John Steven McGroarty: THE MISSION PLAY (2024)

THE MISSION PLAYby John Steven McGroarty

Henry Van Dyke's Commentary

Carey McWilliams "The Indian in the Closet" - a very different view

Pictures from the 1941 official program. Clicking one will display a larger version.

Serra vs. el Commandante

Indian war dance

Serra says farewell

1941 program cover

Mission San Gabriel

Tribute to Ida

[This material is taken directly from the officialprogram. Much of it is unbelievably sentimental to a modern ear; much ofit is also politically very incorrect. It may be worth remembering thatthe program is from the 1941 production of a play first performed in 1912.- e.s.]

The Mission Play, in three acts, tells the epic story of thefounding of the California Missions, beginning with arrival from Mexico ofFray Junipero Serra and Don Gaspar de Portola, with the first expeditionof 1769 at San Diego; the rise and full glory of the Missions fifteenyears later, shown in the second act; and their decay and ruin during theperiod of seizure and secularization, as shown in the third act, where thescene is laid amid the broken and deserted walls of Mission San JuanCapistrano (the Mission of the Swallow), in 1847.

With unerring dramatic perception, the author chose JuniperoSerra as the dominant figure of the Mission Play—the brown-robedpadre of the trails, holding aloft the torch of civilization in thisstrange new land.


The first act opens on the shores of the Bay of San Diego.It is the fateful year 1769. A corporal, three soldiers, and a Franciscanpadre are sitting dejectedly in the sun, the weary padre dozing againstone of the rude huts that have been reared to shelter the expedition. Theyare all worn with anxious waiting for the return of the Gobernador of theexpedition, the military commandant, Don Gaspar de Portola, who, with achosen body of men, had gone forth more than a year before, in search ofthe port of Monterey.

Disease, hunger and death have made sad inroads upon theranks of those who remained behind in the garrison of San Diego.Discontent is rampant, mutiny is in the air. They are sick and tired ofthe whole thing, all anxious to board ship and sail back toMexico—and some mayhap to the senoritas there. Only one soul remainssteadfast, and that is Padre Junipero Serra, their spiritual leader. Butthe others can see only famine and despair ahead, if they remain. Thesoldiers especially are restive. Even in the face of starvation, the three"leathernecks" and their corporal are most amusing; their antics furnish arich vein of humor running throughout the first two acts; their admirationand reverence for Father Junipero is their saving grace.

Father Junipero is sad and constantly at prayer, because noconversions have been made among these wild gentiles of the hills. Hisheart yearns over the land and its people.

Calling for his Christian neophyte, Vincenzo, FatherJunipero loads him with bright beads and bids him renew his efforts tobring a child for baptism, for not a single convert has been made to thefaith.

While Vincenzo is gone to the hills, great excitementdevelops, for after dreary months of hardship, Don Gaspar and his menreturn. Alas! they are in a terrible plight. Monterey has not been found,and the men are ragged and starving. At this point Don Gaspar makes thedramatic announcement of the discovery of a marvelous harbor to the north,the harbor of Saint Francis.

Realizing the expedition's plight, the Gobernador orderseverybody, including Father Junipero, to be on board the ship at sunset,to sail with the tide, back to Mexico. California is to be abandonedforthwith, and those who are still living saved from starvation whilethere is yet time. Cries of gladness ring out from the hearts of there-assembled survivors of the ill-fated enterprise. Yet again, one greatsoul flames out in opposition. Junipero Serra will not go. Vehemently hedeclares that he will remain, alone, in California to prosecute the workthey had come to do.

Then comes the great conflict between Serra on the one handand Portola and the survivors on the other—the conflict betweendespair and sublime faith and dauntless courage. Father Junipero pleadswith Portola for one more day of time, reminding the Gobernador that therelief ship from Mexico which had been promised might still arrive.Portola scorns the idea.

The conference is interrupted by the arrival of Vincenzo,who announces the approach of a small party of Indians bearing a baby forbaptism. Father Junipero is transported with joy; all is made ready forthe ceremony. The Indians appear, degraded and ignorant, clad in skins,fearful, suspicious, reluctant. The Indian father hands the infant toFather Serra, who places it in the arms of Don Gaspar, who is to begodfather to the child.

Just as the blessed water touches the brow of the child, theIndians set up a shriek and snatch him away from Father Serra, anddisappear with wild shouts. Father Serra drops on his knees in despair,crying out "Mea culpa, mea culpa," "I am to blame, I am to blame."

Purple shadows of evening begin creeping over the bay. Withpity for Father Junipero but believing the situation hopeless, Don Gasparorders all on board to sail for Mexico, threatens to force Junipero toaccompany them, if necessary.

