Mission Legacy Campaign

This page covers the activity of our campaign questioning and challenging the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese Mission’s legacy. Refer back to this page for all posts and announcements concerning this issue. Posts are in chronological order with the latest post at the bottom. If you are interested in joining us, please e-mail us at: [email protected]


A statue of Franciscan Fr. Junípero Serra is seen outside Mission San Gabriel in 2018. (Wikimedia Commons/Wraithwriter77)


As the Los Angeles Archdiocese begins a Jubilee Year to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel founding, we at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker believe it is simply not possible to move “Forward in Mission” as a Church without collectively engaging all the facets of our Mission’s history and legacy.

As Archbishop Gomez recognized, “history is complicated. The facts matter, distinctions need to be made, and the truth counts. We cannot learn history’s lessons or heal old wounds unless we understand what really happened, how it happened, and why.” Unfortunately, as this Jubilee Year explicitly demonstrates,  this is not our opportunity to do this.

Therefore, the Los Angeles Catholic Worker is preparing a project for the duration of these twelve months to invite our Catholic community to engage in this practice together. We will consider our faith’s Biblical impetus and theological justification for the missions. Together, we will explore the vast history of the missions and process the complicated questions that arise. We will build relationships with the local Native communities to listen and learn from their stories and hopes for repair. And then we will consider where and how the Spirit is inviting us to move today and into the future.

If you are interested in learning more or in joining this effort, please take a minute to fill out this brief survey. This will give us a little preliminary information about you and allow us to follow up with you to answer any questions and explain our next steps.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this invitation and know we look forward to connecting with you as we go.


The following op-ed written by Matt Harper appeared in the August 2021 Catholic Agitator.

For Roman Catholics in Los Angeles, the Most Reverend Jose Gomez serves as both the Archbishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese and the President of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops. The ecclesiastical power available and responsibility shouldered by our shepherd has never been greater.

So, as more than 300 Catholic parishes in the Los Angeles Archdiocese consider opening their doors to indoor services this week, will the archbishop be having a three-day meeting to ensure last-minute safety needs are addressed? No, but he has instructed all churches to reopen and re-instated the requirement to attend weekly mass.

As the North American Catholic Church continues to reel from the discovery of 215 children’s bodies at the Kamloops Indigenous Residential School, will the archbishop be having a three-day meeting on how we repent and begin to repair the historic harm caused by the Church’s mission system and residential schools? No, but the Church continues to raise funds to repair the San Gabriel Mission after fire damaged parts of its structure last year.

And as the Los Angeles City Planning Commission prepares to decide the fate of Skid Row this Thursday—an area that has long been a hub of services, deeply affordable housing, and community for many of the unhoused in Los Angeles – will the archbishop be having a three-day meeting on how to ensure the Commission centers the dignity and needs of the unhoused neighbors of our Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels? No, even though the rezoning directly impacts the Cathedral.

Instead of doing any of these things, our archbishop, and other bishops from around the country, will be meeting to decide whether Catholic politicians who support abortion should be barred from receiving Communion. The urgency of COVID safety, of accountability for historic violence, of the possible destruction of the one region of Los Angeles willing to take on the needs of our unhoused neighbors appears to be less important than deciding what makes a person “Catholic” enough to deserve the body of the Broken One, the nourishment of the Holy One, the compassion of the Savior. I simply do not get it.



As the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese began a Jubilee Year to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of Mission San Gabriel Arcàngel, a small contingent of Catholic Workers and supporters participated in vigils at Mission San Gabriel and at the Cathedral to ask questions, and listen to other Catholics who hold the complexity of the Church’s Mission history, and to invite other people of faith into a journey towards a more nuanced understanding of our troubled Mission legacy.

Would you like to be a part of expanding your understanding of the Missions? Do you know Catholics committed to the work of justice and healing? If so, please e-mail us at: [email protected]



Part of our Catholic responsibility is to call our Church into the same sacramental reconciliation that we are invited into. This process of exploring individual (and systemic) actions, identifying where we have fallen short, and committing to amends that appropriately heal is needed in so many areas, one of which is around the Mission history here in California.

