The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1981, Volume 27, Number 2

Book Review

Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor

The Proto Mission: A Documentary History of San Diego de Alcalá. Compiled and edited by Msgr. Francis J. Weber. Hong Kong: Libra Press Limited, 1980. 262 pages. $12.00.

Reviewed by Dr. James Robert Moriarty, III, University of San Diego, Professor of History and Anthropology, author of Chinigchinix: An Indigenous American Indian Religion.

The California historian will greet this publication with real joy. Contained in this volume are sixty-seven small gems of San Diego Mission history. Chronologically, they extend from the earliest report on Indian hostility by Father Palou in 1769 through the most recent archaeological discoveries. These latter are reported by the University of San Diego Historic Sites Archaeology class at the Mission San Diego de Alcala. Msgr. Weber has selected a variety of little known but significant writings of reference to the mission covering the intervening two hundred years.

All too often, in the writer’s own research, he has come across miscellaneous, but important fragments of the mission’s history, only to lose the reference in the press of other work. Minor documentary elements such as Archibald Gillespie’s correspondence, along with reminiscences of earlier periods by visitors and officials, are often missed.

The book brings to the reader descriptions and reports of many not so well remembered individuals, who made great personal contributions to the mission and its restoration. Industrious preservers like Mr. Albert Mayrhofer and Bishop Cantwell were assisted by the architect I.E. Loveless, and J. Marshall Miller, and somewhat later Dr. Ray Brandes of the University of San Diego. In a sense, the present mission owes its form and beauty to these men.

Msgr. Weber has also included some of the mystery stories about the San Diego, Mission such as the mythical tunnel which this author had industriously looked for but failed to find. One of the most interesting descriptions deals with the visit in 1867 by the journalist B.C. Truman. He saw the remains of the mission shortly after the period of occupation by American troops and describes the sad reduction of the size of the mission grounds and gardens.

Another earlier visitor was Alfred Robinson who arrived in 1829. Fortunately for Robinson, he was able to see the mission while it still was at its best, before the period of decline. His description of dinner and hospitality of the padres offers a pleasant and nostalgic view of the father missionaries and their charges.

There is little to criticize about this contribution to California history. It is well edited and the selection of documents is thoughful and informed. If there is a criticism, it is that the first edition was limited to three hundred and fifty copies. It is not doubted that this will result in a second printing, almost immediately, as the publication becomes known to the thousands of California history enthusiasts.

Lastly, the historians who know Msgr. Weber’s previous works will take a special pleasure in this latest work. The Proto Mission is a most fitting companion to his Bicentennial volume of California Catholic Reminiscences.