Mechelle Lawrence Adams is the embodiment of stewardship. In her 20-year role as executive director of Mission San Juan Capistrano, she has been dedicated to preserving the “jewel of the missions” – and inviting visitors of all ages, backgrounds and faiths to witness its beauty….

The heart of Mission San Juan Capistrano continues to be Serra Chapel, the only chapel still standing where St. Serra celebrated Mass.

Lawrence Adams said the Mission has records of the sacraments being celebrated there by St. Serra’s signature in the sacramental registries.

“It is the most historically significant chapel in California,” said Lawrence Adams, who works on behalf of the Mission Preservation Foundation.

It began with a birth – the Mission’s founding by St. Serra. After withstanding natural disasters, it started to age and during the secularization of the missions in the 1830s, came under private ownership before being returned to the Catholic Church President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

During the time it was privately owned, the family living there used Serra Chapel to store hay for their horses. Since the hay needed to stay dry, the family kept the roof intact.

“If they hadn’t kept the roof intact,” said Lawrence Adams, “it probably would have been lost to time and to erosion.”

The chapel was in the period of decay when Fr. John O’Sullivan came upon the scene in 1910, and he aimed to bring chapel back into use. He started charging an admission fee to raise money for its care, thus beginning a 20th century era of preservation.

….The golden retablo altar piece is not original to the chapel. It was acquired in the early 1920s by Fr. O’Sullivan. But due to its height, the retablo didn’t fit inside the chapel.

So, Fr. O’Sullivan expanded the area behind the sacristy to fit the retablo. Today, the bottom of the steps before the altar is where the chapel once ended.

Fr. O’Sullivan also started the annual swallow celebration at the Mission and with Leon René’s composition if the song, “When the Swallows Return to Capistrano” in 1939, the Mission found itself to be a tourist destination….

And as it is, Serra Chapel always needs attention. From the walls to the floors to the artwork – conservation is ongoing. And strict guidelines are in place.

“Nothing gets moved without me knowing about it,” said Lawrence Adams. “Nothing goes out for conservation without oversight. Everything is numbered and in a database. Everything is insured. Everything is evaluated on an annual basis.”

It’s never been about “rebuilding or adding new things” according to Lawrence Adams. It has always been bringing the chapel back to its past glory….

Original story in OCCatholic.