Fr. Fermin Francisco de Lasuén originally founded Mission San Juan Capistrano on October 30, 1775. A large cross was erected and some of the local Indians helped to gather timber for the building of a temporary chapel. After only 8 days the site was abandoned. This was due to an Indian attack at the San Diego Mission. The bells were buried to prevent their theft and Fr. Lasuen, along with the 11 soldiers from the expedition, fled to the Presidio in San Diego for safety.

A year later, Fr. Serra along with two padres and some soldiers returned to the site abandoned by Fr. Lasuen. The cross was still standing in place and the bells were found safely where they were buried. On November 1, 1776, the Mission was officially dedicated and named for St. John of Capistrano, a 14th century theologian.

The Mission was built of adobe bricks with the buildings forming a huge quadrangle. The courtyard was a dirt area that was the central hub of activity. Here, many industrial activities took place to support the Mission and to make it self-sufficient. During times of recreation, the area was used for game play or to demonstrate skills of horsemanship.

In 1782 a chapel was erected that is still in use today. This chapel is one of two chapels that still exist were Fr. Serra is known to have celebrated Mass. It is believed to be the oldest church in California and is known as “Serra’s Chapel”.

Important Dates in Mission History

October 30, 1775
Mission originally founded by Fr. Fermin Francisco de Lasuén.

November 6, 1775
Mission abandoned due to Indian attack at the San Diego Mission

November 1, 1776
Fr. Junipero Serra officially founded the Mission.

1782
Completion of the Mission church (Serra’s Chapel)

1797
Construction began on the Great Stone Church

December 8, 1812
An earthquake destroys the Great Stone Church, killing 42 Indian worshipers.

1821
Mexico wins its independence from Spain

1833
The California Mission was secularized.

1834
The government confiscates the Mission property

1845
Governor Pio Pico sells the Mission property at an auction for $710.

1865
President Abraham Lincoln signs documents that returned
the Mission to the Catholic Church.

1910
Fr. St. John O’Sullivan arrives to Mission San Juan Capistrano.
He became the first resident priest since 1886.

1933
Fr. St. John O’Sullivan dies and is buried in the Mission cemetery.

After the death of Fr. O’Sullivan, the restoration work of the Mission did not stop.
It has continued in earnest to the present day.