Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded on November 1, 1776 by Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest who was over 50 years old when he travelled from New Spain, now Mexico, to Alta California to establish the California missions. Today, Mission San Juan Capistrano is renowned as the “Jewel of the Missions,” a monument to California’s multi-cultural history, embracing a Native American, Spanish, Mexican, European and American heritage. The key building of the Mission is Serra Chapel, which was constructed by Juaneño Native Americans. Father Serra celebrated Mass in the Chapel in 1783. By 1811, more than 1,200 people lived and worked at the Mission as a thriving community of tradesmen, farmers and clergy. Like many of the missions, San Juan Capistrano underwent long periods of deferred maintenance. In the 1920s, Father St. John O’Sullivan, the Great Restorer, initiated a major restoration and expansion of the Serra Chapel. It was during this time that the golden retablo was placed in the Chapel.

Since then, smaller restoration efforts have occurred. Unfortunately, these efforts often used incompatible approaches and low-cost alternatives, inadvertently contributing to the further deterioration of the 229-year-old Chapel and its features. In 2005, the Mission Preservation Foundation called for a detailed inspection of the Serra Chapel. An assessment of the building fabric and an inventory of all items of historic significance were undertaken. During this process, it was realized that the Serra Chapel was in need of immediate attention. Long-term termite infestation, water penetration, and poor hazard mitigation are only a few of the current threats to one of the most important buildings in the State of California.


In 2005, the Foundation implemented a 1.8 million campaign to raise much-needed funds to preserve the Chapel’s significant features. This work included:


“The Landmarks Club, founded by Charles F. Lummis has on several occasions done preservation work upon it, between 1895 and 1916 and if it were not for the work of this organization the entire Mission would have become a hopeless ruin.” From Father St. John O ’Sullivan’s book, Little Chapters of San Juan Capistrano...80 years ago

Mission Today
Mission San Juan Capistrano enjoys a tradition of education, inspiration, and preservation. One of the Mission’s primary functions is to serve as a field trip destination to fourth-grade children studying California history. Thousands of students, teachers, and parents travel up to two hours for a day of fun and hands-on learning, ultimately leaving with an appreciation of history. A quiet hush fills the Serra Chapel as guests set their eyes upon the golden retablo and the adornments placed there during the last 228 years. A half a million visitors flow through Mission San Juan Capistrano each year to study the past experience its renowned beauty. With its Five Year Strategic Plan firmly setting the direction, all who come to work or volunteer at Mission San Juan Capistrano understand that it is their duty to preserve the past in order to enhance the future. The Foundation invites support from corporate partners, visitors, and historians to ensure the Chapel continues to provide a place of peace for decades to come. Join the campaign to save the Jewel.

Donate Online

By mail, download donation form and mail with your gift:

Mission San Juan Capistrano Preservation Funds
26801 Ortega Hwy
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

For questions, please call Barb Beier at (949) 234-1323 or email bbeier@missionsjc.com
Mission San Juan Capistrano
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