When the preschoolers at one of the town’s oldest schools feed the koi that dart through the Fountain of the Four Evangelists at Mission San Juan Capistrano, they lean against the handiwork of John O’Sullivan.
In 1928, the priest who is now revered for laboriously preserving the mission established their school. It is being renamed this fall in honor of the 100th anniversary of his arrival to San Juan Capistrano.
On Friday, the students, in their neatly pressed sweaters and plaid skirts, celebrated the name change from Mission Parish School to Mission Basilica School by attending a back-to-school Mass and a school blessing ceremony.
The San Juan Capistrano school is now one of three in California with “basilica” in its title, an honorific bestowed by the pope to churches he designates as having historical importance.
During the 2010-11 school year, the Blue Ribbon school honored O’Sullivan and his contributions. In a newsletter mailed home to parents on Oct. 7, 2010, school officials wrote about the “pre-kindergarten junior historians”:
The children feed the Koi that have lived in that fountain for many years. The children also kneel on the four benches of the fountain, dedicated to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, while feeding the Koi. Fr. John O’Sullivan is responsible for the construction of the fountain, along with the brick walls that enclose the PreK playground.
In the next week’s newsletter, then sixth-grader Meagan Wagner is quoted as having written of O’Sullivan: “He was a carpenter, photographer, architect and priest who was tireless and determined. When he died he was originally buried in Los Angeles, but his body has since been moved to the mission burial grounds, and it is still there today.”