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By Alex Groves

It was a night of entertainment, dining and beautiful sights as guests gathered for the annual Romance of the Mission Benefit Gala on Friday, Sept. 14.

The guests arrived outside the Mission on a red carpet and had their photos taken before heading into the mission grounds for some drinks and appetizers.

Around 7 p.m., guests made their way to the ruins of the Great Stone Church where they got news about a new mission event, saw two community members honored and got to hear former America’s Got Talent contestant and platinum-achieving artist Jackie Evancho perform a bevy of songs.

Mechelle Lawrence Adams, executive director for the Mission, told the audience-packed church that the Mission would be starting a new tradition this year, thanks to an estate gift: a Christmas tree lighting event.

She said that on Dec. 1, there will be a candlelight procession where guests to the mission will be given a candle to place at the foot of the church’s walls and will make a prayer “in good keeping and good spirit for the coming new year, a prayer for peace as a community.”

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Lawrence Adams said that will be followed by a music and light program and, finally, the lighting of the tree.

“That’s only the first night,” she said during the event. “After that, we’ll have 36 more nights until the epiphany on Jan. 6, and every night at 5 p.m. any member or any guest that gets in here before the doors close, you can go ahead and take part in the nightly tree lighting.”

After Lawrence Adams’ announcement, George O’Connell, president of the Mission Preservation Foundation, introduced honorees Madeline and James Irvine Swinden.

O’Connell told the audience that Madeline Swinden, a long-time member of the Mission Preservation Foundation Board, had been instrumental in the success of the each year’s gala since the early 2000s, including the one in which she was honored.

Madeline Swinden told the audience that she and others have worked as a team in the pursuit of a common goal: preserving the mission.

“What we have accomplished as a team has made an impact and our journey together continues,” she said. “We are more dedicated than ever to the preservation of this sacred place. And to all of you who share in supporting the beauty and grandeur of these treasured walls: we are truly blessed to be among passionate individuals who will continue to preserve this unique and precious landmark.”

James Irvine Swinden said his family’s involvement with the mission goes back decades.

“Our family has been involved with the mission for over 75 years, from when our grandmother first brought our mother to feed the white pigeons which used to be on the grounds here to the Irvine Museum’s sponsorship of the California (Art) Club’s paint offs. Art has played a significant role in the mission’s rich history and the Irvine Museum is pleased to continue its support through the exhibitions of both historic and contemporary plein air artists.”

O’Connell presented the husband and wife with a memento: An elegantly-framed invitation to this year’s gala.

The honorees were followed by former America’s Got Talent contestant and platinum-selling artist Jackie Evancho. Evancho sang such songs as When you Wish Upon a Star, Andrea Bocelli’s Con te Partirò, and When the Swallows Return to Capistrano. 

The performance ended with traditional bell ringing  and guests were whisked off to enjoy a meal provided by the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.



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