During the chit-chat segment prior to the start of today’s WVRC meeting, our technical guru PP Ron Lyster face appeared on the screen for the first time in several weeks. He was promptly asked about his and wife Guin’s recent trip to Iceland. The better half of the Curt and Gail Smith twosome (Gail, of course) began the inquiry of Ron’s trip relaying her own experiences of an Iceland visit.
Interrupting the chit-chat, President of the Day Mark Rogo welcomed all with his slide sharing introduction of today’s notables. It began with Jim Crane draped in our Country’s flag to lead the pledge. Next up was PP Gordon Fell, draped with four lovely women admiring his newfound 20-year-old physique, to lead the ‘thought of the day.’ A quote from MLK (you must know who those initials stand for) coming from darkness to light seemed quite appropriate. Our Songmeister,PP Ed Gauld, was called upon to sing America the Beautiful. Unfortunately, several members never got the message to allow Ed to sing solo, therefore the off-key rendition hindered the presentation.
Visiting Rotarians included the District Governor, Guity Javid, who made some very nice welcoming remarks, and Abe Hagigot, a member of the Rancho Park Rotary Club. Guests included Peter Johnson, a guest of John O’Keefe and our speaker, Fr. Tom Gibbons, who has taught school in Pacific Palisades. Also, making his second appearance was Furkan Valcin, president of the North Westwood Neighborhood Council and, Karsyn Garrison, the President of this year’s UCLA Rotaracts.
Announcements were as follows:
Tom Barron – Discussed and outlined the first in-person WVRC meeting in over 18 months on September 9th at the Luskin Center on the UCLA campus. The theme will be a ‘welcome back’ presentation by a few of the Club’s membership. Included will be quizzes, prizes, and laughter, hopefully most of the latter. Important to all this however, is the need to know how many will be attending. The Luskin requires an estimate on the Friday prior to the Thursday meeting for attendance, to which we are obligated for billing purposes. There will be a Regular Lunch Participant (RLP) list created for such a purpose. Since active members on the RLP will be pre-billed for the lunch, if you cannot attend you must notify Tom by that Friday so a credit will be issued to you in the following quarter. No notification, no credit.
The District 5280 breakfast – a virtual zoom affair – will be on August 24th at 8 a.m. Registration is on the District 5280 website.
John O’Keefe was then asked to introduce our guest speaker of the day, Fr. Tom Gibbons, CSP. Fr. Tom was ordained into the Order of Saint Paul’s in 2012 in New York City. He is originally from New Jersey and graduated from Loyola University, Maryland in 1994. After college, he spent time as a Jesuit Volunteer working with immigrants in Texas and Mexico. Upon returning to Baltimore, he began a career as a graphic designer and web developer and worked for non-profit organizations such as the Success For All Foundations and, the Baltimore City Head Start Program. During his formation years he wrote a blog “Kicking and Screaming” for Busted Halo, a Paulist online magazine for spiritual seekers. He then served as a Deacon at Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown, and then as Associate Pastor at St. Peter’s church in Toronto. Currently, he serves as Vice-President and Director of Development at Paulist Productions here in Westwood. The subject of his presentation today is a current film project in development on the life of Fr. (now a saint) Junipero Serra.
Fr. Tom began by mentioning this in his second appearance at the WVRC where in 1918 he was part of a panel on Religion in the Modern Era. With recent events surrounding the death of George Floyd, statues of prominent Americans began to fall, including that of one of California’s leading figures, Fr. Junipero Serra. Fr. Tom admitted lacking knowledge of Serra and his past as he grew up on the East Coast. He gave a subtle reference that those in the eastern part of the US think the border stops west of the Mississippi river. He would be concerned if the statue of Bruce Springsteen were toppled, of course, but Junipero Serra? So, he asked himself the question: Who was this man?
Fr. Tom decided to examine Serra’s life. He found two sides to the man’s life. Like the Miller Lite commercial, one side ‘taste great’ and the other side ‘less filling’. He explored Junipero Serra’s past through a series of interviews with historians at various California universities, as well as native American experts. He came to understand there were two ways to look at Serra, judging the past and defending the past. He sought to look at both sides of Serra, raising questions on both the sacred and secular viewpoints of this man.
There was no question. Different people had different visions of the man. Serra was a complex individual, seemingly a man of his own times. This was in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that Serra started and built the Mission system in California. He did not try to build a state, as some suggest, but wanted to only build missions to advance the Christianity for Native Americans. This view of Serra’s political ambitions has been tried to make him look smaller but has failed.
The mythology of Serra building the mission system is that of a great man. But later as violence against the Native Americans in-order for them to conform to Christianity, that lessened Serra’s stature among historians.
Gordon Fell: Could we get your opinion on the tearing down of statues in general?
Fr. Tom: In general, it is not healthy to tear down statues. Statues are a big signifier of what is important to a culture. Also, it depends whether the statue is on church land (this is a church issue) or public land (this is what is important to the value of society). An example is the civil war heroes and how they had an effect on the black community.
Steve Scherer: The idea of cancel culture and its effect when it comes to evaluating Serra. For instance, George Washington was key to our country’s founding, but owned slaves. Was that fair?
Fr. Tom: There are many who judge Junipero Serra. Some from the religious perspective, others from the political perspective. Today, the viewpoints on a particular issue are heard, let’s say on a 1 to 10 scale, usually on the 1 side or the 10 side. Maybe we should stop talking about extremes, but hear from the 4 to 6 viewpoints on the scale of 10.
Phil Gabriel: I don’t think the treatment of the Native Americans by Serra has been fully vetted. What do you think?
Fr. Tom: It’s possible the Church does not fully understand Junipero Serra’s actions. In the spirit of love and justice, maybe the Church has not lived up to that goal.
Mike Newman: I grew up watching the show Insight produced by Fr. Bud Kieser. In the broad spectrum of things, what influence did Fr. Bud have on Paulist Productions.
Fr. Tom: There will be a documentary on Fr. Bud Kieser screening on Sept. 10th in Hollywood. John O’Keefe will have the information, please contact him.
Dwight Heikkila: I recently read a book by Howard Zinn. I was surprised by the negative treatment of Junipero Serra, but it included the cutting off the hands of Native Americans by Serra. Is that true?
Fr. Tom: There was some violence, but not even close to that extent. It is not true.
As it was slightly past 1:30, Mark interrupted to close the meeting by thanking Fr. Gibbons for a wonderful and thought-provoking presentation.
Commentary provided by PP Tom Barron