David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
California Catholicism: A Holy Year Tribute. By Msgr. Francis J. Weber. Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1975. Index. 208 pages. $12.00.
The Mission in the Valley: A Documentary History of San Fernando, Rey de España. Compiled and edited by Msgr. Francis J. Weber. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1975. Bibliography. 136 pages. $8.00.
Reviewed by Lucy L. Killea, who holds a doctorate in Latin American history from the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Killea is currently Executive Director of Fronteras 1976, a community Bicentennial observance.
Two new books from one author in a single year — 1975 — is cause for interest and admiration. Unfortunately, anticipation turns into disappointment in reading the two works for review.
California Catholicism is, according to Msgr. Weber’s description, “part of a long-term project by which the author hopes to revivify the historical chronicle and thereby provide contemporary Catholics in California with a means for answering that all-important question of any generation: ‘How can one be certain of what is really Christian?'” The work contains one hundred and twenty items, many biographic, others descriptive of customs or single events, others homiletic, some quoting ceremonial speeches delivered for occasions such as dedications, departures and welcomes. Its value as a work of history is lessened by lack of attribution for historical information and often for opinions, as well as the preponderance of eulogistic essays and commentaries. The abbreviated index would appear to have limited utility as a reference tool.
Regarding The Mission in the Valley, Msgr. Weber comments that it “is meant more as a source-book for future researchers than a concisely-written and neatly-organized chronicle of events. Its information-laden pages are envisioned as a ‘launching-pad’ for subsequent studies.” Arranged chronologically, the little collection of excerpts from books, journals and newspapers falls short of this description, however. Many selections about San Fernando Mission are from secondary sources, although some items could be nuggets for the student historian. These include a 1797 letter of Fr. Fermin Francisco de Lasuén (the Franciscan who founded Mission San Fernando), selections from an 1814 mission report on Indian life, the last mission inventory in 1849, first-hand descriptions of the mission by American observers in the era of transition from Mexican to American rule, and several others, especially Msgr. Weber’s own vivid account of his experience at San Fernando in the earthquake of 1971. Some of the fifty-five selections, particularly among the twenty-two taken from Msgr. Weber’s own works, undoubtedly are based upon authentic documentation. No source guidance is provided, however, and even the last page and a half titled “Bibliography” contains only eight titles, selected because they related “exclusively” to San Fernando Mission, with five of them popular monographs, and one a guidebook.
Students of history will find the useful bits of historical data or commentary throughout these two works in a secondary role. The first work seems designed to present Catholic clerics of southern California and their work in an unfailingly favorable light. The second is dominated by descriptions of the physical ruin of the mission buildings at various stages and then to detailing their restoration.