Mission San Gabriel Archangel, California

Mission San Gabriel Archangel, California
Mission San Gabriel Archangel circa 1889

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The California Jesuits – How Did They Do It? Part VIII

Father Jacobo looks at the pile of rubble that was once the chapel and sacristy of MisiĆ³n San Luis Gonzaga, fighting back tears of frustration.

Visions of towering ceilings with brilliant stained glass windows tug at the back of his mind. Along with altars dedicated to The Lord God and His Most Beloved Son, Jesucristo. Walls far apart with pews and kneelers for hundreds of devoted followers are far more than anything possible in this hard and unforgiving land.

What am I to do​? he asks himself. His health is not the best and he does not trust his frail body to do what will be necessary to build a place of worship befitting the glory of God. I must do it all. I must teach and lead and share the burdens of all. Please, Dear God above, do not fail me. I can do nothing without You.

Private Juan de Leiva works with the few Guaycura converts who remain at the mission to cut bigger windows in the mud and wattle hut built for the padre to sleep and pray in private. Juan's Indian wife, Esmerelda, toils with the girls and women to rebuild the place where communal meals will be prepared.

Father Jacobo turns and gazes upon a pile of adobe bricks. Most have been damaged by the rains and he wonders how many can be restored. He sighs and turns away, walking uphill to the quarry. He runs his fingers across the surface of the stone, noting it is not granite but a less dense arensica. It is the same sandstone used at the other mission and he has been told it is most durable.

He does not miss the pile of pine logs which had agonizingly been brought down from the slopes far away and far above. At their best, they can allow no more than the length of twenty-five feet to span walls and make a solid roof. Again, it is not different than at all the other missions.

Something bothers you, reverend father?”

The soldier's voice brings him from the darkness of his thoughts. He had been introduced to him and his half-Indian wife in Loreto. Both appeared capable of assisting at the mission and some of the other fathers had told him that their soldier/companions made life bearable. Also a half-breed, Juan is fourth generation and was baptized at birth by a Jesuit in Sonora. He can read and write quite well, something of great assistance to him.

And yet, Father Jacobo cannot feel confident the soldier will make his life less onerous.

If you fret about rebuilding the chapel, reverend father, there are many converts here to bend their muscles to the tasks.”

Naked, ignorant savages to raise a structure appropriate to His Glory. How will that pass?” Staring down at the mission site, he does not see the eyes of the soldier opening wide in shock.” Sucking in deeply, he turns his head and says, “They do not understand anything about that which we teach them and are only interested in what food we put in their mouths.”

Juan straightens as if preparing to say something he feels the Jesuit might not appreciate. “Ignorant savages they most assuredly are, reverend father. But, they come because they fear and respect the magic you possess and the promise that they will never die. All they have ever thought for time beyond end is that when they are born, they have nothing more to look forward to except death. The promise that Jesucristo gives them life beyond death is why they do what we ask of them.”

The words surprise the Jesuit. No other father has described the Indians' desire to seek out and stay with the fathers in such a manner. In that light, their attendance at the various missions makes a great deal of sense. “They feel I possess magic, Private Leyva?”

They believe you are far more powerful than their spiritual leaders and senior family members. They understand nothing about anything beyond life and death. And even then, they only consider one as either here or gone away. They have no burial ceremonies such as we. One dies and they are taken to where the predators come to devour the corpse.”

Father Baegert thinks upon that for a moment. “So, the chapels we build are not truly for their benefit?”

They do not appreciate what is beautiful to us. In fact, beauty has no meaning for them.” Before the father can speak, Leyva hastily adds, “We build them as beautifully as we can in our own adoration of the Holy Father, Jesucristo, y el Spiritu Sanctus.”

Father Baegert straightens his back and turns to his escort/companion. “Well then, my son, we will do our best to build an edifice that Our Lord Jesus will look down upon and smile. We will make this mission a place where the natives may come to learn The Word of God and have a place to fill their stomachs. They will learn trades to help them long after you and I are gone.”

The first task the Jesuit priest feels necessary is to protect against future flooding. The main building must be built above the flood level. He also determines it will be vital to build a canal from the spring that flows during all but the most serious drought to water gardens to provide food to all who will gather there.

The gardens will be important, reverend father. But the Guaycura are fortunate in that the cactos nearby provide plentiful fruit. As you may have discovered, the pitahaya has a flavor we do not find pleasing, but it is their main food and they savor it. One type ripens from June to August and the other in November and December.”

“What eat they when the fruit is not present, my son?”

“Anything they can find, reverend father. Do not be surprised to see them squatting outside the storehouse picking at the insects that gather there. They also eat just about anything that lives and they are able to capture of kill. In the wild, they do nothing but seek food or to lay about to conserve their strength.”

Guilt fills the Jesuit as disgust envelopes him. How can human beings live in such a manner? And how can they ever become educated in the ways of Spain?