33rd Annual California Missions Conference Coming to San Juan

For the second time, San Juan Bautista will host the California Missions Conference from Feb. 12 thru Sunday, Feb. 14

Below a patch of earth, two blocks southeast of Mission San Juan Bautista and on land currently owned by the California State Parks and Recreation Department, rests two multi-family housing units of adobe dating back to the 1800s. With the aid of 21st Century archeological tools and the meticulous combing through of the mission’s records, retired senior state archaeologist for the state parks system, Dr. Glen Farris, recently concluded that the residences potentially accommodated over 160 mission Indians who had some degree of social standing within the mission system.

Dr. Farris, who shared his research in an interview with BenitoLink, will present his findings at the 33rd Annual California Missions Conference scheduled in San Juan Bautista beginning on Friday, Feb. 12 thru Sunday, Feb. 14.

This year’s conference marks the first since the California Missions Foundation (CMF) and the California Mission Studies Association (CMSA) merged on Jan. 1. Established in 1998, CMF has focused on raising funds for mission preservation, while CMSA has dedicated itself to research and scholarship since its founding in 1984. The CMF will now serve as the official name for both organizations.

CMF Executive Director, David Bolton, explained in an interview with BenitoLink that the merger was the “bringing together of two equal organizations” committed to preserving and telling the mission story. The union made sense from a practical standpoint, too. “They were so many who crossed over,” Bolton said of members who belonged to both CMF and CMSA.

He also explained the annual event alternates between the 10 missions located to south and the 11 to the north of the San Luis Obispo and Monterey county line. Last year, Mission San Buenaventura played host, so this year a northern mission was picked. This is the second time San Juan will host the conference. (The first occurred in 1989).

“The timing was right” Bolton said of the conference’s return to the mission city. “It’s an awesome location…with so many different elements, like the historic mission and other historic sites.”

“It’s a great backdrop for what what we want to accomplish,” he added.

Reflective in its theme this year, “El Camino Real de las Californias,” one of the conference’s goals is promoting the El Camino Real—a historic corridor extending from Mission San Jose del Cabo Anuiti in Baja California to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma.—as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, a designation that would recognize the unique history and character that developed from the confluence of peoples and cultures along the route.

Mission San Juan Bautista and the Casa Maria, located at 600 First St, are the conference venues. Interpretative sessions at the San Juan Bautista Mission, San Juan Bautista State Historic Park, and the unexcavated, mission Indian housing complex are planned over the weekend, too.

The conference kicks off with a Friday luncheon at Casa Maria followed by the 1st Annual California Mission Institute, "an initiative…designed to serve as a training tool for professionals (paid and volunteer) working at sites related to early California,” according to the CMF website.

The afternoon session concludes with a moderated panel discussion with those “who are involved in the preservation, study, and interpretation of California Indian history,” wrote CMF Vice Chair, Dr. Ty Smith, in an email to BenitoLink. 

The chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, Val Lopez, is scheduled to join the panel.

Lopez, who waged a campaign opposing Fr. Junipero Serra’s canonization last year, explained in an interview with BenitoLink that the California Indian experience is absent from the mission system’s history, stating he hopes the conference spurs scholars “to work with [California’s] indigenous people to get the truth told.”

A general membership meeting is slated on Friday evening at the mission church.

On Saturday morning, the conference will resume at Casa Maria, where scholars will present their research in twenty-minute intervals throughout the day. Some county residents are among the presenters, including Aromas resident and Aromas-San Juan Unified School Board Trustee, Dr. Jennifer Colby.

For the last 15 years Dr. Colby has served as a faculty member at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB), where she and colleague, Dr. Linda Turner Bynoe, spearhead the Partners for the Advancement of Teaching, a program that “links educators and communities to renew a passion for teaching, increase student learning, and achieve excellence in Pre K – 12 Education,” according to its mission statement.

The topic for Dr. Colby’s Saturday presentation is, “Transforming K-12 Education Along the El Camino Real.” 

Dr. Colby, who crafted the proposal to bring the conference back to San Juan and who's the event’s volunteer coordinator, explained in an interview with BenitoLink that mission history scholars and those responsible for disseminating that information at the historic sites often lack familiarity with changes in educational policy.

Currently, the California History-Social Science State Standards for Public Schools mandate that the fourth-graders learn about the mission system, while the Common Core English Language Arts Standards require that the same students begin differentiating between various texts, like primary and secondary sources.

Dr. Colby said she hopes her presentation helps “the keepers of artifacts and primary sources” understand the direction “schools are moving towards,” perhaps even inspiring historians and docents to collaborate with teachers to develop curricula.

The conference’s Saturday session concludes with an awards banquet later that evening.

On Sunday, attendees have the option of taking a walking tour through the mission and state park sites before departing.

A notable absence from this year’s conference is archeologist and CSUMB faculty member, Dr. Ruben Mendoza, who will not attend this year, citing personal reasons. 

For many years, Dr. Mendoza, who was often aided by his students, coordinated archeological digs, restoration projects, and preservation efforts at Mission San Juan Bautista. 

In an interview with BenitoLink, Dr. Mendoza described his time in San Juan as a labor of love and the fulfillment of a childhood dream, stating that the mission transfixed him as a boy and later became the genesis of his “scholarly work.”

California Missions Foundation Executive Director, David Bolton, said he's excited that conference participants will have the opportunity to see the “phenomenal job” Dr. Mendoza has done.

However, participants may also see the work left undone. 

BenitoLink reported last October that the mission complex needs $14 million of repairs, especially retrofitting. The Mission San Juan Bautista Preservation Fund was established for this purpose. 

According to Bolton, the Fund has “not officially reached out” to CMF for support, but over the years the foundation has contributed over $750,000 to the mission. In fact, CMF is currently holding $60,000 in restrictive funds for the mission’s new roof. Following the retrofit, the money—donated by the now defunct San Juan Bautista Fiesta/Rodeo Committee-—will be released.

Dr. Mendoza hopes that the people of San Juan back the preservation fund’s efforts. “The more that the community can do to honor and respect it most valuable historic monument, the better,” he said.

The 33rd Annual California Missions Conference—last held in the mission city the same year as the Loma Prieta Earthquake—may well provide the both the urgency and momentum to save San Juan Bautista’s most-beloved structure.

If interested in attending this year’s conference, click here to register.

Click here to view this year’s schedule of events.

Click here to view this year’s list of presenters.

To volunteer for the local host committee, send an email to Dr. Jennifer Colby with Mission Conference in the subject. jennifercolbyphd@gmail.com


Frank Pérez

I’m a lifelong resident of San Benito County. I reside in Hollister with my wife, Brenda. I’m embarking on my 19th year at San Benito High School, where I teach world history and Mexican-American history. In addition, I'm moonlighting as a freelance journalist for BenitoLink. My passion is delving deeper into the nuances of the local, historical record, while including lesser-known stories of our past. My hope is that county residents will have a greater appreciation for the diversity and complexity of San Benito County, realizing that its uniqueness depends upon our responsibility as its stewards.