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The Crowd: An evening for The Mission

Arguably it is one of the most beautiful social events on the fall calendar in Orange County.

Romance of The Mission, presented by the Mission Preservation Foundation of Mission San Juan Capistrano, unfolded Sept. 16. The event welcomed some 400 patrons to an al fresco dining experience illuminated by candlelight flickering on the tables and by the night stars shining in the heavens above.

In a poetic sense, the setting remains as it was in the time of its founder, Fr. Junípero Serra, and his band of missionaries and Native Americans.

The evening is a significant fundraiser for Mission preservation, a cause that is close to the hearts of men and women in the community who wish to preserve the historic legacy of California’s earliest settlers to the new world. For some, the connection is spiritual, deriving from a Catholic faith. For others, it is historical and cultural, a connection to California roots.


For all, the need is real for no public funds from California’s treasury and no private funds from the Catholic church (other than mission donors specifically) help to restore, maintain and preserve this magnificent structure.

This year some $204,000 (net) was collected from gala donors earmarked for preservation of the Gate House Project and also for financial support of the Mission’s traveling exhibits. Each season, gala organizers focus on a different and specific restoration project.

Executive Director of The Mission Preservation Foundation Mechelle Lawrence-Adams, stunning in vintage Valentino, welcomed distinguished guests and major donors, including Foundation President George O’Connell and his wife Eden, Wylie and Bette Aitken, Jim and Sheila Peterson, Art and Gaye Birtcher, Janet Curci, Tony and Melinda Moiso, and Carol and Don Dorkowski.

Also front and center for Mission preservation were Jan and Warren Siegel, Connie and Peter Spenuzza, Mozelle and Myron Sukut, Michael Hagan, Natalie Halfacre and Joan Irvine Smith.


The crowd gathered in the Mission Gardens for a sunset cocktail reception, followed by the annual concert under the stars, this year fronted by talented vocal artist Rod Gilfry performing in the ruins of the Great Stone Church. The two-time Grammy nominee wowed his audience prior to a formal dinner service and program graciously provided by The Ritz-Carlton and served in the Mission’s Central Courtyard. Wine pairing came from by Ignatius Cellars, featuring Clare Valley Wines of South Australia and underwritten by Thomas and Emma Jean Tracy.

The evening honored the Rev. Msgr. Arthur A. Holquin.

“I never pass up the opportunity to speak to a captive audience about the importance of Mission preservation,” he told the crowd.

In July 2003, Holquin was appointed by Bishop Tod Brown as Rector and Pastor of Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano. In 2009, he was named a chaplain by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI with the title “Reverend Monsignor.” Holquin was lauded at the dinner by Bishop Tod Brown for his unwavering service and joined by both his mother and sister for the honors.

Gala committee members deserving praise for their remarkable service include Diana Arrigoni, Barb Beier, Georgianna Hales, Mozelle Sukut and Madeline Swinden. Also supporting the preservation efforts were Mary and Walter Frome, Maria and Arturo Galindo, Kathy and Sam Perricone, Adriane and Mike Puntoriero and Claudia and Randy Redwitz.

To learn more about Mission San Juan preservation efforts go to

THE CROWD runs Saturdays and Thursdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.