On Wednesday evening, more than 200 sponsors, Old Spanish Days board members, and members of the Franciscan Friars community gathered for a lovely, festive dinner celebration at the Old Mission Santa Barbara before Fiesta Pequeña. Co-hosted by the Order of Friars Minor and Equity Title Company (Title Resource Group), the dinner was held in the lovely Old Mission Dining Room and on its terrace overlooking the St. Francis Courtyard.
This very special event is the only time of the entire year that members of the public are invited into this private, historic area. The event exuded warm Franciscan Friar hospitality, with Associate Pastor Larry Gosselin and Father John Hardin, Guardian of the Franciscan Fraternity and Interim Administrator of St. Barbara’s Parish, as well as Executive Director Monica Orozco, personally greeting each of the guests as they passed through the beautiful Mary’s Garden en route to the Dining Room.
The Friars have a long history with Fiesta Pequeña and Fiesta in general. They actually started Fiesta Pequeña back in 1927, and gradually transferred operations over the years to the nonprofit group, Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara. Father Virgil Cordano, longtime pastor at the Mission, was also a longtime honorary board member of Old Spanish Days and directed the Fiesta Pequeña operations for years. This year’s Presidente, Rhonda Henderson, chose as her theme, Unity Through Community, in part as a tribute to Father Cordano, who frequently used the phrase.
The Mission also hosts La Misa (Mass) del Presidente on the Thursday of Fiesta week, which celebrates the relationship between the Old Mission and Old Spanish Days and the Fiesta community. After the mass, the Mission invites all attendees into the Secret Garden for a reception, which is the only time of year the garden is open to the public.
Before dinner, the Fiesta-clad guests mingled on the terrace while sipping sangria. Father John welcomed everyone and gave a blessing before guests indulged in a succulent tri-tip dinner from Stanton’s Gourmet Catering while soaking up the Mission ambiance.
Guests then joined the festivities in the front of the Mission. They, along with other VIPs, walked to their seating on stage via a long passage rimmed with more than 100 flower girls and señoritas, who handed out about 1,000 long-stemmed roses, many of them donated from area growers.
By this time, thousands of people had set up blankets and chairs throughout the Old Mission’s front yard and Rose Garden. The lively scene truly epitomized Henderson’s and Father Cordano’s Unity Through Community saying. People of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life gathered together for this magical community celebration. As the sun set, the Old Mission became even more grand and beautiful, with white lights illuminating the white and pink facade and a golden hue enveloping the grand bells in the towers. An enormous poster of Father Cordano on the facade was also beautifully illuminated.
Father Larry and Father John, along with KEYT’s Beth Farnsworth, served as the evening’s hosts, introducing each of the 19 group and solo performers. There was silence for the much-anticipated moment when the soldiers opened the double doors and the Spirit of Fiesta Norma Escárcega appeared in her stunning white gown for the first time and proceeded to enthrall the crowd with her Flamenco dance, Buleria del Torombo. Other highlights of the evening included a Flamenco performance by the adorable Junior Spirit of Fiesta Eve Flores, two numbers by world-renowned tenor Eduardo Villa, and a Flamenco performance by Linda Vega Dance Studio, which included a wonderful special appearance by Linda Vega herself.
In his prayer, Father Larry most fittingly quoted from Father Virgil, “May we crown all of our efforts to live in communion with one another, with an all inclusive, sacrificing love for every person. For we are true to our individual selves when we reach out to each other.” Of course, the prayer ended with an exuberant “Viva La Fiesta!”
La Presidente Rhonda Henderson paid tribute to Father Virgil, noting his six decades of service at the Mission and five decades of service on the Old Spanish Days Board, and proclaimed that he was the true embodiment of Unity Through Community. Viva La Fiesta!
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By Gail Arnold