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

Mission San Juan Bautitsa is in San Juan Bautista, Mission Santa Clara is in Santa Clara, Mission Santa Cruz is in Santa Cruz,  Mission San Jose is in … Freemont. Who knew?  Not me. Mission San Jose was established independently from the Spanish pueblo of the same name, now the city of San Jose.

It's hard to believe that Mission San Jose, set in the midst of the urban sprawl of the San Francisco Bay was once a remote outpost. Its placement served as a first line of defense against invasion from the San Joaquin Valley via the Livermore Pass. (A bit of historical trivia, pioneer Robert Livermore is buried at Mission San Jose.)

Located on a busy street across from a bustling business area and adjacent to Olhone College, Mission San Jose still manages to evoke the feel of an isolated outpost. The grounds are above street level and are backed against a hillside, so once you walk in the gate, you feel removed from the Mission's urban surroundings.

Mission San Jose Mission San Jose

We had a mere 25 minutes to tour the Mission church and museum. In theory, I had allowed plenty of travel time to arrive 90 minutes prior to closing. I did not anticipate that it would take more than 40 minutes to drive the 4.1 miles from the freeway exit to the Mission parking lot. I love bay area traffic.

Although our visit was rushed, we liked what we saw. The experience merely whetted our appetite for a return visit. Since the mission has a full Mass schedule and hosts a variety of cultural events, we'll have no trouble finding an excuse to go back.

Mission San Jose Buttresses

We started with the Mission's museum, which is housed in the former monastery building. We then hurried across a sparsely landscaped courtyard paved in alternating blocks of tile, gravel and stone and made our way into the church.

Mission San Jose Interior

Mission San Jose's church is a handsome and rugged structure of adobe that has been whitewashed. Its buttresses are chipped and worn exposing sections of the raw adobe brick. It has the feel of an authentic 18th century building. Thus I was surprised to learn that the church was built in 1985.

A European style wood frame church sat on the original foundation from the late 19th through the early 20th century. After the church was moved across the bay in 1967, the adobe church was built using hand formed adobe bricks. The design for the church is based on photographs and drawings from the Mission archives.

The attention to historic detail continues with the church's interior. It is a long simple rectangle with high adobe walls, topped with a vaulted wooden ceiling. The terra-cotta tile that runs across the courtyard extends down the center of the chapel.

Mission San Jose Organ Loft

Like many other mission churches, European style architectural details have been added to the smooth plastered walls through the use of paintings that depict columns, moulding and even a faux bunting that "hangs" just over the pews.

Other highlights of the interior are the vintage organ displayed in the loft at the rear of the church and the reflective candleholders placed along the walls at the Stations of the Cross.

Mission San Jose Cemetery

On the far side of the church is the main portion of the Mission cemetery. The cemetery enhances the Mission's lonely feel.  The grounds are comprised of dirt and gravel. The handful of trees in the area provides almost no shade. Since the cemetery is original to the site it serves to anchor the new church firmly in the Mission's past.

Mission San Jose was not what I expected or where I expected it to be, but it was a great visit and a pleasant surprise.

View additional information on this and other California Missions at

Copyright 2013 Kirk Whitney