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By Kerry Ferguson, San Juan Capistrano
When Mission San Juan Capistrano Executive Director Mechelle Lawrence Adams and Monsignor Michael McKiernan ousted the venerable Mission San Juan Capistrano Docent Society last summer, taking total control of educational programs and seizing Society funds, it was, sadly, handled in a manner that betrayed Saint Junipero Serra’s Franciscan Hospitality, faithfully practiced by everyone connected with the Mission for 243 years.
It broke the hearts of at least one-third of the 95 members who donated time and teaching talents for 38 years and moved them to discontinue their service. They include Mary Susa, serving since 1985; Helen Gavin, serving since 198; and many others who served similar tenures. Mary and Helen were responsible for saving and restoring the original Mission Bells. They also used their considerable talents and knowledge training new docents. The results spoke for themselves. Their contributions and those of all cannot be overestimated. As it is, the Mission now depends on large classes to provide enough “tour guides.”
Over those 38 years, the Mission San Juan Capistrano Docent Society operated independently, with by-laws, treasury and monthly meetings, hosting Mission history experts to stay current. Its reputation for great teaching and Franciscan Hospitality built annual student numbers to nearly 60,000. Numerous docents became well-known experts on Mission life. They also donated, including $5,000 to one Mission project alone. The California Mission Foundation honored the Society last year and will honor Mary Susa in 2020. The loss of intellectual knowledge itself was immense.
The Mission San Juan Capistrano Docent Society always lauded Mechelle Lawrence Adams for the many restoration projects she’s implemented. Thus, the numerous defensive and unprofessional statements by Ms. Adams in The Capistrano Dispatch’s Dec. 13 issue are especially sad. In doing so, she besmirched the Mission San Juan Capistrano itself, including the remaining Docents. Many felt the same as those who had left but decided to continue for now. Strangely, Ms. Adams denigrated their teaching while wanting to “brand for the Mission” materials Docents had created for their Docent training classes.
Executives stooping to demean those serving them well, with dubious accusations and rude, hurtful name-calling, destroys their source of respect. This needn’t have happened as it did. Concerns could have been addressed in the spirit of Franciscan Hospitality instead of blunt force. I wish it had.