I thoroughly enjoyed this young adult story, so I’m happy that my blog is the first stop on the Virtual Book Tour of Miracle at the Mission! Find my review further down in the blog and a Fun Fact about Saint Junipero Serra and the California Missions and a link to a GIVEAWAY! You’ll find more Fun Facts in the other blog tour stops, but first, here’s what it’s about…
After recovering from their daring exploits in the exciting first book, The Ghosts of Westthorpe Academy, high school best friends Joe Pryce and Pete Figueroa return for another thrilling, action-adventure in Miracle at the Mission.
When one of them wins a St. Junipero Serra essay writing contest and is rewarded with a summer trip to California, they both embark on an adventure they will never forget. While visiting one of the historic Spanish missions founded by Father Serra, the boys meet a holy but mysterious old Franciscan monk who warns them of the dangers they would soon encounter.
It isn’t long before the boys are drawn into a series of events filled with suspense, intrigue, a high-speed car chase along the precipitous Pacific Coast Highway, and the schemes of foreign operatives seeking to bring harm to the President of the United States.
Caught up in the pursuit of the bad guys, the boys discover they have become suspects in the investigation by the FBI. Desperate to prove their innocence, they must rely on the guidance and wisdom of the old padre, who just happens to bear a strange resemblance to St. Junipero Serra himself.
With the world teetering on the brink of an international crisis, the story reaches its climax at another mission––Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel––where the boys and a large gathering of people witness an incredible miracle that changes their lives forever.
BOOK REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
“Looking for the perfect blend of relatable characters, fascinating history, intriguing mystery, and strong faith. Look no further than Miracle at the Mission. Lewis’ vivid descriptions of the California coast will sweep you away on this epic adventure.”— Leslea Wahl, author of The Perfect Blindside and other faith-based novels for teens.
“Lewis is a talented author who has succeeded hugely with Miracle at the Mission. … When you turn the final page, you think: if this doesn’t bring our youth back to the faith, what will?”–Brian J. Gail, best-selling author of the American Tragedy in Trilogy series (Fatherless, Motherless, and Childless)
“With mystery, adventure, intrigue, and elements of faith, this is a fantastic story. … The amazing setting details of various places in California work so well, helping me to visualize each scene. But I especially loved the bits of history concerning various things, including this humble and selfless saint—who is unfortunately often misunderstood today. Having fallen in love with the Native American people, St. Serra did so much to support and protect them.”–Theresa Linden, author of Tortured Soul and other award-winning Catholic fiction
“Very Timely … Lewis has a true knack for taking a timeless, traditional world and pulling it forward into the present culture. … Truly a MUST read for anyone who attended an all-boys prep school. … and I enjoyed the suspense!”–Pete DiMaio, husband & father of seven, President of Pennsylvanians for Human Life, Speaker, and Business Owner
“This book surprised me. … I admit I really enjoyed it. … The friendship between Joe and Pete, and Pete’s brother Luke [and] their dynamic interactions are masterfully written. … I absolutely loved the history of California, the Missions, and St. Junipero Serra. It made a good story a great one. … This is an excellent read.”–Steven R. McEvoy, Book Reviews and More
Joseph lives in Exton, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Marian. They are blessed with six grown children and two granddaughters. Aside from writing, Joseph teaches high school history at Regina Luminis Academy in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Villanova University, holds a masters in theology from the Graduate School of Theology at Christendom College, and has done doctoral work in theology at Catholic University. His first book, The Ghosts of Westthorpe Academy,was published in 2018. Miracle at the Mission is the second book in the series entitled, The Westthorpe Academy Mysteries. Joseph is also an active member of the Catholic Writer’s Guild.
1. Miracle at the Mission is your second book in a series called the Westthorpe Academy Mysteries. How did the idea for the series originate?
