Off the beaten path, tucked in a valley in Central California, lies one of the best preserved of the missions. For years, it was virtually off limits, surrounded by a military base, but today it is open for visitors, worshippers, and conference attendees. It is Mission San Antonio de Padua, located in the town of Jolon.
Mission San Antonio de Padua was founded on July 14, 1771 by Saint Junipero Serra. . It is the third of the twenty-one California missions. The mission was visited by Juan de Bautista on his epic exploration in 1776. The current mission was built in 1779. It has been restored twice, once after the 1906 Earthquake and again in 1948. Before the founding of the mission the Salinas River Valley was home to the Salinan tribe, who called themselves the Te’po’ta’ahl, or the “People of the Oaks”. They lived by hunting and gathering and trading with coastal tribes. Before European contact, there may have been as many as 3,000 Salinan people living in small villages near the Salinas River. The mission was secularized in 1836 and the last Franciscan, Padre Jose Gutierrez left in 1843. The Catholic Church received title to the mission lands in 1858. In the 1920’s, William Randolph Hearst bought 154,000 acres of the former mission lands as a ranch. In 1940, the War Department purchased the ranch from Hearst and established Fort Hunter Liggett. The mission originally was located inside the secure cantonment of the fort, but today, it sits on military reservation land, just outside the secure area.
The mission was named after Anthony of Padua, who was born Lisbon, Portugal as Fernando Martins de Bulhões in 1195. The future saint came from a wealthy family. He was educated at the cathedral school in Lisbon. When he was fifteen, he entered the Augustinian Abbey of St. Vincent in Lisbon. In 1212, he asked to be transferred to the Abbey of Santa Cruz so that he would not be distracted from his studies by family visits. After he completed his studies in Latin and theology he was ordained. He then became the Guestmaster for the Abbey of Santa Cruz. While he was fulfilling his duties, he was impressed by the humility and dedication of some guests who were Franciscan friars. He asked permission to leave and join the Franciscan Order. When he became a Franciscan friar, he adopted the name of Saint Anthony the Great. As a Franciscan, Anthony became known for his preaching, depth of knowledge, and teaching. He was canonized less than a year after his death and was named a “Doctor of the Church” in 1946.
Today, the mission has some seventy or so parishioners who regularly attend services. This number swells when soldiers from Fort Hunter Liggett are deployed. The mission also serves as a retreat for the Diocese of Monterey and is also used as a conference center. There is a small gift shop, a small museum, and several historical markers on the grounds.
Getting There: From 414 Mason Street take US-101 South to Exit 283-Jolon Road. Follow Jolon Road to the mission. The mission is located at 1Mission Creek Road, Jolon, CA.