The iconic Rose Window was bathed in a soft white light, a beacon in the shadows of the centuries-old Mission San José. Nearby, hundreds of people who have dedicated themselves to the restoration and protection of the Old Spanish Missions gathered under an open-air tent to celebrate another milestone.
It was only fitting, then, that Father David Garcia, the director of the Old Spanish Missions, was on stage and at the microphone to address the crowd. He was the driving force behind the $15.5 million restoration campaign and the establishment of a Permanent Fund to ensure their future preservation.
To all those listening, it was Fr. David speaking. No last name necessary.
"296 years ago, Mission San Antonio de Valero was founded, followed by Mission San José two years later, and then Mission Concepción, Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission Espada in 1731. We stand tonight in a long line of people who have been involved with these wonderful spiritual places," Fr. David said.
We are here tonight to help grow the Permanent Fund for the Mission Churches, which are the centerpieces of this wonderful National Park and soon to be World Heritage Site," he continued. "We are here tonight to say that these Missions are not just museums, but living missions where people pray, celebrate sacraments, are married, baptized, and are buried, along with special feasts and seasons that draw people here for faith-filled activities.
"They are places where wonderful concerts are heard and cultural traditions are celebrated, like the 400 matachines coming Dec. 7 to Mission Concepción, and much more," he said. "These Missions helped make San Antonio what it is and make us who we are."
Fr. David is a formidable fundraiser with a reputation for finishing what he starts. As rector, he led the $15-million restoration in 2003 of San Fernando Cathedral in the heart of downtown San Antonio. Now, under Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, he is leading the efforts to restore the Old Spanish Missions.
Last week's second annual Rose Window Award Gala added $250,000 to the growing $7-million Permanent Fund that Fr. David is building now so continuous maintenance and restoration of the four remaining Missions will prevent the cultural and spiritual treasures from ever again falling into a state of neglect and disrepair.
Not all the money has come from Catholic benefactors. People of other faiths are contributing, just as they did to the cathedral restoration. In his remarks, Fr. David cited the $100,000 gift from George and Barbara Williams, an Olmos Park couple inspired to donate after reading a story about the Mission restoration efforts by columnist Elaine Ayala in the Express-News.
"We are planning for the long-term, long after I am gone," said Fr. David, a fit and robust man in his 60s who looks years younger. "We want to secure the future of the Missions. We have $7 million, which sounds like a lot of money, but that means only $350,000 a year is generated to spend. The Mission Espada project we are doing right now – the church, the convento and the parking plaza – will cost $1.5 million alone.
"We have money to do important maintenance and emergency repairs, but we need a bigger fund," he said. "My personal goal as director of the Old Spanish Mission, my dream, is to grow the fund to $10 million. We can restore an old building, but a 350-year-old building requires us to come back every year."
About $2 million remains of the original $15.5 million Fr. David raised for the restoration of the four Missions, much of which will go to the current work being done at Mission Espada. $4.5 million of the $15.5 million was set aside to create the Permanent Fund, which has since grown to $7 million with the proceeds from Thursday's event.
The Rose Window, the most widely imitated and copied image in San Antonio, was in a state of rapid deterioration, so Fr. David raised an additional $450,000 to fund that restoration.
Working with Carolyn Peterson, FAIA of Ford, Powell & Carson, and others, Fr. David has brought in numerous craftsmen and women to oversee the work at the Missions and the interiors of the churches.
The work of two master masons and conservation artists – Ivan Myjer of Boston-based Ivan Myjer Building and Monument Conservation, and Miroslav Maler, both of whom trace their roots to Czechoslovakia – stands out in particular. Both have worked on some of the most important restoration projects in the Americas.
In March 2012, a little more than one month after the first appearance of the Rivard Report, I spent part of several days observing Myjer and Maler working on the restoration of Mission San José's extraordinary frontispiece, badly damaged by time, the elements and poor restoration efforts in the early and mid-2oth century.
You can see their work in images and video: Artists at Work: Restoring Frontispiece to Masterpiece at Mission San José. The two men also restored the Rose Window. Fr. David would like to bring them back to work on the facade of Mission Concepción.
One afternoon after the day's work was done, Myjer invited me into the pair's makeshift studio on the Mission grounds and told me how much he wanted to start teaching local masons the art and craft of fine stone conservation and restoration. Myjer had run such a school at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York. Unfortunately, the $15.5 million only covered essential repairs and restoration work.
“We wanted to teach some local boys and girls, perhaps descendants of the original Mission builders, who would become the future conservators of the Missions,” Myjer said back then. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the budget.”
Fr. David agreed: "In the best of all worlds, the masonry school would be a fabulous idea."
Fr. David and his army of supporters have done a remarkable job of restoring and protecting the Old Spanish Missions, but it's really the responsibility of everyone in San Antonio: citizens of all faiths, residents of all corners of the city, elected officials at all levels.
A unified San Antonio is working to win World Heritage Site status for the Alamo and the Missions. The same unity should be brought to building the Permanent Fund to a level – probably $20 million – that would prove sufficient to maintain the Missions at the highest possible level of conservation.
**All of us will reap the rewards of World Heritage recognition. Many people in the hospitality industry will reap monetary rewards. Everyone, therefore, should want to contribute to the preservation of San Antonio's most valuable and cherished treasures.
The funds can be raised in many ways – privately, from corporate gifts, through a sliver of a penny of sales or visitor tax, perhaps in the next bond election.
Click here to read the names of the members of the Old Spanish Missions Advisory Committee. To make a gift or discuss your interest, you can contact Fr. David Garcia at Old SpanishMissions@archsa.org or by calling (210) 357-5601.
*Featured/top image: Mission San José facade after renovation. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Conservation Society.