climate is surprisingly arid. Vegetation at the time of our visit was limited to dry grass and a few live oak. The missions exterior of rough hewn, weathered brick blends in with its surroundings. Landscaping is limited to the interior courtyard.
As remote as it is, San Antonio De Padua is an active Catholic parish, made up of folks that live in the rural area surrounding the base, their population has dwindled over the years and is currently down to about 35.
You can imagine that maintaining a church with such a small congregation in such a remote location is a major challenge. The Mission attempts to meet that challenge in some creative ways. San Antonio houses a retreat center that hosts traditional retreats but will also provide rooms to those who wish to do self guided retreats.
Their gift shop goes beyond the normal selection of mission related items and religious goods. They have cultivated relationships with a number of artisans to offer a broad range of artwork to visitors.
The parishioner running the gift shop spent a lot of time discussing the Mission, the parish and their art program. She was the most enthusiastic host we have met at any mission thus far.
Just outside, there was a large group of community members working to rebuild the cemetery walls. There worksite included a barbecue, portable shades and several ice chests. It was clear that they were in for a long day and seemed to be having a lot of fun.
Inside the courtyard was a group of men spilling out of what appeared to be a large meeting room full of musical instruments and sound equipment. A few of the men were inside working out a musical passage while most of the others were scattered around the courtyard eating lunch, chatting with each other and greeting visitors as the walked by.
Mission San Antonio De Padua is a beautiful church set in beautiful surroundings. The Mission and its people convey a real sense of community.
When I mention our Mission visits to people, I am invariably asked, “Which one is your favorite?” With seven missions left to go, it’s early to say. But I think Mission San Antonio de Padua will be a real contender.
View additional information on this and other California Missions at missionimage.blogspot.com
Copyright 2013 Kirk Whitney