On July 21, Old Mission Santa Barbara (Old Mission) held the third of four Drinks at Dusk in the Mission’s Secret Garden. These popular gatherings keep getting more so, with about 150 people turning out for this one. Guests got to mingle with Franciscan friars, Old Mission staff, and other community members in the enchanting garden, which is generally off-limits to the public, while enjoying wine, beer, and appetizers from various purveyors and live music by Ybarra Music.
According to Executive Director Monica Orozco, most people have some connection with the Old Mission, but often only from community events held out front. The event series is designed to help break the barrier between the Old Mission and the community, enabling the Old Mission’s staff and the Franciscan friars to meet with members of the community and form real relationships.
Founded in 1786, the nonprofit Old Mission is one of 21 California missions founded by the Spanish Franciscans and today is a major tourist destination, with nearly 250,000 visitors in 2019, the last year before the pandemic closure (it reopened in March 2021). It owns the 15-acre parcel and buildings and is home to a few other separate entities, including the Catholic church St. Barbara Parish, which dates from the 1920s and falls under the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
A community of Franciscan friars has resided at the Old Mission since its founding. About 17 friars presently call this home, but the number in residence frequently rises and falls as the friars’ ministries call them to service here and beyond. Friars take vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty and minister to people’s spiritual and physical needs. A novitiate established in 2017 provides the first year of education for friars. A new class of three novices just began.
Another separate Franciscan-sponsored nonprofit, the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library, was established in the 1840s, and with the later acquisition of thousands of documents, a new wing was built to accommodate the large collection. It is currently closed for maintenance but will reopen within the next month.
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The Old Mission is also home to a museum, gift shop, cemetery, and mausoleum. The Mission Rose Garden and adjoining parkland across the street were sold to the city in 1928 and form the Mission Historical Park. The Old Mission hosts community events, including Fiesta Pequeña (August 3 this year) and I Madonnari along with its own events, which are gradually expanding. The final Drinks at Dusk for 2022 will be held on August 18.
The Old Mission receives no support from any government entity or from any part of the Catholic Church, other than below-market rental payments from St. Barbara Parish, but it is responsible for maintaining the historic buildings, collections, and grounds.
About half of the Old Mission’s annual revenue comes from its tours and another 35 percent from the gift shop and venue rentals. Before the pandemic, it realized it needed to launch a capital campaign for deferred maintenance projects that its annual revenue hadn’t been able to cover. Then COVID forced the closure of its tour operations for an entire year and the gift shop for a few months. Venue rentals were initially shuttered by COVID and have yet to resume because of capital improvements. The lost income from these sources has made the capital campaign even more critical.
The campaign launched in September 2020 with a goal of $4 million: $1.5 million to cover the costs of the COVID closure and $2.5 million to address the most pressing capital needs. Funds already raised have enabled some roof replacement work. The campaign is $1.25 million shy of its goal.
The Franciscan friars at the Old Mission provide invaluable service here and beyond. In 2019, in collaboration with the Daughters of Charity at St. Vincent’s, they established the Fr. Virgil Cordano Center, a welcoming place for homeless people to go during the day to rest, have meaningful connections with a caring staff and volunteers, receive meals, do their laundry, and avail themselves of other services. This column soon will feature a separate story on this center.
The friars serve at St. Barbara Parish, at the nearby Poor Clare Monastery, at St. Mark’s in Isla Vista, and as fill-in clergy for many local parishes. The friars also regularly visit patients at Cottage Hospital. Their ministries often take them to other locations, including St. Anthony’s Foundation in San Francisco and St. Francis Center in Los Angeles, which both offer meals and services to homeless people. The friars also minister at churches serving native people in Arizona and at retreats and renewals at various institutions.
For more info, go to santabarbaramission.org.