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‘King of Missions’ celebrates 225th anniversary


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SAN DIEGO — Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, dubbed the “King of the Missions,” is celebrating its 225th anniversary.

An entire year of anniversary-themed events began last January and will continue through December, but one of the highlights is just around the corner.

On June 13, the date on which the mission was founded in 1798, a multicultural anniversary Mass will be celebrated at 6 p.m. inside the historic mission church. The Mass prayers will be in English; Spanish, the language of the mission’s founders; and Luiseño, in honor of the region’s Native American population.

A full list of the mission’s anniversary events, which include lectures, concerts and Masses, can be found at

The anniversary year will see the return of two popular events from the mission’s past.

The Mission Fiesta, which hasn’t been held in 25 years, will take place over three days, June 16 to 18. It will include food, live music, carnival rides and games, and the crowning of a Fiesta King and Queen, Prince and Princess, and Little Prince and Little Princess. Caballeros will also ride their horses onto the mission grounds, a callback to a beloved fiesta tradition.

The Heritage Ball, a gala fundraiser that was last held in 2015, is scheduled for Aug. 19. The event will raise funds for repair and restoration of the interior walls of the old mission church.

Founded by Franciscan Father Fermín de Lasuén, the successor of St. Junipero Serra, Mission San Luis Rey was the 18th of the 21 California missions that stretch from Mission San Diego de Alcalá in the south to Mission San Francisco Solano in the north. Today, along with Mission Santa Barbara, it is one of only two California missions still administered by the Franciscans.

As the Catholic population attached to Mission San Luis Rey increased, it outgrew the old mission church, which has capacity for only about 270 people. The mission, which is owned by the Franciscan Friars of California, and the parish became separate legal entities.

Despite that division, Mission San Luis Rey Executive Director Gwyn Grimes said, “In the eyes of our community, we are one faith community” and “there’s a lot of overlap.”

She noted that Masses are celebrated in both the historic and the new church, the same Franciscans who reside at the mission are the ones who celebrate Masses for the parish, many parishioners have been laid to rest in the mission’s cemetery, and the separate staffs of the mission and the parish frequently collaborate.

To accommodate the growing parish, construction began on a new chapel in 1955. Today, the community gathers for most Masses in the Fray Junipero Serra Center, which was consecrated by Bishop Robert H. Brom in 1996. Located east of the mission cemetery and north of the parish building offices, it can accommodate 840 people.

Two Sunday Masses — the 7 a.m. in English and 7 p.m. in Spanish — are celebrated inside the old mission church, as is the noon weekday Mass in English.

Mission San Luis Rey welcomes as many as 70,000 visitors every year, including about 4,000 fourth-graders.

Franciscan Father Oscar Mendez, who has served as pastor of Mission San Luis Rey Parish for almost three years, urges San Diegans during this anniversary year to “come to discover, or rediscover, the jewel nestled in our valley.”

“Mission San Luis Rey is a place for you to gather and share your faith,” he said. “The church represents a beacon of light, a place to encounter God in the solitude of the historic grounds. We are a place where you can live your faith by attending daily Mass, by living a retreat, or by serving in various ministries.”

“The ‘King of Missions’ is a beautiful, active church, where each fired clay brick or roof tile speaks of the contributions of those who came before us and are now present,” added Father Mendez, who has been a Franciscan for more than 40 years.

Grimes said she hopes that the 225th anniversary encourages people to attend the many events and programs hosted by the mission.

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