Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Jesuit Missionaries – How Did They Do It? Part II

Julián de Mayorga lay atop the thin straw mattress, staring at a ceiling of thick rushes and other large, fan-like leaves. A dozen or so small lizards skittered here and there seeking food.

“May The Lord be with you little ones and help you find the food you seek.”

The Jesuit priest fingers his Rosary beads, silently praying El credo del apósto at el crucifijo, then El rezo del Señor.

The sound of the bell announcing evening prayers lifted him to his feet, his fingers continuing to count the beads as he recited the prayers. They were all that kept his heart still and gave him the strength to overcome his weakness.

Inhabitants of the small pueblo headed towards the chapel, Hispanics or those known as gente de razón leading the way to set the example for the native neophytes.

In spite of dizziness still filling him, the Jesuit priest hurried his steps, those ahead of him making way to allow him passage. He barely gazed around once he entered the chapel, somewhat noticing its narrowness and low roof, covered with material similar to the infirmary.

Not seeing an opening to either side, he stopped to genuflect and then followed the raised floor behind the altar, spying another door. Going through that, he came up short upon seeing Father Visitador Salvatierra donning the green stole of the day, a lay brother holding the misal.

“This is brother Jaime Bravo, the Hermano Coadjutore del California. He is responsible for ordering, receiving, and distributing supplies. After breaking fast on the morrow, you will assist him. It is a most important task.”

Father Mayorga nodded, acknowledging the Father Visitador’s directive. As the Father Visitador led prayers, Hermano Bravo holding open the misal for him, Mayorga knelt before the statue of the Blessed Virgin, continuing his prayers for the health and strength to complete the task before him.

He struggled to help ladle out the pozole to the soldiers, their wives, sailors, and other craftsmen of the pueblo. Father Visitador Salvatierra and Hermano Bravo served atole to the neophytes. Once all had bowls full on the table before them, the Father Visitador blessed the food and all fell to eating. Nobody spoke and nobody moved until the Father Visitador finished his atole and made the sign of the cross. Everyone carried their bowls to where two servants accepted them to dip into a boiling cauldron.

Afterwards, the soldiers, sailors, servants, returned to their pueblo, unmarried men pausing to sit in the small plaza to enjoy music played by several of their brethren.

Father Mayorga returned to the infirmary, dropping to his knees on the hard-packed earthen floor, continuing endless Rosaries, the only way he knew to remove thoughts of what might lie ahead.

A rumbling in his stomach and pang in his bowels drove him to his feet and outside to find where one was required to care of natural needs. Some distance from the chapel, the reek of human offal led him to the proper spot and he continued to pray, surprised that the diarrhea he had suffered through for so long appeared to be easing.

The light in the window of the Father Visitador’s hut told him that worthy was either busy at his desk and saying prayers. Instead of going back to the infirmary, Father Mayorga entered the chapel, moonlight coming from the windows at the top of the walls showing him the way to the altar, where he knelt to continue his Rosary.

That’s where he was when the morning bells announcing prayers rang.

While Father Visitador Salvatierra conducted classes for the neophyte children, Father Mayorga followed Brother Bravo to the second most substantial building in the area in the mission compound - the storehouse. It too was narrow and almost as long as the chapel.

“We have no trees growing straight and tall more than twenty-five feet in length. For that reason, we are limited in the width of our buildings.”

Shelves and bins lined the walls. The one open area held a desk upon which lay a large tome. It was open to a page filled with words and numbers - an inventory.

“We will open and sort each of the crates and bundles brought ashore from the ship, Padre. They will go onto the shelves or in the boxes marked for them. Once that is accomplished and we have accounted for everything, we will then compare them to what we ordered.” He paused and sighed. “Some times, the Father Procurador for California is unable to fill all of our requests. If there are less items than ordered, we must determine which mission has priority.”

The enormity of the job facing them shook Father Mayorga and he crossed himself twice before sucking in a deep breath.

Brother Jaime was most efficient and knowledgeable. As he sliced the ropes holding each bundle to open it, he spread the canvas wide and examined the contents. He then instructed Father Mayorga where to place them, sometimes having to repeat or give clearer directions. If Father Mayorga noticed, he ignored the lay brother’s frowns when he ha\\encountered difficulties.

Brother Bravo was especially interested in two sturdy chests with locks. He did not have to explain that they contained precious religious objects. They were placed in a much larger chest secured with iron belts and a large hasp and padlock.

