Saint John of Capistrano
Mission San Juan Capistrano owes its name to Saint John of Capistrano, a prominent governor, priest, and judge whose religious fervor and commitment earned him the recognition that he receives to this day. John was born on June 24, 1386 in the Italian village of Capistrano and raised by a devout Catholic mother. As a child, John received a privileged education and attended the University of Perugia where he studied civil and church law in the hopes of earning a profitable career; in fact, he became the Governor of Perugia by the age of 26. However, in an unfortunate series of events, John found himself entangled in a political controversy that led to his imprisonment, marking the end of his political career. Experiencing a spiritual awakening while in prison, he rededicated himself to Christ and became a Franciscan upon his release, entering the priesthood in 1418 to deepen his relationship with God.
Saint John’s influence extended beyond the confines of the church; he actively organized a military crusade to defend Europe against invading Muslim Turks, working with the commander John Hunyadi to defeat the enemy at the Battle of Belgrade in 1456. For this reason, he is nicknamed the “Soldier Saint” and revered for his unyielding faith even in battle. A man of profound eloquence and religious devotion, Saint John embarked on a spiritual quest to spread Christianity and protect it from outside forces, thus earning him recognition from Pope Benedict XIII who canonized him in 1724. The Mission consecrates this saint and honors his memory by naming itself after him.
Saint Junípero Serra
Saint Junípero Serra, a Franciscan missionary born and raised in Mallorca, Spain, was appointed the Father President of the Alta California Mission’s in 1769. He had over 15 years of administrative and missionary experience in various parts of Mexico, including the Sierra Gorda.
Although Saint Serra was in his fifties and suffered from a chronic ulcerated condition in his leg when he was assigned to oversee the missions, he had uncompromising optimism in his efforts to convert Native Americans and colonize California. His personal motto was “Always Forward, Never Back.” Despite hardships, lack of supplies, squabbles with the military leaders, Saint Serra established 9 missions, and converted about 5,000 Native Americans before his death in 1784. He died and was buried at his headquarters Mission Carmel, just outside of Monterey.
Today we can see Saint Serra’s legacy by exploring Mission San Juan Capistrano’s grounds. Serra Chapel, named in his honor, is the last remaining mission church in which Saint Serra celebrated Mass. When he last visited in 1783, he walked and may have stayed in the South Wing Building, or the Padres’ Living Quarters. The Mission Treasure’s Exhibit also features the “Serra Vestment” which dates back to the 1770s, and was likely used by Saint Serra when he was here. Lastly, the Serra Statue located near the Bell Wall was commissioned by St. John O’Sullivan in 1914 to honor Saint Serra who founded Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1776.
Saint Junípero Serra is considered one of the most important Spanish missionaries in the Americas. His historical significance is even represented in U.S. Capital Building’s Statuary Hall. Serra was chosen as one of two historically significant persons to represent the state of California.
Rectors/Pastors of San Juan Capistrano
Fray Junipero Serra (1776)
Fray Pablo Mugartegui and Fray Gregorio Amurrio (1776 – 1779)
Fray Pablo Mugartegui and Fray Vicente Fuster (1779 – 1789)
Fray Vicente Fuster and Fray Juan Norberto de Santiago (1789 – 1800)
Fray Juan Norberto de Santiago and Fray Jose Faura (1800 – 1809)
Fray Francisco Suner and Fray Jose Barona (1810 – 1814)
Fray Jose Barona and Fray Geronimo Boscana (1814 – 1826)
Fray Jose Barona and Fray Jose Maria de Zalvidea (1826 – 1831)
Fray Jose Maria de Zalvidea (1831 – 1842)
No Resident Priest (1842)
Fray Tomas Estenaga (1843 – 1846)
Fray Vicente Pasqual Oliva (1846 – 1848)
No Resident Priest (1848 – 1850)
Rev. Jose Maria Rosales (1850 – 1853)
Rev. Pedro Bagaria (1853 – 1856)
Rev. Jayme Vila (1856 – 1857)
Rev. J. Molinier (1857 – 1859)
Rev. Vicente Llover (1859 – 1863)
Rev. Miguel Duran (1863 – 1866)
Rev. Joseph Mut (1866 – 1886)
Rev. Miguel Duran (1886 – 1889)
No Resident Priest (1889-1909)
Rev. Alfred Quetu (1909 – 1914)
Rev. Msgr. St. John O’Sullivan (1914 – 1933)
Rev. Arthur Hutchinson (1933 – 1951)
Rev. Msgr. Vincent Lloyd Russell (1951 – 1976)
Rev. Msgr. Paul Martin (1976 – 2003)
Rev. Msgr. Arthur A. Holquin, S.T.L. (2003 – 2014)