Fray Junipero begins a dramatic appeal to heaven; priests,soldiers, neophytes, kneel with him.

"Almighty Father, hear my prayer. Desert us not in our hourof need. From the face of the great waters, from the waves of the ocean,send us the ship that was promised." The dusk of night deepens; sunsetflames low in the west; and as Serra reaches the end of his agonizedprayer, an old Spanish galleon rounds Point Loma—the relief ship.

Vincenzo, on the lookout, first beholds the miracle, and hiswild shout thrills the audience as well as the waiting throng on thestage.

"A sail! A sail! Look, Father Junipero. God has answered your prayer."

San Diego is saved, and the first act of the Mission Playends with a thrilling and triumphant climax.

Act II

A period of fifteen years is represented by the interludebetween the first and second act. The curtain rises upon a semi-darkenedstage. Dimly outlined is the beautiful Mission of San Carlos of Carmel,near Monterey, Father Junipero's "own." The familiar facade flanks thespacious courtyard with its tall cross, while through the Mission archesthat enclose the patio is the shimmering sea of Carmel bay.

The twitter of birds heralds the dawn. Priests and Indiansbegin chanting the matins or morning hymns, and a procession headed byIndian acolytes preceding Father Junipero streams into church for earlymass.

The procession is most picturesque—Spanish senoritasand senoras, Indian women and wide-eyed children, muleteers, neophytes andpriests—and yes, our friends, the three Catalonian soldiers, each of whom insists upon staying outside, to keep watch; for as one of them slylyobserves, "the shortest mass is too long, for a soldier."

While the service is being concluded, the soldiers discussthe great day that has come to Carmel, the convocation of the Fatherssuperior of the nine Missions, to make their reports to Father Junipero.Then the Indians are to show the visiting padres the results of theirhandiwork—and then the Fiesta.

The reports of the nine Fathers, even in their brevity, areeloquent of the tremendous labors of the Missionaries and their Indianconverts. Father Palou of Mission San Francisco reports 400 ChristianIndians trained to work and speak Spanish as well as to read; 1700 sheep,1800 head of cattle, 3200 bushels of grain, and a splendid supply of otherneedful things.

Father Sitjar of Mission San Antonio reports the best horsesin all California and "Thousands of bushels of grain, thousands of sheepand cattle, and one thousand and eighty-four Christian Indians.

"Ah, that is the news we want to hear," exclaims FatherJunipero; "the harvest of souls is the harvest we have come to reap."

Father Calzada of San Gabriel announces "One thousandChristian Indians, all trained to work. We have built a ship at SanGabriel, which our Indians have launched in the harbor at San Pedro."

Father Caraller of San Luis Obispo reports that in spite ofdestruction by fire, this Mission has six hundred and sixteen ChristianIndians, well taught in trades," and the curved tiles we have invented forroofing are now used in all California."

"Four hundred Christian Indians sheltered, fed and taught,at our Mission San Juan Capistrano," reports Father Ammuria. "Our cropsare wonderful, our Indians are gentle and quick to learn. We are about tobegin the finest church in California, which the Indians themselves willbuild."

Father Murguia reports from Santa Clara one thousand eighthundred Christian Indians, two thousand head of cattle, eight hundredsheep and bursting granaries, besides a splendid church, which the Indiansbuilt with their own hands.

Father Dumetz of San Buenaventura has little to report, asthis Mission has been established only a few months, and Father Lausen, ofSan Diego, reports good progress, with fully half of all the Indians inthe section Christianized.

Father Juniperio has a premonition that he will not be withthem much longer on earth, and bids his brothers a touching farewell.

The convocation is here interrupted. Galloping horsem*n areheard without. Captain Rivera, Commandante of all the King's soldiers inCalifornia, is announced with a troop of cavalry from the Presidio of SanFrancisco. He enters and demands the custody of a half-blood girl namedAnita. Father Junipero, being informed by Father Palou of theCommandante's sinful designs upon the girl, refuses to give her up.

This is the high dramatic point of the play. The Commandanteflies into a rage and declares he will carry out the purpose for which hecame to Carmel; that he will take the girl away from him in defiance ofecclesiastical authority.

Age falls from Father Junipero. His eyes flash with the fireof youth. He demands the presence of the girl Anita and the Indianneophyte to whom she is betrothed. There, in the presence of theCommandante, he declares them espoused.

"I suppose," says Rivera scornfully, "you think I am to beimpressed with your mummery. Well, I tell you, Father Junipero, that itdoes not impress me to the least; I don't give that for it," snapping hisfingers. "Bah! what do these Indians know about marriage, or care for iteither. I am still here to demand the custody of this girl."