Miracle at the Mission is a sequel to my first book, The Ghosts of Westthorpe Academy. The idea for the series began while I was teaching at an all-boys Catholic prep high school in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. On the campus is a charming old mansion that was the original building of the school. Over the years, rumors abounded of how a ghost haunted the mansion and that a stash of old money was hidden somewhere within it.
After hearing of such stories over the years, I finally convinced myself that a story needed to be written. One summer, I put pen to paper and completed my first book, The Ghosts of Westthorpe Academy, published in 2018. I borrowed the name Westthorpe from the original name of the property that surrounds the school––Westthorpe Farm.
2. Miracle at the Mission provides a completely different setting from the first book and brings the series to the Spanish missions of California. What was the inspiration behind doing this?
Not long after the first book came out, several people began asking when the next one would be coming out. I was throwing some ideas together when my wife and I traveled to California to visit my son who is in the Marine Corps. During the trip, we toured some of the missions founded by St. Junipero Serra where I was immediately struck by the beauty, the holiness, and the history of these extraordinary places. It wasn’t long before I began piecing together a story of how the same two friends from the first story, Joe and Pete, take a summer trip of their own to California where they visit Pete’s older brother Luke who is a Marine, and explore some of the missions themselves.
So, in borrowing from my own travel experience, I was able to formulate the basis of a story that would ultimately become Miracle at the Mission. The trip also gave me the opportunity to visualize many of the places I write about in the book which helps provide vivid descriptions and setting details that I hope will enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the story.
3. Your interest in St. Junipero Serra goes beyond just a curious fascination. Explain how and why Father Serra plays such an important part in the story.
Many may remember that Junipero Serra was canonized a saint of the Church here in the United States in September of 2015. The canonization took place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. and was overseen by Pope Francis himself who was visiting the United States at the time. Serra is the only saint to be canonized on American soil.
Unfortunately, not all the news surrounding this momentous event was positive. Many took the occasion to criticize Serra and to blame him for the abuses perpetrated upon Native Americans many years ago, particularly in California. Some people resorted to defacing or toppling his statues and doing damage to some of the missions.
As a history teacher, and having studied something about Father Serra’s life, I knew that much of the criticism directed towards him was inaccurate, misguided, and unfair. My book provides an opportunity to correct some of that and convey truths of who he really was––a man who worked tirelessly for social justice and truly loved the people he served.
4. What do you anticipate the reader taking away from Miracle at the Mission?
Though the book is an exciting read, filled with mystery, adventure, intrigue and suspense, it is, above anything else, a story about faith, friendship, selflessness, and doing the right thing. It is a story that inspires hope that various peoples, cultures, and countries can join together in good will.
It is a reminder to us that although we live in a world filled with danger, uncertainty, and confusion, we can make a difference if we hold fast to those things that matter most: faith, hope, and love. And we needn’t look any further for help in this effort than the communion of saints who are there, interceding for us. And there is no finer example than the saintly Franciscan, Junipero Serra, who gave of himself totally in the service of his fellow man.
May his example inspire a more fervent faith and devotion, as well as a greater appreciation for the extraordinary work of the California missions and the Franciscan friars who founded them!
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BLOG TOUR STOPS
- June 26, Theresa Linden Things Visible & Invisible – My Mini Blog
- June 27, Ellen Gable, https://ellengable.wordpress.com/home/
- June 28, Leslea Wahl, Blog (lesleawahl.com)
- June 29, Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, todayscatholichomeschooling.com
- June 30, Carolyn Astfalk, My Scribbler’s Heart
- July 1, Amanda Lauer, Blog | Amanda Lauer |
- July 2, Steven McEvoy, Book Reviews and More
The padre turned and looked at Joe. The hood of his habit had opened wider, revealing more of his face. In the dim light, his eyes looked dark, his complexion a somewhat lighter olive brown. His thinning gray hair was cut in the traditional tonsure style, something more common among religious orders in the past but not as much today. He wore a large crucifix that hung underneath his hood and rested over the top front of his habit.
