The Santa Ysabel Indian Mission kicked off its bicentennial celebration with an outdoor Mass on Sept. 16.

Father William Kernan, who serves as pastor of the mission as well as St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in neighboring Julian, expressed hope that this jubilee year will foster renewal and a sense of hope as the community looks toward its future.

The 200th anniversary celebration is slated to continue with a fall festival on Oct. 20.

The Santa Ysabel Indian Mission was established in 1818 as an “asistencia,” or sub-mission, to Mission San Diego de Alcala. It is located about 60 miles east of Mission San Diego.

According to a written history, the mission grounds by 1821 included a chapel, granary, several houses and a cemetery, and were home to about 450 Native Americans. But, beginning in 1836, the Franciscan friars who established the mission were no longer able to make regular pastoral visits, and the buildings fell into ruins.

The current church building was constructed in 1924 and dedicated as St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

Today, Father Kernan said, the Santa Ysabel Indian Mission is a small community, with often fewer than a hundred people attending Mass there on any given weekend.

Though none of the original mission structures are still standing, an archeological dig uncovered the tile floor that had been laid by the friars and Indians in 1818.

In his homily, Bishop Robert W. McElroy praised the mission community for its faithfulness over the past two centuries.

The bishop said the past two centuries at the mission have been marked by faith, sacrifice, love, the proclamation of God’s word, and celebrations of the sacraments.

The bicentennial Mass was followed by a short procession to the mission’s newly restored Marian shrine, which was blessed by the bishop “as a sign of the renewal of the commitment of this community of faith to remain in this place, preaching Christ and Him crucified.”

Given the fact that the United States itself has existed for little more than 240 years, Father Kernan said, it can be “hard to wrap your head around” the idea of a local Catholic community with a 200-year history.

“I think participating in a bicentennial … increases the awareness of all the people that have gone before us,” he said. “It makes us aware of the shoulders that we stand on and perhaps moves us to rededicate ourselves to spreading the Gospel.”

Full story at The Southern Cross.