Athanasius Schaefer: California Missions


Home Spiritual texts Links Mission & Bio

The California Missions

Mission San Diego Alcala
San Diego Alcala
Mission San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo
San Carlos de Borromeo
Mission San Antonio de Padua
San Antonio de Padua
Mission San Gabriel Arcangel
San Gabriel Arcangel
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
San Luis Obispo
Mission San Francisco Asis
San Francisco Asis
(1775) 1776
Mission San Juan Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano
Mission Santa Clara Asis
Santa Clara Asis
Mission San Buenaventura
San Buenaventura
Mission Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara
Mission La Purísima Concepción
La Purísima Concepción
Mission Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz
Mission Soledad
Mission San Jose
San Jose
Mission San Juan Bautista
San Juan Bautista
Mission San Miguel Arcangel
San Miguel Arcangel
Mission San Fernando Rey de España
San Fernando Rey de España
Mission San Luis Rey de Francia
San Luis Rey de Francia
Santa Inez
Santa Inez
Fort Ross Chapel
Fort Ross
San Rafael Arcangel exterior
San Rafael Arcangel
San Francisco Solano exterior
San Francisco Solano


What are the California Missions? Why were they built? Who established them? These are fundamental questions surrounding an enterprise that saw Spain achieve her greatest extension of empire in the late 18th-early 19th century. Here's the short answer: The California Missions were Christian evangelistic institutions founded and operated by the Order of Saint Francis with the purpose of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ's resurrection to the Native Americans of Alta California. The complete answer, of course, is much more complex. Imperial competition, military logistics, and political intrique are but a few of the major issues that shaped this period of North American history. And this window of time was brief. Only 64 years comprise the California Mission Period; from the 1769 founding of first mission at San Diego to the 1833 secularization order, which effectively dissolved the entire chain. 21 missions in all were founded, and they stretched from San Diego Alcala in the South to San Francisco Solano in present day Sonoma, California. Junipero Serra, the mission system's first president, envisioned that each mission would be a rung on a ladder, and that only a day's travel would separate each rung. This dream was largely realized. Again the question arises. Who were these early Americans? The answer begins with another question: who were the first Americans?

Native American Arrival

The first Native Americans probably arrived in North America over 12,000 years ago. Modern scientists theorize that these early migrants crossed a land bridge that linked Siberia and Alaska. This land bridge, now referred to as Beringia, subsequently flooded, resulting in the Bering Straights we know today.

Once here, these new arrivals spread throughout the western hemisphere adapting and flourishing in the native surroundings. Several great empires arose. The Mayans of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula had developed advanced mathematical concepts, and an astronomical calandar more precise than any devised by European, Arab, or Oriental scientists of the time. The Incas of South America had an extensive network of cities. The Aztec empire of central Mexico was at its zenith of power when Hernan Cortez first encountered it.

The Native Americans had successfully repulsed the scattered Viking incursions around the year 1000 AD. By 1492, European weaponry, military strategy, and political organization had evolved to the point where the Native Americans could not resist their onslaught.

Chinese Discovery of the New World?

These theories have been put out there many times. Some are intriguing, ie., similairities in features between oriental faces and the Olmec Head sculptures found in Mexico. Others are "way out there," ie., chinese helped extraterrestrials find remnants of ancient Atlantis. The main problem with these theories is lack of evidence to support the claims. However, a new and somewhat credible theory has recently emerged.

Chinese Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho) may have circumnavigated the globe during a voyage between March, 1421 and October, 1423. Zheng, a eunuch in Ming Emperor Yongle's court, commanded the world's largest navy with an estimated 317 ships. The largest of these were the treasure ships: 440 feet long and 180 feet wide with four to nine masts that were as high as ninety feet. Crew sizes on these largest ships went as high as five hundred. Zheng may have sailed into the Sea of Cortez during this voyage. Such is the theory of Gavin Menzies, a retired Royal Navy submarine commander and navigation expert. In a lecture before the prestigious Royal Geographical Society in London on March 15, 2002, he backed up his hypothesis with what he said were secret pre- Columbian maps showing results of the Zheng He voyage, ancient Chinese artifacts found far from home and remains of gigantic shipwrecks in Australia and the Caribbean. In any event, Chinese leaders turned their focus inward after Zheng's return in 1423. Future emperors practiced strict isolationism and burned all records of Zheng’s voyages.

