Man on a Mission

Editor’s note: Today, we continue our special series with Kirk Whitney – “Man on a Mission” will take all of us along on Kirk and Debbie Whitney’s pilgrimages to view and pray at the California Missions. I thank Kirk personally for this amazing opportunity to share these treasures with our readers! LMH

I enjoy taking a California road I have not yet traveled. Like many people, I have favorite places to go and travel the same roads to get there.

Our recent trip from Fresno to Ventura gave me the chance to get off of Interstate 5 on onto California Route 126 that runs between Castaic and Ventura.

In addition to saving us a trip through the Los Angeles freeway system, it afforded us the chance to see some beautiful countryside. The rolling hills between the ridge route and the coast were dotted with small towns, farms and commercial nurseries.

As Route 126 ended, merging into Highway 101, we found ourselves in Ventura. We found the Mission located in the heart of Ventura's quaint downtown area. Arriving early Saturday afternoon, the streets were crowded with shoppers and sightseers.

Set at the base of a steep hill, Mission Ventura blends into the surrounding downtown business district. It would have been easy to drive right past without taking notice.

Approaching Mission Ventura Approaching Mission Ventura

When we arrived, the mission grounds were teeming with teenagers in gowns and tuxedos, adults hovering around them with cameras. It looked as if a Quinceañera was about to commence. We  decided to have lunch before our tour. That would allow some time for the crowd to clear.

When we returned an hour later, there were still a number of gowns and tuxes, only this time they were different colors. When we went into the gift shop and paid for our tour, the lady at the counter warned us, "If you want to see the church, you have about 15 minutes before the next Quinceañera goes in to set up."

"Wow" I said, "Didn't you just have one?" "Yes" she replied, this one is actually our third today"

We went straight over to the church, walked through it, then toured the grounds. There was so much activity it was hard to take in all the Mission had to offer. If I get the chance to return, I think a weekday visit might be in order.

Mission Ventura Interior Mission Ventura Interior

Even though it was't the most relaxed visitor experience, it was pleasing to see yet another mission that has a current life as home to an active parish. If that particular Saturday afternoon was any indication, Mission Ventura is a very active parish indeed!

Since I don't have a lot of observations to share about this particular visit, I have a one to make about the missions in general. The subject is roses.

Roses at Mission Soledad Roses at Mission Soledad

The missions we have visited thus far have all had rose gardens. Even lonely Mission Soledad had a nice selection. For some reason, I did not expect this. I guess it's because I associate the missions with subsistence agriculture rather than ornamental gardening.

I made this point while discussing the missions with my friend LaVerne, a master rose gardener and member of a Catholic study group I sometimes attend.

When I told her I was surprised at the number and quality of roses I see at the missions, she gave me her patented "You've got to be kidding me" look. "Well, if you think about the history of the Franciscans in the new world and their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, it's kind of obvious isn't it?"

Rose Arbor at Mission San Juan Baptista Rose Arbor at Mission San Juan Baptista

I wanted to give myself a head slap at that point. Of course it makes sense that as the California Missions were restored that rose gardens would be a logical part of those restorations. It makes me curious about the role that roses may have played in mission courtyards back in the 18th and 19th centuries.

If you find yourself passing by a mission in your travels this summer, take time to stop and smell the roses.

View additional information on this and other California Missions at

Copyright 2013 Kirk Whitney