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

It was slow going up California Route 101 between Ventura and Santa Barbara. It was the first post-school weekend of Summer. It was also Father's Day weekend. Observing the surrounding traffic I guessed that there were also a lot of folks out celebrating the Harley Davidson centennial.

I was not overly upset about the slow traffic. With beautiful rolling hills to my right and the Pacific Ocean to my left, I could think of worse places for a traffic jam.

The only bad thing about taking more than an hour for what should have been a forty minute drive is that it cut into the time we had to visit Mission Santa Barbara.

We got there just about three in the afternoon. Google maps had brought us there via the scenic route, avoiding the downtown streets, instead winding through the residential hillside road that brought us above the city, then dropped down into Mission Park.

We had just less than an hour to tour the museum and grounds before attending their 4:00pm vigil Mass. It was enough time to get a good sense of the Mission, but left us with enough unseen to want to come back again soon.

Mission Santa Barbara Mission Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara makes a great first impression as you approach its front plaza. The plaza and church steps offer a stunning view of the town below and ocean beyond.

Mission Santa Barbara is not a humble adobe structure. It is a massive stone faced church that is more European than most of the others in the chain. Considered by many to be "Queen of the Missions" it's no wonder that Mission Santa Barbara is a major tourist destination.

When we arrived there were several tour buses out front. The plaza and the park beyond were crowded with locals and tourists alike. Since the front plaza is such a public space, the Mission has a couple of features that I have yet to see elsewhere. A large public restroom was available. It had a number of strategically placed blackboards with signs imploring visitors to use them as an alternative to graffiti. Outside the restrooms were several vending machines for drinks and snacks.

Once inside, the tour provides the classic mission experience.   Beyond the gift shop is the museum and nicely landscaped  central courtyard. Beyond the courtyard, visitors can access the mission cemetery and the beautifully restored church.

Mission cemetary Mission cemetary

The cemetery is perhaps the highlight of the Mission grounds. In addition to the beauty of its landscaping and rustic stone walls, the cemetery has a number of well preserved crypts and memorials from different periods. The centerpiece of the cemetery is a gargantuan, gnarled Australian Moreton Fig tree. As you enter the church through the cemetery door, you will notice the traditional skulls and crossbones above the the archway. If you look closely you will notice that two of them are real human skulls set into the mortar.


The church interior is beautiful. The Mission has done a wonderful job of retaining the feel of an old mission while accommodating the needs of a current and active congregation.

A splendid example of this is the way they have furnished two of the church's rear alcoves. Both house 21st century sculptures that compliment rather than conflict with the overall appearance of the church.

Alcove sculptures Alcove sculptures

On one side are Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi on the other side are Jesus and Mary Magdalene in a scene I initially mistook for a depiction of John's Gospel story of the woman at the well.

Although not part of the public tour, we took a moment to kneel in their chapel for perpetual adoration. Located adjacent to the church sanctuary the chapel is entered via the central courtyard. It is a large and handsome room that features a more contemporary design than the Mission Church. It is a very pleasing environment for prayer and reflection.

After taking a second swing through the museum, we made a proper entrance through the front door of the church for Mass. (If feels more official if you greet the ushers and pick up a bulletin).

At the end of Mass, since it was Father's Day weekend, all fathers in attendance were asked to stand. After an elbow in the ribs from Debbie I stood. Upon standing, we were all invited to join the priest and deacon in the sanctuary. Now I was glad that I stood,since this gave me a chance to get a close up look at the altar and sanctuary.

A blessing was offered for us.  As we returned to our seats, we were each given a Saint Joseph medal. The perfect fathers day gift and a nice way to end a great visit.

View additional information on this and other California Missions at

Copyright 2013 Kirk Whitney