Menzies has secured a publishing contract and promises to provide more details. Especially intriguing is the map analysis. The maps show details of Cape Hope, Cape Horn, and the Sea of Cortez. He used astronomical software to correct for stellar precession that has occurred since 1421. He claims the maps line up precisely. We await further details.

Spanish Discovery and Conquest of the New World

1492 was a pivotal year in Spanish History. Most westerners know it as the year Columbus made his historic voyage of discovery. Most Moslems know it as the year Moorish forces were driven from al Andalus, the moslem designation for Spain. These two events were closely related, and greatly influenced the Spanish attitude toward the peoples of the New World.

Early in its history large portions of Spain had been a colony of Carthage. The Roman Empire seized control of the Iberian peninsula following the second Punic war in 201 BC. Roman rule effectively lasted until the early fifth Century AD when the Visigoths moved in and establish their kingdoms. The Islamic invasions swept through Spain in 711 AD and continued northward before being stopped at Poitiers, France in 732. Small Christian Kingdoms in Northern Spain were not conquered and formed a nucleus of resistance to Islamic rule. By 1248 Moslem control of Spain was reduced to the Kingdom of Granada in the South. In 1492, the reconquest of Spain was completed.

The reconquest of Spain had been a triumph of Political, Religious, and Military will. Fresh from their victory over the Moors, the Spanish forces were more than ready to tackle the challenges they faced in the New World. In 1493 Pope Alexander VI divided the world into two parts, one assigned to Spain and the other to Portugal, Spain's principal colonial rival. By the end of the 16th Century AD Spanish control stretched into Mexico and South America.

Spanish admininstration of her colonies proved cumbersome. Authority was centralized in the king and his cousellors in Spain and partly delegated to viceroys who were appointed for one year terms. These vice-kings were responsible for the civil, military, and religious affairs of the vast empire. Communication by sailing ship invariably took months, thus ensuring that the bureaucracy moved at a near frozen pace. To counter these difficulties, enterprises were carefully planned at their inception. These enterprises were driven primarily by profit.

Origins of the Mission System

Every Spanish expedition that ventured into the North American continent was accompnaied by Dominican, Franciscan, or Jesuit missionary priest. It was their reponsibility to care for the spiritual needs of the soldiers, and to convert any native Americans they might encounter. But these missionaries were not entirely propared to convert the native populations. Early attempts were not successful. largely because the Natives didn't wish to relinquish their cultures. In 1549 Dominican Father Luis Cancer went ashore in Tampa Bay Florida and boldy approached the locals. Unaware of previous negative encounters between the natives and the Conquistadors, he was killed on the spot, as his friends watched powerless back aboard the ship.

Progress did occur, however. On September 8, 1565 Fr. Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales with he Menendez expedition set up the first Cross in St. Augustine Florida. This marked the establishment of the first mission in America, Mission Nombre de Dios. Jesuit father Juan Maria de Salvatierra established the first mission in Baja California at Loreto in 1697.

European Discovery of California

Spain was slow to explore California. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's 1542 expedition and Sebastian Vizcaino's in 1602 both explored the coastal areas. Both sailed right past San Francisco Bay and failed to discover its great harbor. Vizcaino described Monterey bay in such glowing terms that settlement of this fine "sheltered" harbor became a centerpiece for colonization efforts for the next 160 years. Vizcaino himself was authorized to establish such a settlement, but he opted instead to look for mythical treasure islands somewhere near Japan. Treasure ships from Manila routinely sailed past the California coast once a year, but none of them landed.

Another European to land on California's shore was English raider, Francis Drake, who was looking to plunder the Manila Galleons. Making port in Marin County in 1579 to repair his storm damaged ships, he was impressed enough by the surrounding land to claim the area for Queen Elizabeth I of England. He called the land Nova Albion (New England). England prepared a colonization effort after his return to England; however, this colonization fleet was betrayed and dispersed by the Spanish off the coast of Brazil.