Then Father Junipero rises again to his old stature and in amagnificent scene of wrath and powerful mastery threatens to call down thecurse of the church upon the sacrilegious wretch, and excommunicating theCommandante and driving him from the Mission, as one of the other padressnatches the Commandante's sword and throws it after him.

A charming incident next takes place. Father Junipero,shaken with the storm of righteous wrath he had just gone through, standsalone in the center of the stage. A tiny Indian maiden, about four yearsof age runs in and with the utmost confidence plucks at his robe andoffers him a bouquet of wild flowers. As he does not notice her, she givesthe cord of his robe a good shake and her little high voice is heard:"Padre, Padre mio." Slowly the old saint comes out of his reverie of wrathand takes the little one up in his arms, talking to her with the utmosttenderness and love.

Little Paula is succeeded by the appearance of theimpressive Indian figure, Capitajeno, chief of the Indians of Carmelo andMonterey, in feather bonnet and full regalia. Then follow the Indians ofthe Mission, bringing specimens of their handiwork for the delightedinspection of the visiting padres. There are baskets and blankets, andsaddles studded with silver, the famous red roofing tiles, and many othersamples of their arts and crafts.

The Mission bells ring and a throng gathers for the Fiesta,but pauses for a moment of prayer, after which Serra says to them:

"My children, in honor of our Father St. Francis these hoursthat remain before darkness shall be given over to innocent pastime. Wemust work and we must always pray, but it is permitted to us to enjoyourselves in innocent pleasure. God grant happiness to all."

Then comes the brilliant Fiesta scene. It is like the suddenblossoming of some gorgeous flower, the beauty of which assails one'ssenses. The color and life are intoxicating and nowhere outside a Latinland could such delirious action in dance and song, such allure of music,of gaiety and youth, of love and laughter, be found to make a holiday.

The brilliant-hued gowns of the Spanish women, thepicturesque Caballeros, the savage chiefs in full regalia, the bronzebodies of the Indian dancers, all add their barbaric color to the dazzlinggroup in the patio of Mission San Carlos de Carmelo.

The barbaric background of the early California assertsitself in a weird beating harmony played by Indian musicians, the Indiansdancers bound upon the stage and begin their war dance, which never failsto thrill. Tom toms are stilled; the redmen relapse into unstudiedimmobility.

Then, "El Sombrero Blanco! El Sombrero Blanco!" is echoedfrom joyous throats and the apotheosis of all this life and color is seenas lissome young couples make you rhythm-made with the melody and motionof the dance of the white hat—Father Serra's own dance, composed by him,tradition says, and handed down like the songs of Homer. "Quieres que teponga mi sombrero blanco? Quieres que te ponga mi sombrero azul?"

The words possess delicious humor and are sung by the prettysenoritas as they whirl through the measures.

Comes a pause in this wild rush of rhythm; the hauntingmelody of "La Golondrina," the swallow with the broken wing, is sung whilea guitar strums.

Again, dance follows song, song follows dance. Margarita,Margarita with the castanets, Margarita with the merry feet, comesforward; there is a flutter of masculine hearts as she dances. Dulcetstrains of La Paloma again bring forth the prima donna.

"La Jota, La Jota," shout the revelers—presto, the tempochanges and a whirlwind of romance follows with the click of the castanetsas Juanita Vigare and Juan Zarraquinos dance the closing number withlaughing abandon.

Sunset approaches, the sky reddens in glory, darknessfalls—the Fiesta is over. The gay company leave the Mission patio. Someone begins to chant the evening hymn, which is taken up by many voicesand finished. A love-lorn couple hang back. The church bell rings, thelights go out. The church door opens, a padre emerges, reading hisbreviary. Quickly the couple quit their cooing bench; the woman laughs aprovocative laugh as she vanishes beyond the arches.

For a moment, the Mission San Carlos de Carmelo stands inshadowy beauty in the moonlight, the sea and the white breakers seenrippling in silvery splendor through the arches of the patio.

Father Junipero, bent and old, enters and silently kneels atthe foot of the great cross. It is his last appearance in the play. Themoonlight silvers his white head as with a halo, while he prays:

"Hear, O Lord, thy servant whose days upon the earth areabout to close, even as the day has closed upon this scene. Bring to thefoot of thy cross these wild Gentiles of the plains and hills. Bless thisdear land of California, and all its people—now, and in the centuriesto come. This is the prayer of thy servant, Junipero, who is old andworn, and who must soon say 'Farewell.'"


The third act is one of lamentation and sorrow, depictingthe decline of the missions after the seizure of the Mission lands by theMexican government. The work of the padres has been undone, the Indianneophytes scattered and driven forth to starve and to die.

