fire at the san gabriel mission can open a new era of service

the san gabriel mission parish in california is a special place. it is older than the USA– built in 1771– and is an important part of california history. los angeles and that region developed with the mission as the center. countless people have celebrated life and faith through the sacraments at the san gabriel mission for generations. it is still a vibrant parish with ministry in three languages. we claretians have served the parish since 1908. so many of our priests and brothers are buried there.

personally, i discovered my vocation as a claretian missionary priest at the mission. from 1986-1988 i was the youth minister there. during my second year, i was actively discerning my call. in 1987, the whitter earthquake rattled the morning and closed down the mission for over six years while we fixed the damage and fortified for future earthquakes.

i was ordained a deacon in the old mission in september 1993. it was the first event there after it had reopened after the earthquake and reconstruction. for me, i heard bishop pat ziemann say these words to me as he handed me the book of gospels,

 “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you readteach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”

the old mission roof over the our heads that night enabled us to celebrate my ordination. people remember key moments in their lives that have taken place in that building— baptisms, first communions, confirmations, marriages and funerals.

this past saturday morning, there was a major fire in the old mission

while i believe that the people are the church, this building is important and has significant historical value. and it stands as a symbol of people’s hearts.

i am sure that the archdiocese of LA and the bishop will want to rebuild it. i am sure that there will be an estimate of millions of dollars to repair the damage. until then, we will worship in the 800 seat annunciation chapel on the same property.

for us claretians, i hope it spurs a healthy conversation and solid discernment on how to best proceed. this is a new era of ministerial service and perhaps the Spirit is calling us to do something different that will truly respond to the people of God. as claretians, we are called to be missionaries who spread the Good News of God’s love in ways that are urgent, timely and effective. the mission’s fire will challenge us to live this ideal. how can we focus on people and let the building and it’s new roof serve the common good and Christ’ love mandate?

as a symbol, the old mission can continue to be a source of reconciliation and healing for past hurts with the gabrielino and tongva tribes. if done well, perhaps it could be a model for other institutions that struggle with the past and with their relations with indigenous peoples. it is possible to preserve history, tell the stories well and respond to the people of today. reconciliation is essential to authentic faith and the Spirit will lead us. how will we respond?

if we respond to the Spirit’s urgings, it would show the world that we believe that our church is about love for people and not primarily buildings

1 Comment

  1. lannyjlarson says:

    So sad. I remember as an elementary school pupil in the 1950s visiting that mission for the first time. It was sort of my introduction to that architectural style and inspired me to visit many of California’s other missions — though not all of them yet.


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