In 1728 Vitus Bering, sailing for Russian Tsar Peter the Great, discovered that Asia and North America are two separate continents. In 1741 he had mapped the west coast of Alaska. By mid-century Russian fur traders and explorers were heading for California, eventually setting up temporary outposts as far south as the Farallone Islands off San Francisco.

The Franciscan Missions of Alta California

A number of circumstances arose that led to the establishment of the Franciscan Missions in Alta California. The Franciscans acquired the Jesuit missions of Baja California when Charles III abolished that order in 1767. The various missionary orders had long sought to establish missions at the ports of San Diego and Monterey. As news of Russian intentions filtered back to King Charles III, Spain decided it was time to act.

On February 27, 1767, King Charles III abruptly expelled the Society of Jesus from Spain and her colonies. On June 24, 1767, the Viceroy received this expulsion order. By November 1767, newly appointed Governor of Baja California Gaspar de Portola was rounding up the Jesuits with the assistance of Captain Fernando Rivera. On February 3, 1768, the 16 Jesuits departed Loreto, the capital of Baja California. The Jesuit missions in the uninviting Baja California peninsula were to be entrusted to the Franciscans of the Apostolic College of San Fernando, located in Mexico City. San Fernando was one of the leading apostolic colleges in the New World whose purpose was the formation of able missinaries. Fray Junipero Serra, a 55 year old former college professor who had proven himself at the Sierra Gorda missions, was chosen as Presidente of the missions, and appointed Superior of the 15 Franciscan friars.

On April 1, 1768, Serra and the Franciscans disembarked at Loreto. Governor Gaspar de Portola warmly welcomed them. On April 3, they celebrated Easter. Serra offered the solemn Mass with the others forming the choir. To a great extent, the peninsula of Baja California is a forbidding place. The Jesuits had built some sort of a road connecting most of the missions, but even they would not have boasted of its quality.

Inspector-General Jose de Galvez was sent to Mexico by King Charles III for the purpose of making an official visitation of the entire viceroyalty. He arrived in 1765 and remained until 1771. During this time he gained a wide knowledge of this extensive area. Throughout his stay in Mexico, Galvez kept in close contact with Serra. When Galvez told Serra of his determination to occupy Alta California, Serra immediately offered to go as the first volunteer.

Detailed plans for an expedition to Alta California were drawn up by Inspector-General Jose de Galvez. Leadership of the project was given to Don Gaspar de Portola, a Catalonian soldier of noble rank who had recently been appointed governor of Baja California. He jumped at the chance to extricate himself from what had been a virtual political exile. Under him, in charge of the missionaries, was Father Junipero Serra, relieved of his presidency of the Baja missions to supervise this more important work. Officials at San Fernando College named Fray Francisco Palou, Serra's friend from Mallorca, as the new Presidente of the Baja California Missions.

The expedition was divided into four parties with San Diego as the common destination. Two were to go by land, two by sea. The first contingent, the packet ship San Carlos, sailed out of La Paz on January 7, 1769. The San Antonio left a month later. Both ships encountered perpetual headwinds, and the San Antonio actually arrived before the San Carlos. A third cargo ship, the San Jose, was eventually lost at sea. The first land expedition, led by Captain Rivera accompanied by Fr. Juan Crespi, left El Rosario on Good Friday, 1769. The fourth and final expedition with Govenor Portola and Fr. Serra left in mid-May. At the San Borja Mission, Serra was enthusiastically welcomed by Fray Fermin de Lasuen, who would one day succeed him as presidente of the Alta California missions. After several days, Portola and Serra resumed their journey to San Diego. Along the way Serra founded his first mission at San Fernando de Velicata on May 13, 1769, the feast of the Pentecost.

The Presidency of Junipero Serra

The California Mission period effectively began on July 16, 1769. On that morning, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the soldiers raised the cross and Father Presidente Junipero Serra blessed it. Serra retained the presidency until his death on August 28, 1784. During his presidency, the Spanish realm along the shores of the Pacific had been extended approximately 1000 miles from San Fernando de Velicata to San Franscico de Asis.

