A California Mission Rescue

Volunteer Joy Campbell talks about how Mission San Miguel has been restored following an earthquake in 2003.

Joy Camp at Mission San Miguel in Paso Robles, California

Joy Camp has volunteered at Mission San Miguel in Paso Robles, California since 2001.

Joy Camp at Mission San Miguel

Joy Camp has volunteered at Mission San Miguel in Paso Robles, California since 2001.

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Joy Camp was in her yard in Paso Robles, Calif., on December 22, 2003, when a magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck. She knew it was bad when a neighbor's old Cadillac bounced like a pogo stick. But she was shocked by the damage at nearby Mission San Miguel, then 206 years old, which had to close, its chapel cracked and unstable. It reopened last September, and Camp, 74, now tends the sacristy, where holy objects are stored. missionsanmiguel.com.

Q How did the place look after the earthquake?

A Imagine picking up a building and shaking it. Everything was horribly dusty. The Saint Joseph statue fell. The Blessed Mother lost her head. Luckily, other statues were attached to the walls.

Q How was the restoration funded?

A We had bake sales and rummage sales. We played bingo. A parishioner did a drawing of the mission and we put it on T-shirts. We had concerts. The second Sunday of every month we had a special collection. [Insurance money and funds from the California Missions Foundation brought the sum to $10 million.]

Q What makes the mission worth saving?

A It's awe inspiring. Its frescoes, still vivid, were painted in 1821. Even though it's a magnificent church, it's a small-town parish.

Q What best shows the artistry of the Salinan Indians who built it?

A If you stand 20 feet back from the communion rail, the columns by the tabernacle—they're painted in a swirly kind of fashion—really look like marble.

Q Your favorite part of the chapel?
A The seeing eye of God over the altar. It says that God is up there, watching over us.

Photography by Chris Leschinsky

This article was first published in March 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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