There's a famous drive along the West Coast of the United
States that hugs the Pacific Ocean for about 1,700 miles from
Washington State to Los Angeles. California's segment of the
route goes through Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey
and offers drivers stunning views of the mountains and the
It's been called the ultimate road trip, and it's on many
people's bucket list.
Father Donald Planty, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church
in Arlington, had a California road trip on his bucket list
too, but it was a more spiritual one. It came close to the
Pacific Coast Highway at times, and sometimes parts of the
more famous route were taken. It was the path used by
missionaries, especially Blessed Junípero Serra, as
they founded missions up and down California. The route is
known as El Camino Real, or the royal road, and is made up
mostly of U.S. Highway 101. It runs for about 600 miles.
Father Planty and his friend, Father Thomas Cavanaugh,
parochial vicar of St. Theresa Church in Ashburn, took about
two and a half weeks last summer to drive the mission route
through California. The two friends rented a car in San Diego
and began the journey that ended in Sonoma, Calif.
The pair stopped at 21 missions along the way, half founded
by Blessed Junípero. Sometimes they just dropped in
for a quick prayer, doing two or three a day, but at many
they stopped for the night, even celebrated Mass at some.
Some of the missions, such as San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo
in Carmel, the place where Blessed Junípero is buried,
are more popular with tourists. It's also the namesake of
Father Planty's parish.
Others are less traveled. Mission San Antonio de Padua in
Monterey County is surrounded by Fort Hunter Liggett Military
Reservation and gets fewer visitors.
Most of the missions are still active parishes, but a few are
owned by the state of California.
Father Planty said that the trip offered both spiritual
sustenance and a time to relax at beautiful missions.
Father Planty has been an admirer of Blessed Junípero
for many years and is looking forward to the Sept. 23
"He was an extraordinary evangelist," he said.
Father Planty will be concelebrating at the canonization
ceremony with Pope Francis at the Basilica of the National
Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. He eagerly
awaits the opportunity to see the "Apostle of California"
become the church's newest saint.