Miguel Joseph Serra was had been born in Mallorca Spain on November 24, 1713. On September 15, 1731 he entered the Franciscan Order and adopted the name Junipero. The original Junipero had been a companion to St. Francis of Assisi, the "Jester of God." Serra spent the next 18 years at the Convento de San Francisco, Palma de Mallorca pursuing a life of study and contemplation. Serra was ordained deacon on Saint Patrick's day, 1736, but the exact date of his advancement to the priesthood is unrecorded. His biographer suggests that the event took place just prior to Christmas, 1737, when Serra had reached the prescribled canonical age. In 1743, a year after receiving his doctorate, Serra was named to the Chair of Scotistic Theology at the Lullian University.

Late in 1748 Serra wrote the Commissary General of the Indies, adking permission for himself and Fray Francisco Palou, to become apostolic missionaries. News of their acceptance reached them the following Palm Sunday. They left two weeks later, and arrived in Vera Cruz, New Spain, on December 6, 1749. As they walked from Vera Cruz to Mexico City, Serra was infected with a leg wound that would stay with him the rest of his life.

After some months of intense preparation at San Fernando College in Mexico City, Serra and a number of other friars were appointed to the Sierra Gorda region of Mexico, located in the heart of the Sierra Madre Oriental. Christianity had barely touched the local Pamas Indians. With Fray Francisco Palou, his assistant, he set out to learn the language of the Pames. When he was sufficiently proficient, Serra translated the body of Christian doctrine and a number of traditional prayers into Pame. Before long he was able to preach in their language. Serra motivated the Indians to worship God by providing for them the splendor of the liturgy. The major feasts were solemnized with cermonies aned devotions.

Serra began his ministry in the Sierra Gorda as missionary pastor of Jalpon. In 1751 he was named presidente of the Sierra Gorda missions, a position he held for three years. Ever so gradually, Serra put into operation the rules drawn up by Fray Pedro Perez de Mezquia and those regulations were to become the blueprint for all the missions sponsored by the colleges of Queretaro, San Fernando, and Zacatecas. Their influence was to reach as far as San Francisco in Alta California. By 1758, Serra was back at San Fernando College.

Serra had a reputation of pious holiness. Some thought him aloof and unapproachable. Others described him as an enthusiastic, battling, almost quarrelsome, fearless, keenwitted, fervidly devout, unselfish, single-minded missionary. He subordinated everything, and himself most of all, to the demands of his evangelical task.

Serra's relationship with Governor Portola was cordial and enthusiastic. Unfortunately, Portola left the scene shortly after founding the Presidio at Monterey. He surrendered his governorship and returned to Mexico in 1770. He was later promoted to a colonelcy and served as mayor off the city of Puebla in New Spain from 1777 to 1784, when he returned to Spain.

Serra's relations with the succeeding governors was strained. Pedro Fages, Fernando de Rivera, and later Felipe de Neve all lacked Portola's tact and gift for diplomacy. Lines of authority were not well drawn and even more poorly interpreted. The governors expected Serra to be a loyal vassal, a workhorse, to obey and not meddle in the high affairs of government. In early 1773 Serra journeyed to Mexico City for an audience with Viceroy Antonio Bucarelli. Bucarelli received Serra warmly and agreed to replace Pedro Fages, who had been Portola's immediate successor. Fernando de Rivera, Fages' successor, proved no better, however.

The Presidency of Fermin de Lasuen

Following Serra's death in 1784, Francisco Palou assumed the responsibilities of the Father-Presidency for a brief interval before turning them over to Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen in 1785. Lasuen proved to be an able successor, carrying forward the missions that Serra had founded and adding an equal number himself. Like Serra, he considered Carmel as his headquarters and he based his operations here for the next 18 years.

Fermin Francisco de Lasuen was born at Victoria, Spain, on June 7, 1736. While a young man, he joined the Franciscan Order and as a deacon he volunteered for the American missions, coming to Mexico in 1759. The records described him as a man of symmetrical build, with light, somewhat ruddy skin, a pockmarked face, with dark eyes, and dark, curly hair. He entered San Fernando College, Mexico City, where presumably he was ordained to the priesthood sometime before February 25, 1761, when he received faculties to preach and hear confessions.