As Joe prepared to leave, he suddenly stopped, though he wasn’t sure why. Something of what he had experienced earlier that day in the chapel seemed to compel him to want to listen to what the old padre had to say. Joe slid closer across the pew, stopping just a few feet from him in the pew.
“I am confident you will find your friend safe,” the priest said in a reassuring voice. “From what I gather, the three of you are here for an extraordinary week. So much of what is going on in the world today has found its way near to this very place. Important leaders will be meeting, and the eyes of the world will be watching. It is no coincidence that, at this time in history, they have come here, where so many peoples and cultures met not very long ago and welcomed the missionaries who brought the message of the Gospel. It was, and continues to be, a message of the love of neighbor, of joy and forgiveness, of thanksgiving for one another, and peace among all nations.”
Joe sat mesmerized. Though the padre referred to present-day events, his eloquent words and profound meaning made him seem like someone from another time, another world.
“But there are forces in the world that oppose these cherished things. Principalities who are enemies of God and of mankind, who choose the darkness; some who are visible and made of flesh and blood, others who are spirit and lurk in the shadows.” He paused as he looped the rosary beads he had been holding in his hand through the cincture around the waste of his habit. “My son, the world’s current dangers are real and require the courage and effort of a select few whose work can make the difference between conflict and resolution, division and harmony, hostility and goodwill for all peoples. The events of this week are crucial to determining the direction the world may be inclined to go. We must pray for God’s divine providence, that those who lead us may choose the path of peace. Look for the signs of God’s guiding hand in answer to those prayers. I also want to implore you and your friends to be vigilant this week, as you will be close to many of these things. The world can be a dangerous place, and sometimes people find themselves in circumstances they could hardly have anticipated.”
“I very much appreciate your concern, Father.” Joe politely accepted the padre’s advice, although he didn’t quite understand why he felt the need to offer it. But this wasn’t what Joe had come here searching for. He still didn’t know for certain if Pete was all right. Joe stood up. “I better get back and make sure my friend is okay.”
“Sí te entiendo.” The padre grabbed hold of the back of the pew and pulled himself up. As he did, he shifted as if to favor one leg. He had a thin frame and couldn’t have been more than an inch or two over five feet. His worn sandals looked as though they had traveled many miles.
“Please don’t get up on my account,” Joe said.
“I wish to extend to you my priestly blessing, my son.” With some effort, he shifted his legs again and moved a little closer to Joe. “I am extremely glad you and your friends can spend some time with us in this beautiful place. You know, the mission is in great need of support to help maintain it, not only to preserve the legacy of the missions but for the work they continue to do. This mission is an active parish and serves many people and families, some of whom are descendants of the native people who first lived here many years ago. Please keep the missions, and the people they serve, always in your prayers, won’t you?”
“I will, Father.” Joe turned to leave but turned back again. “I sure hope we have a chance to talk again. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation.”
“So have I, my friend, so have I. God willing, we will have a chance to meet again. In the meantime, go in peace.”
The padre raised his right hand and extended it toward Joe, who bowed his head. “Heavenly Father, I ask you to bless this fine young man and his companions in all their endeavors. May their work bear much fruit in the service of your kingdom. I ask that you protect them and keep them safe from harm in the name of Christ, Our Lord and Savior, Amen. May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost descend upon you and remain with you forever. Amen. Amar a Dios, mi hijo. Love God, my son … and may He make a saint of you!”
“Thank you, Father.” Joe slid back across the pew, then genuflected before the tabernacle. He pivoted and glanced back at the old padre, but he wasn’t there!
Joe looked around the church. “Father?” There was no sign of him. Where could he have gone—and so quickly? … He seemed to mysteriously vanish into thin air.
Fun Fact About St. Junipero Serra and the California Missions
Though his given name was Miguel Jose Serra, when he became a member of the Franciscan order, he took the name Junipero to encourage himself to emulate one of the original companions of St. Francis of Assisi, Brother Juniper, who was known for his humility and simplicity. He has been given the title Servant of God.
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