As a group of us invite individual Catholics into this work in Southern California, we remember we cannot stop inviting our Church in, since the repair needed is institutional as well as individual.

So, Catholic Churches like @missionsanjuancapistrano, will you join us as we explore our histories and consider what that process compels us to do next?

(P.S. I left this note  in your collection basket last Sunday.)


A statue of Franciscan Fr. Junípero Serra is seen outside Mission San Gabriel in 2018. (Wikimedia Commons/Wraithwriter77)


What wasn’t said was as important as what was.

In his Sept. 8 homily to launch a Jubilee Year marking the 250th anniversary of the San Gabriel Mission, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez spoke of his effort to imagine the choices faced by Junípero Serra and the Franciscans who founded the California missions.

“I wonder what it felt like for those missionaries — leaving behind their homes and families, knowing they would never be coming back,” Gomez said. “What would cause someone to set out for a place they have never seen, to serve a people they do not even know?”

Tongva tribal members had begun the outdoor service with incense, flute, and incantation on a temperate late-summer evening outside the founding mission of the archdiocese in the now-suburban San Gabriel.

But it was as if the Indigenous were accorded a ceremonial presence but not a substantial one. Gomez finished musing on the hard choices of the missionaries and moved on. He made no mention of the choices faced by the Indigenous in the time of Serra as they contemplated the offer of Christian faith conditioned by the coerced loss of their land, way of life, and culture.

To be Catholic in California today is to hunger for the church to take the lead in openly facing its problematic mission past. The jubilee year in the Los Angeles Archdiocese — set to go until September 2022 — does not appear thus far to be a vehicle for such an accounting. It has a worthy goal: renewing faith in a missionary spirit. But it remains within the framework of personal piety alone, not historical redress.

I have especially been influenced by Pope John Paul II’s remarkable jubilee year in 2000 when he apologized on behalf of the church for numerous historical misdeeds. The Los Angeles Archdiocese notably did not follow John Paul II’s model.

In any case, more jubilee years may be coming as other missions mark 250 years since their founding (for instance, San Luis Obispo in 2022). We should approach such occasions ready to redress the past.

1. The spiritual is in the messiness of the material

I noted the readiness of Gomez to reflect on the choices of the missionaries but not on those of the Indigenous. Three days after the service at the San Gabriel Mission, this tendency was evident again.

At the Mass opening the jubilee year at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in downtown Los Angeles, the first reading from Leviticus proclaimed the biblical meaning of a jubilee year with piercing clarity: “It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.”

Truer words could hardly be spoken about the moral imperative of a jubilee year focused on the Indigenous past in California and its history of stolen land and family separation. But no one responded to the challenging words for the rest of the Mass, which was dedicated to the encouragement of personal spiritual renewal.

As we face our difficult past, we cannot sequester the spiritual away from the messy realities crying out for restoration.

2. Franciscan Fr. Junípero Serra is a culture war distraction

On Sept. 24, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that mandates the removal of a statue of Serra from the grounds of the state capitol. Gomez and San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone published an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal decrying the bill and arguing that “no serious historian” agrees with the legislative language, which states: “Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women were all part of the mission period initiated and overseen by Father Serra.”

Here it is important to separate two issues. One is the complex question of the precise degree of accountability that Serra had over the mission system that he founded and that continued long after his death. Does the new California law assume too much and the archbishops too little?

The question is a distraction from the issue that really matters: the effects of the mission system on the Indigenous.

Moreover, we are faced with incoherence at the heart of a culture war crusade: The people decrying the removal of statues of Serra as a violation of religious freedom are crickets when it comes to the manifold ways in which the mission system compromised the religious freedom of the Indigenous.

3. Accountability exists in systems

In his 2007 volume California: A History, the late California state historian Kevin Starr said: “It is difficult … to see the mission system as resulting in anything other than wholesale anthropological devastation, whatever the sincerely felt evangelical intent of the missionaries.”

It is difficult to pinpoint accountability when speaking of systems. But it is also incorrect to dismiss the possibility of accountability in such matters. For instance, the Catholic Church acted as an agent of the Spanish Empire in the creation of the mission system.