In 1762 he was sent to the Sierra Gorda missions and ministered there until 1767. At this time he began six years of missionary activities in Baja California. When Lasuen arrived at Loreto, Serra assigned him to Misión San Francisco de Borjas in the north of the peninsula. On arrival at San Borjas, as the place was called, he found neither church nor house. He soon set to work to build both of adobe. Early in 1769 he traveled to Velicatá in order to minister to the soldiers of the Portolá expedition encamped there, and arrived on February 22. Subsequently returning to his mission, he remained there until it was handed over to the Dominicans in 1773.

In 1773 Francisco Palou, president of the Baja missions after Serra's departure, invited Lasuen to serve in the new missions in Alta California. Lasuen accepted and accompanied Palou to San Gabriel where Lasuen was installed as supernumerary. He remained at San Gabriel until 1775. In June of that year he accompanied a packtrain to Monterey, where he arrived on June 25. Along the Santa Barbara Channel at Dos Pueblos his life became endangered when Indians attacked the party. In the melee six natives were killed. At Monterey, Lasuén served as personal chaplain to Fernando Rivera y Moncada and ministered spiritually to the soldiers and their families at the presidio.

When Serra and Rivera agreed to found Mission San Juan Capistrano, the president appointed Lasuén and Gregorio Amurrió as the first missionaries. Lasuén left Monterey on August 21, 1775, and proceeded directly to San Diego, Amurrió joining him at San Luis Obispo.

Setting out from the southern port of San Diego with Lieutenant José Ortega and soldiers, Lasuén journeyed to the spot where the mission was to be founded. On October 30 he raised the cross, hung the bells, and said Mass, thereby formally establishing the mission. Shortly after the soldiers began to construct the initial mission buildings, a messenger arrived from San Diego with the news that the Indians had burned the mission at San Diego and had murdered Fray Luís Jayme. Ortega hurried to San Diego, bidding the missionaries to follow and the soldiers to suspend the building operations at San Juan Capistrano. Lasuén was forced by these circumstances to remain at San Diego without employment.

Serra reestablished Mission San Diego in the summer of 1776 and on November 1, reestablished that of San Juan Capistrano. Lasuén accompanied Rivera north as far as San Gabriel and later went with Serra to San Luis Obispo, remaining there until 1777 when Serra appointed him as minister of Mission San Diego where he arrived by August. His first entry in the registers occurred on November 15. Lasuén served at San Diego until he received notification of his elevation to the presidency of the missions, October 11, 1785, succeeding Junípero Serra.

Lasuén's first years in Upper California were unhappy ones. He repeatedly asked to retire to San Fernando College. He stated that he had come to California only at Palóu's request and that he remained there solely because of Serra's urging. He disliked San Gabriel and was dissatisfied with his status there. Being a personal friend of Rivera, whom he greatly admired, he wished to accept the governor's offer to become presidio chaplain at Monterey. This Serra opposed because no provision had been made either by the government or by San Fernando College for such a post.

When Rivera threatened to resign if Lasuén did not become his chaplain, the latter obtained permission to go to Monterey, not disclosing the true reason for his decision. Serra allowed him the chaplaincy but with reluctance. There resulted a coolness between the two missionaries which lasted till the year 1777. Lasuén was unaware of the friction between Rivera and President Serra, but on becoming acquainted with the true status of affairs, Lasuén made a complete volte-face in favor of Serra and against Rivera. He even declined to accept the personal chaplaincy after it was ratified by the college.

Both during life and after President Serra's death, Lasuén considered Serra to be a saintly man and an exemplary superior, as his writings reveal. Serra, on the other- hand, praised Lasuén for his urbanity and affable manners as well as for his regular religious observance. In temperament the two men were entirely different.

Lasuén was gentle, gracious, and perhaps too introspective and sensitive. He found It hard to adjust to conditions in California. Moody and discontented, Lasuén clamored for retirement, especially from San Diego. He declared that it was only obedience that kept him in the territory. Undeniably the post at San Diego was the worst that could be offered any missionary, and Serra gave it to Lasuén precisely because he considered him the best missionary he could place there. But the crude and dangerous surroundings were hard on his refined character. The mutual correspondence between Serra and Lasuén between 1777 and 1784 shows that there was complete understanding between the two, and Serra's letters are replete with praise and encouragement.

