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No. 10: Mission on its way to a full recovery

The countdown begins today for the Top 10 Stories of 2009 as selected by the Tribune editorial staff.

A casual visitor to Mission San Miguel this holiday season might not realize the celebrations are back in their historic home for the first Christmas in six seasons.

While the 6.6 magnitude San Simeon Earthquake struck six years ago Tuesday, contributing to the deaths of two women trying to flee a downtown Paso Robles store, the temblor also cracked the mural-covered walls of Mission San Miguel.

The mission closed immediately after the earthquake, church services were held elsewhere, and the mission was not reopened until this year’s Feast of St. Michael on Sept. 29.

In the interim, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey, the mission’s owner, raised money and worked on its repair.

Earthquake retrofitting was completed in September, but other restoration work is ongoing. Such earthquake retrofitting is designed to save lives by strengthening a building so that it will stay standing long enough during an earthquake for those inside to get out safely.

In the case of Mission San Miguel, that meant attaching the tall adobe walls to the foundation and securing them to the roof. Adobe experts from across the Southwest were brought in to provide their opinions and expertise.

John Fowler, the longtime project manager on restoring the mission, said the ceiling murals have been restored at a cost of $500,000, but he said another $1.3 million is needed to restore the 300-year-old paintings on the walls.

Mission San Miguel’s treasure is the murals, believed to be painted by Native Americans under Spanish supervision.

The church is also restoring the retreat center in a side wing because it was badly damaged in the quake, Fowler said. And when that is completed, he said the church plans to restore the kitchen that serves the retreat wing.

“We’re getting some money,” he said. “It looks like we are going to get $250,000 from the Bechtel Corp. That’s coming through the National Trust and the California missions.”

The total cost for retrofitting the mission is estimated at between $13 million and $15 million, Fowler said. An insurance settlement yielded $7 million, and additional donations have brought the total collected to date to approximately $10 million.

Christmas Eve ceremonies at the mission include a 5 p.m. Christmas vigil Mass in English, a 6:30 p.m. Las Posadas and Spanish Christmas Mass and a midnight Mass. Christmas Day Masses are scheduled for 7 a.m. and 11 a.m.

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