“The missions were intended to secure California for the Spanish crown,” a group of Santa Clara University scholars wrote in 2020. Can such collusion between church and crown be understood simply as the missionaries ameliorating an imperial ambition that was going to seize Alta California one way or the other? This is too easy of an out. In a time of rising religious nationalism, we need a broader understanding of the costs to the Catholic faith that resulted from such systemic collusion with the crown.

4. Responsibility and the mystical body of Christ

Were the missionaries accountable for the wrongdoing of the mission system? Is the church today accountable for deeds so long in the past? These questions hover over this and any would-be jubilee year. But, in a sense, these questions are missing the point — at least from the perspective of faith.

Subjective culpability is crucial. But objective wrongdoing remains the responsibility of the people of God, whether subjective culpability is established or not. The Vatican document providing the theological justification for John Paul II’s jubilee year in 2000 makes this clear: Our efforts to redress the past are based on “the bond which unites us to one another in the Mystical Body, all of us, though not personally responsible and without encroaching on the judgment of God, who alone knows every heart, bear the burden of the errors and faults of those who have gone before us.”

5. The Indian Christ

In 1989, John Paul II met with the Indigenous of present-day Argentina. They told him: “We were free, and the land that was the mother of the Indians was ours. We lived from what she gave us generously, and we all ate in abundance. … Until one-day European civilization arrived. It planted the sword, the language, and the cross and made us into crucified nations. … In that cross, they [the Europeans] changed the Christ of Judea for the Indian Christ.”

The Catholic Church in California today needs to hear the story of the crucified Indian Christ.

David E. DeCosse

David E. DeCosse is director of religious and Catholic ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. He is on leave in fall 2021 in order to live and work with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker community.

This article originally appeared on the National Catholic Reporter online edition on October 14, 2021.


If you are interested in signing up for the RECKONING WITH OUR MISSION HISTORIES series or receiving updates on our efforts, please complete this FORM. Thank you for your interest, and please spread the word.

November 4, 2021

Dear Mission Project friends,

A few updates:

1. I will be attending the Critical Mission Studies conference in San Diego on November 12-13. If anyone has any interest in going, please let me know ASAP and we can try to coordinate travel and housing plans or arrange to connect there.

2. We now have a Facebook group for our first session on November 21. We encourage all of you to spread the word to friends, family, neighbors, parishioners, groups, churches, schools…This is not a substitute for a phone call but will give them a reference point and reminder for later. (A reminder that we encourage folks to reach out to folks before the end of next week to get it on their calendars and to put their names and yours on our outreach list).

3. We have had one person sign up to attend one of the Native-led events coming up. We would love to have more people join in and try to find ways to connect with these communities. New events will continue to be added as we learn more.



November 15, 2021

We hope you will join us for the first session of a 6-part Reckoning with Our Mission Histories series entitled “Healing Haunted Histories: How Facing Our Mission Past Can Redeem Us All” presented by Elaine Enns and Ched Myers on Sunday, November 21, from 1:00 – 2:30 pm (PST).

Sign up using the QR code included or through the below link:


Many people of faith have articulated they don’t always know how to reconcile the California Mission system stories they grew up hearing with those that suggest there is more to the story. Feeling unsure of where to turn, of what questions to ask, of how to responsibly engage this, many Catholics are left feeling confused and unsure of what to do next.

Recognizing a shared desire to consider tough questions and to move forward faithfully, a group of individuals have come together to consider a possible way forward for people of faith like us. This will involve probing our past, listening to the many seemingly irreconcilable histories, and building our skills to have difficult conversations and take action.

This free Zoom session is the first in a 6-part Reckoning With Our Mission Histories series put on by the Los Angeles Catholic Worker. It will provide Catholics and other people of faith and concern the opportunity to learn key concepts and details before moving to small group processing spaces to reflect on the nuanced questions that this exploration brings to the surface.





Permanent link to this article: https://www.lacatholicworker.org/wp/mission/

Los Angeles Catholic Worker
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