Lasuén's feeling of inadequacy is revealed in a letter he wrote to a confrere in Mexico: "This land is for apostles only.... I am already old and all my hair is gray, and though my years have brought this about, the heavy burden of my office, particularly my five years as missionary at San Diego, has accelerated this condition greatly." When Lasuén wrote those words in 1782, he was only forty-six years old. One feels that Lasuén did not realize his full potential, while others did. No one reviewing Lasuén's years in Upper California between 1773 and 1784 would dream that he was the man who would succeed Serra.

At San Diego he built a new church and enlarged the mission compound and baptized the thousandth Indian since 1769. Even after the uprising of 1775, affairs at San Diego remained unsettled, and his life was in danger for a great period of the time, owing to the nature of the local Indians.

After Serra's death, August 28, 1784, Palóu remained in California as interim president. Lasuén was subsequently appointed president by San Fernando College, February 6, 1785. He baptized at San Diego for the last time on December 5, having received news of his appointment in October the same year. Palóu embarked for Mexico from Monterey, November 13. Lasuén arrived at Monterey by January 12, 1786. For the remainder of his life, Mission San Carlos was his official headquarters.

A distinguished successor to Serra, Lasuen doubled the number of missions and more than doubled the number of converts. He also brought about an economic transformation by furthering stock raising and farming and introducing mission industries under a score of imported artisans. He introduced the now familier mission style architecture of tile and stone or adobe and converted existing missions from thatch covered structures to the newer form.

On March 13, 1787, San Fernando College designated Lasuén as its subject, empowered to administer confirmation on the basis of the decree of Pope Pius VI of May 4, 1785. The document, because of the circuitous channels through which it had to pass in Church and State, did not reach Lasuén until May 26, 1790, five years after it was issued, its validity good for only five remaining years. Still, Lasuén was able to confirm over one thousand persons.

On September 30, 1796, Bishop Francisco Rouset, O.F.M., of Sonora, in whose diocese California lay, granted Lasuén all his faculties with authority to delegate them to his missionaries. At the same time he made Lasuén his vicar forane and ecclesiastical judge for California, and on October 22, 1796, his military vicar. In the preceding year, 1795, Lasuén had been appointed commissioner of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.

A summary view of how the missions developed between 1785 and the end of 1803 can best be seen by comparing their statistics at the death of the two presidents. The number of missions rose from 9 to 18, the number of missionaries from 18 to 40. Baptisms increased from 6,736 to 37,976. The number of Indians living at the missions at the end of 1784 were 4,646, at the end of 1803, 18,185. Cattle increased in the same period from 5,384 to 77,578; sheep from 5,384 to 117,736. The total produce of the fields at the end of 1784 were 15,796 fanegas, at the end of 1803, 48,003 fanegas.

Under Lasuén, building operations at the missions developed apace. The mission buildings as we know them today to a very great extent date from this period. Besides the new ones which he founded, the older ones were expanded, and sturdier churches were erected, such as the present stone church at Carmel and the stone-brick church at San Gabriel. The library at Carmel under Lasuén became the first to be cataloged in California.

Santa Barbara was the first mission Lasuen founded in 1786. In all he founded 9 missions, the last being San Luis Rey de Francia in 1798. In the summer of 1797 alone he founded four missions!

When the California mission system was attacked on the basis of the false charges made by the demented Antonio de la Concepción Horra, the charges were ably answered by Lasuén and his missionary associates. Lasuén, following the pattern of Serra and Palóu, defended the policy of the missionaries against the charges of Governor Pedro Fages. While Lasuén did not experience the almost constant controversies with the military and government officials that had characterized the earlier period under Serra, his presidency was not entirely devoid of differences with them. Serra had the more difficult task in laying the groundwork, and Lasuén could enjoy the fruits of the advances made. Moreover, the governors under whom he worked were more tractable. Finally, Lasuén, though firm in adhering to principles, because of his urbane character and gentle disposition developed that diplomacy in relationships which avoided heated controversies.