The setting is the beautiful ruin of Juan Capistrano.

Ubaldo, the one-time Indian baby whose parents snatched himaway in the moment of baptism, now an old, old man, has gone over to theenemy by becoming caretaker of the cattle in the Mission ground of SanJuan Capistrano, with instructions to drive the Indians away.

He has relaxed his vigilance at the rise of the curtain; heis asleep on a rude bench and a little group of his Indian friends aresitting about. There is Anita—that once beautiful half-blood girlwhom the Commandante sought—and her husband, both old and decrepit.An Indian lad is playing on a guitar.

The little group talk of the old happy days. "Someone iscoming," cries Juanito, "it is the Senora Yorba". Making one of her rarevisits to the Mission, she places flowers upon the ruined alter, lookssadly about. Seeing Ubaldo, she speaks bitterly to him at first: "Ubaldo,you grow grayer and fatter every year in this starving country. It pays,it seems, to be friendly with robbers."

The shades of evening fall. "Look, Ubaldo," she exclaims,"there are Indians coming down the pathway through the mustard fields.They seem to be carrying some kind of burden."

With a native chant of lament, Indians enter the oldcompound carrying a rude litter upon which rests the body of a deadFranciscan friar.

"Amigos! Friends! We wish to enter the church yard with ourdead padre, to bury him in holy ground." Ubaldo is greatly frightened, butthe Senora compels him to allow the Indians to enter. She learns that thepadre went into the wilderness and there starved to death—"a fewacorns were their only food."

"Starved—starved—Oh God! The Lord's anointed!" exclaims the Senora in horror.

"Starved! Oh Michael, archangel, where is thy sword offire! Lord God of justice, where is thy wrath!"

"Poor Indians, Mis Amigos, my own people," Ubaldo mourns.The Indians have asked permission to bury their padre. Senora Yorba says,"Yes, yes—but wait", and she plucks a flower from the altar to placeupon the bier. Suddenly she discovers a golden chalice, hidden in hisrobe.

"The holy chalice!" she exclaims.

"Si, Senora", says Sancho, the spokesman of the Indians. "We want to bury it in the grave with our poor dead padre".

"Why, this is the chalice of the altar of San JuanCapistrano", says Senora Yorba, lifting up the gold cup. "It is pure goldand studded with precious stones. It is worth a king's ransom—yetthese poor, starving Indians would neither steal it nor sell it."

She starts to replace the chalice on the padre's bier, butwithdraws it, tells the Indians they must not bury the holy vessel in theground for sacrilegious thieves to dig up; she will carry it with her ownhands to Santa Barbara, the one Mission fortress that never surrendered,where the altar lights are still burning.

"Go—Amigos—in God's name, and bury your dead padrein the holy ground."

"Farewell, San Juan", says the Senora, "I shall never lookupon your broken walls again.

"Perhaps the Americanos, who are so great and strong, evenif they are always in such a damnable hurry, will restore these brokenwalls, Senora," opines Ubaldo.

"If they will but do so, God will bless them, Ubaldo",replies Senora Yorba. "Surely, when the Americanos are building theirgreat cities, and their tireless hands are making California the wonder ofthe world, so also will they think, sometime, of these holy places wherethe padres toiled and builded too—so well."

"Though we may not see it, Ubaldo—neither your norI—maybe in God's good time the Mission bells will ring again theirold, sweet music, even in Purissima and in lovely Soledad—and all theway from San Diego's sunny waters to Sonoma's moonlit hills. Maybe so,Ubaldo, maybe so. Oh, the Missions restored—and again a cross onevery hill, on the green road to Monterey!"

"Oh, cross of Christ!" exclaims Ubaldo.

Then follows Senora Yorba's touching soliloquy:

"Farewell, dear place. Farewell, San Juan, that lingers inruin beside the sunset sea. Sleep well, ye who shall here abide untilGod's judgment day. Farewell, my countrymen, brown priests and all.Farewell, San Juan—farewell—farewell".

The final curtain falls; the play is over.

John Steven McGroarty: THE MISSION PLAY (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Gregorio Kreiger

Last Updated:

Views: 5898

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (77 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Gregorio Kreiger

Birthday: 1994-12-18

Address: 89212 Tracey Ramp, Sunside, MT 08453-0951

Phone: +9014805370218

Job: Customer Designer

Hobby: Mountain biking, Orienteering, Hiking, Sewing, Backpacking, Mushroom hunting, Backpacking

Introduction: My name is Gregorio Kreiger, I am a tender, brainy, enthusiastic, combative, agreeable, gentle, gentle person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.