Man on a Mission: Mission San Luis Obispo


Man on a Mission

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

There are a number of California cities that grew around missions. San Luis Obispo is a city that has grown well beyond its mission walls, but the is still central to San Luis Obispo’s identity.

San Louis Obispo - Center Courtyard

San Louis Obispo – Center Courtyard

The Mission is the hub of San Luis Obispo’s downtown. The Church overlooks San Luis Creek. Opposite the creek are scores of shops, restaurants and offices. The plaza and park in front of the Mission serve as an unofficial town square.

The Mission is so much a part of the city that it is easy to overlook. I have visited San Luis Obispo a number of times. On most visits, I have spent time in front of the Mission or at least walked by.  I have toured the Mission once or twice, on many visits it just blends into the cityscape.

San Louis Obispo - Front

San Louis Obispo – Front

This visit would be different. Our sole purpose this time around was to tour the Mission grounds and attend Mass.

We arrived about an hour before mass, which was plenty of time to tour their museum and interior courtyard, visit their gift shop and seat ourselves for Mass.

Their courtyard is nicely landscaped and reflects the Mission’s function as an active parish. Although historical artifacts are featured, the garden feels more like a contemporary urban park. Like several of the Missions in the central part of the chain, San Luis Obispo features a massive Santa Maria style barbecue that serves as a centerpiece for parish activities.

San Louis Obispo - Plaza

San Louis Obispo – Plaza

We took our places in the side chapel for Mass. We had a few minutes to take in the beauty of the church. The parish has done a nice job of balancing both modern and historical elements.

San Louis Obispo - Wall Detail

San Louis Obispo – Wall Detail

I enjoy attending Mass in a mission church.  It gives you a sense of a how a particular mission functions in its community today. Mission San Luis Obispo is a pretty large parish with more than 2000 registered families. Based on the number of announcements at the end of Mass, I would say it’s a very active parish as well.

San Louis Obispo - Interior

San Louis Obispo – Interior

One of the eight “urban missions”, Mission San Luis Obispo had a fairly large city grow around it. The Mission stands in both compliment and contrast to the city that bears its name.

A west coast university town, San Luis Obispo is home to its share of progressive activism, a lively arts scene and “new age” subculture.

Just as the Mission’s physical presence is both a compliment and a contrast to the surrounding cityscape, the Mission’s spiritual presence both compliments and contrasts the values of the community at large.

How do you live in the world, yet stand apart from the world? This has been the challenge of California missions for more than two hundred years. I can think of no better example of a mission meeting this challenge than Mission San Luis Obispo.


View additional information on this and other California Missions at

Copyright 2013 Kirk Whitney


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