As president, Lasuén met a number of important personages of various nationalities who, fortunately, recorded their impression of him. When Captain George Vancouver visited Mission San Carlos in 1792, Lasuén gave him excellent hospitality. "This personage," wrote Vancouver, "was about seventy-two years of age, whose gentle manners, united to a most venerable and placid countenance, indicated that tranquilized state of mind that fitted him in an eminent degree for presiding over so benevolent an institution." Vancouver named two points of the bay of San Pedro after him, Point Fermin and Point Lasuén.

When J. G. de La Pérouse, the French navigator, anchored at Monterey in 1786, he paid a visit to Mission San Carlos. Of the president he wrote that he "is one of the most worthy of esteem and respect of all the men I have ever met. His sweetness of temper, his benevolence, and his love for the Indians are beyond expression."

In 1791, the Spanish voyager, Alejandro Malaspina, after visiting Monterey and Carmel, declared: "He was a man who in Christian lore, mien, and conduct was truly apostolic, and his good manners and learning were unusual. This religious man had with good reason merited the esteem and friendship of both French commanders [of the La Pérouse expedition] and the majority of their subordinates. "

Charles Chapman said of Lasuén: " [He] worthily filled the post of the great Junípero. As a mission-founder he achieved as much; ... he baptized a far greater number of Indians. He built up the missions economically and architecturally. He was far more successful than Serra in maintaining harmonious relations with the military. In zeal as a Christian and missionary he equalled, though he could not surpass, Father Junípero." [6]

Bancroft states that in Lasuén were united the qualities that make up the model or ideal padre.... In person he was small and compact, in expression vivacious, in manners always agreeable, though dignified. He was a frank, kind-hearted old man, who made friends of all he met ... [he had] sweetness of disposition and quiet force of character ... no one of the Franciscans had more clearly defined opinions than he. None of them had a firmer will, or were readier on occasion to express their views. His management of the mission interests for eighteen years affords abundant evidence of his untiring zeal and of his ability as a man of business. His writings ... prepossess the reader in favor of the author by their comparative conciseness of style. Of his fervent piety there are abundant proofs; and his piety and humility were of an agreeable type, unobtrusive, and blended with common-sense.... Padre Fermin - as he was everywhere known - to a remarkable degree for his time and environment based his hopes of future reward on purity of life, kindness and courtesy to all, and a zealous performance of duty as a man, a Christian, and a Franciscan.

Lasuén died at Mission San Carlos, Carmel, June 26, 1803, having received the last sacraments. He was buried on the twenty-seventh by Baltasar Carnicer in the stone vault of the sanctuary closest to the main altar on the Gospel side. His remains, together with the others buried at the mission, were first discovered under heavy debris in 1856, were exhumed again in 1882, and finally in 1943. Very few of the remains survived up to this latter year. His grave has been marked with a stone slab bearing his name. A monument to Lasuén has been erected at Mission San Fernando, and Lasuén High School at San Pedro recalls his memory. His writings have been published by Father Finbar Kenneally, O.F.M., of the Academy of American Franciscan History.

The Late Mission Period

For a total of 34 yars, Serra and Lasuen had controlled the destiny of the California missions. When Lasuen died in 1803 he was buried alongside Serra in the sanctuary of the great stone church. His successor transferred the seat of mission authority to Santa Barbara, where it remained for several years. In the the remaining 31 years before secularization, the chain was administered by a half dozen capable successors - notably Fathers Tapis and Duran - but none of them approached the stature of this earlier pair. In a span of just over half a century the New World representatives of the Spanish King planted a chain of twenty missions on the California coast, and the Mexicans added one more before the end of the mission era.


