Excerpt from Tale of a Mission Cat (Sula): Inside the Church

Photo by Stacey Gentry

Inside the Church There is more to the church than the altar, of course, and I spend much time in the church on my own. I can do that because the cat doors let me in all by myself. 

I often spend some time, reflecting by myself, spending time alone with God. That is so important. It refreshes me, and the Spirit I encounter there nourishes me. As a cat, I cannot take Communion and be nourished by the body and blood of Christ, but I can be spiritually nourished simply lying in the presence of God and reflecting. Inside the church, in my reflections I notice so many things that are often not noticed. Most are taken for granted by worshipers. 

First is how big our church is. It has three aisles. None of the other Franciscan Missions have three aisles. They have one or two. That makes our church have a very open feeling, like you are part of nature. And, when the two side doors are open, one feels a flowing of nature into the church and the church into nature. 

One side door leads into the rose garden. Behind it is an active place--a grove of olive trees where we hold our fiestas and also the stations of the cross where on a quiet day, parishioners and visitors can walk and reflect. 

The other side door opens onto a smaller and more somber area, another olive grove. These trees shelter the cemetery where more than 3000 Mutsun Indians, who helped build the Mission, are buried. Many of them, including children, died from smallpox that they caught from contact with settlers who moved into the area and brought a disease for which the Native Americans had no immunity. This is a sad chapter in the history of the Mission. 

(Here is an interesting fact that very few people know. The Mutsun language is the basis for the Klingon language. The linguist who developed the Klingon language for Star Trek wrote his dissertation about the Mutsun language. There! Now you know a little fact that you can use to astonish your friends.) 

The second thing I notice is that over the big doors that open into the sanctuary are some special words: Hic domus dei est et porta coeli (this is the house of God and the gate to heaven). Thinking about it, this makes the church a pretty special place, doesn’t it? 

Also, there are two special rooms in the church. In one, there is a big, stone, baptismal font. We do not use it anymore, but at an earlier point in the history, it was a very important place where new believers expressed their faith, trust, and commitment through baptism. We have more modern vessels for holding water today, but it is interesting to see the old font, read documents from the old days, and remember our history. After all, our  history is an essential part of who we are. 

The other room is where the stairs to the belfry and old choir loft are located. You may have seen these stairs if you have watched the movie, Vertigo. I won’t give away what happens on these stairs if you have not seen the movie so that, if you want to see my home up close (it has not changed much in the last 60 years since the movie was produced) and enjoy a good story at the same time, the ending won’t be spoiled for you. The parishioners at Old Mission San Juan Bautista usually watch the movie on the lawn outside the Mission every September. 

In addition to the belfry, the stairs lead to the old choir loft. Unfortunately, both the stairs and choir loft are unsafe now, and no one is allowed on them—for their own safety. That is why we need to raise money to repair our Mission and make it strong again.

Read more stories in Tale of a Mission Cat.

Read posts about Sula and her many books HERE.


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