Whether it was pure luck, or part of God’s plan, the choice of Fr. William Krekelberg to be Director of Archives and de facto historian of the Diocese of Orange, couldn’t have been a better or more natural fit.

Fr. Bill’s younger brother, retired Los Angeles Monsignor Richard Krekelberg, who well knew his brother’s love of history, said the choice was inspired….

Fr. Bill remained in the position until his retirement in 2015. To this day, he maintains the title of Archivist Emeritus….

The major documents and items of the archives are currently stored in the bell tower of the Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano, which was ample in the early years of the diocese.

Since then, the archives have outgrown the space and many of the records that would be there are scattered throughout the diocese.

Plans are in the works to move the archives to the top floor of the Christ Cathedral Cultural Center in the space formerly used by Rev. Robert Schuller for his offices, library, museum and boardroom….

Maybe the most interesting and surely most valuable document retrieved by Fr. Bill for the diocese archives is a decree signed by Pres. Abraham Lincoln in 1865 shortly before his death, declaring land around the mission at San Juan Capistrano as property of the Catholic church.

Fr. Bill said he learned the document was in a safe in the offices of Cardinal Timothy Manning when he was archbishop of Los Angeles.

So, one day at a dinner, Fr. Bill said, “I asked Cardinal Manning if we could have that for our Diocese. He took it out of his safe and handed it to me and I brought it back to the mission….”

Fr. Bill has made other stunning finds, such as early recordings of early confirmations at the Mission personally written by Saint Junipero Serra, mission annual reports from that period signed by the early presidents of the mission, as well as books from the era owned by the friars….

The archives also contain:
– a first-class relic of Saint Serra
– a letter from Saint John Paul II to Bishop Norman MacFarland
–  a Bishop’s cane or crosier presented to Bishop Johnson and traced back to Archbishop Joseph Cantwell
– keys to cities presented to diocesan bishops
– framed original documents in ornate calligraphy from the Vatican
– gifts from the Vietnamese community and other cultural items….

Fr. Bill traces his love of history to his early youth growing up in rural Minnesota. Young Bill would watch a neighbor searching for native American artifacts, from arrow heads to tomahawk heads which he kept stored in a shed….

In 1955, the family moved to Southern California and settled in Buena Park.

It was there that Fr. Krekelberg discovered Knott’s Berry Farm, which at the time was an Old West themed tourist destination with all manner of historical representations, real or imagined. And it was free.

Fr. Krekelberg said he visited the park twice a week and sometimes daily to feed his historical fantasies.

Fr. Bill later befriended Walter Knott, who oversaw the creation of the amusement park.

Fr. Bill said he “chased history,” often as it was unfolding. He went to see President Lyndon B. Johnson dedicate UC Irvine, and saw Bobby Kennedy campaign in California. He would see Richard Nixon at an event hosted by Knott….

Fr. Bill has written two books about Orange County’s landmark 1776 mission: Mission San Juan Capistrano: The Fall and Rise of a California Mission, the definitive volume on the historic landmark and its place in local history, and The Grand Retablo. Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano….

The above comes from a March 8 story in OC Catholic.