The bustling life of the missions, developed over seven decades of toil and devoted work, sputtered to an inglorious end in the middle of the 19th century. Signs of the end had long been apparent for the farsighted. To begin with the mission settlements were founded dring the dying years of the Spanish empire. The authority of the Spanish crown, which had dominated the world for two and half centures, was then being challenged within its own dominions by its colonies and outside by the growing strenth of new empires being built by England and the Netherlands. The Spanish colonies had been designed to become self-supporting, and it was only a matter off time before self-support became independence. In 1810, New Spain broke away from the mother country and set itself up as the Republic of Mexico. The effects of this move on the California missions were far reaching. Communication channels became confused. Supplies and funds for the colonists no longer arrived or appeared infrequently. The missions became major sources of economic support not only for the indians, but also for the pueblos and presidios. The final blow came when long-postponed orders to secularize the missions were finally promulgated by the Mexican government.

Under the secularization law, the Church was allowed to retain only the priests' garden, and the church and priests' quarters in the mission quadrangle. These facilities were to be transferred from the missionary order to the regular clergy who would operate them as a parish church. The remainder of the mission property were to be used for public services for the new pueblo.

Although secularization succeeded in the other Spanish lands, its application in California proved disastrous. The missionaries had long opposed it on the ggrounds that the Indians were not ready to conduct their own affairs. Civil authorities were also reluctant to enfore it because the missions comprised nearly the entire economy of the province and the sole source of food. They could foresee the unfortunate results that the dispersal of the mission facilities and labor force would cause within the province.

The pressure to securlarize mounted as the years passed. All the property in California was owned by the government and held in stewardship by the padres for the Indians. The few land grants given out by the governement were to Indians or to retired soldiers as a reward of service. By 1830 only 21 pieces of property were in private hands in all of Alta California. Two generations of Spanish-Mexican settlers had grown up in the province since its founding, and the men were beginning to face an unemployment problem. Secularization was seen by some as the only means of opening the province to private ownership. When the secularization order finally came through in 1833, some of the missions were processed almost immediately; others were secularized over the next 16 years. Within only a few years, there was little left wo indicate the prosperity and industry of these once-thriving concerns.

As can be imagined, the break up of the missions had tragic effects on the lives of the mission Indians. Unaware of the significance of their property acquisition and incapable of using the land to advantage, the Indians were easily hoodwinked out of their property. It quickly passed into the hands of speculators. Dependent on the mission life, the Indians could not return to their old ways. Most of them went to work for the new landowners, who cared nothing for their welfare and treated them as virtual slaves.

Decline and Rebirth

After the American occupation, the property rights of the missions were reviewed by the Federal Land Commission, and some of the lands and buildings were returned to the Church by acts of Congress in the 1850's and 1860's. Most of the missions were given back the land occupied by the original quadrangle. In some instances, these structures had long since collapsed, but in others they were still usable. The Church, however, often found itself encumbered with buildings too vast to use for religious functions, so the outbuildings were leased or rented to private parties. Stores, bars, and inns began to occupy the quarters where the padres once meditated. In time most of the missions began to fall into disrepair.

The dissolution of the missions continued until public-sprited individuals began to take an interest in them. First to appreciate them and propose their revival were artists. The Turneresque oil paintings of Edwin Deakin, and watercolors of Chris Jorgensen are excellent early examples. Photographers and stereopticon producers soon flooded the market with their wares. These paintings and photographs attracted general interest in the missions and they became tourist destinations early in the 1900's.

With interest growing, wealthy individuals and organized groups began to campaign for their restoration. Pioneer in this enterprise was the Landmarks Club, founded by newspaperman Charles Fletcher Lummis. The club raised enough money to keep several of the missions in southern California from complete collapse. By the mid-twentieth century, restoration had been accomplished with scientific accuracy. Old records, drawings, photographs had been studied and archeological research done on the grounds to trace foundation lines, floor patterns, and the outlines of outbuildings long since decayed. Noteworthy in this regard have been the buildings at La Purisma, restored by the National Park Service and the C.C.C., and the missions San Carlos Borromeo, San Juan Bautista, and San Antonio de Padua.

Although few of the original buildings are intact, practically all the churches and some of the quadrangles have been restored to approximate the condition of their heyday. Today's traveller will find something worth seeing at every mission.


Johnson, Paul C. et al; _The California Missions, A Pictorial History_; Lane Books; Menlo Park, CA; 1964.

Weber, Francis J.; _The Life and Times of Fray Junipero Serra_; EZ Nature Books; San Luis Obispo, CA; 1988.