They only stopped for noon prayers, afterwards once again serving pozole and atole before serving themselves.

“We always take a brief siesta after the noon meal, father. But the missions and others need these supplies as quickly as possible.

Father Mayorga only shrugged, following the lay brother back to the storeroom to finish and unpacking supplies.

“May routine like this make life here in this barren land bearable,” he prayed.

[I will continue with more posts like this to give you an idea of what life in this most difficult area was like. Rest assured that, while all of this comes from the research I am conducting for Leatherjacket Soldier, the historical novel about Fernando Rivera the captain/governor of lower California and then the military commandant and governor of upper California, it will only add to the color of the novel and not be a spoiler.]

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jesuit Missionaries – How Did They Do It?

They left big cities and national capitols having completed degrees in major universities of the day. They arrived – mostly ill from impossible sea journeys – at a hostile land where almost nobody spoke their native tongue. They went to an intimidating land filled with angry and primitive natives, usually accompanied only by a single soldier – who often as not was no more than a farmer or merchant converted to carrying a musket and sword. They had to learn the rudimentary tongue of the natives in order to meet their obligations to the Society of Jesus and the crown.

Baja California was – and is – an arid, inhospitable place where trying to create a European-style village was and still is, almost impossible. On the eastern side, the vast majority of the coastline is rugged with few to no passable beaches. And, in those very rare instances when a stream or rivulet managed to struggle to the sea, the outlet was filled with salt marshes and the few Indians from surrounding rancherias constantly confronted one another.

Julián de Mayorga, came from a patrician family in Villarejo de Montalban, near Toledo, Spain. After early schooling by Jesuits, he felt the call of the cloth and went through the training to become a member of the Society of Jesus. He attended a prestigious Jesuit college in the capitol and sought to go forth as a missionary to New Spain.

His wish was granted and he sailed in a small ship to cross hundreds of miles of daunting seas, constantly seeking the rail to empty his stomach of what little food he had been able to force down. At last, they reached land where he was confronted with a pueblo almost, but not quite, like those in Spain. The trip on land from there was unlike anything he had expected, atop the back of a burro through hostile lands swarming with biting, stinging insects and occasional torrential downpours.

At last, he reached the city of Mexico and entered the college for missionaries where he was taught the bewildering fundamentals of building and maintaining a mission in a strange and forbidding land. He was given no choice of his next destination, only being told that he would join his fellow Jesuits in far away California.

Once again, he mounted a donkey for the trip north to a rugged land where the order maintained a massive rancho with storehouses. A huge mule train was being formed up to carry the annual supplies to California. When it pulled out, he rode at the fore with a man name Manuel Rodríguez Vaca, the owner and lead arriero. They wended their way to another city named Guadalajara and then on to a small village in a valley named Compostella. There they were joined by sailors who escorted them across hills to the shore of the Pacific Ocean.

Padre Mayorga watched as the muleteers and sailors expertly transferred the supplies to the small ship anchored just off shore and then followed, sitting on a rough board across the width of a boat rowed by four sailors.

Even at anchor, the ship called the San Carlos, creaked and made strange noises as if not put together quite right. Unlike the ship on which he had sailed across the Atlantic, this one seemed to be made up of shorter planks and the masts were held together by more ropes.

The next two weeks made Padre Mayorga feel as if he had been assigned to Purgatory. The ship rocked from side to side as it first sailed to the west far out to sea then turned and sailed east until land was sighted. Sleep was impossible. Not only due to the motion, but the continual creaks and groans of protest from the wood beneath his feet. When not hanging over the rail, praying while he wretched, he knelt in his tiny cubbyhole praying to Jesus for the relief of death.

We are half of the way there, reverend father.”

Padre Mayorga looked to where the captain pointed, learning it was The Cape of Saint Luke, the southern tip of his destination – California.

The next few days were spent sailing in the same back and forth manner. Only, instead of steady breezes either from the sea or the land, there were occasional interludes of strong, almost gale-force winds, laying the ship over steeply and causing the crew to constantly change the sails. The groaning from inside the hull became even louder and crew members often rushed below to tighten restraining ropes so the cargo would not shift.

At last, the captain directed them into what barely passed for a port. And the gathering of crude structures could scarcely be considered a town in the suffering Padre's estimation. The small church on the hill shone bright in the burning sun, light reflected from the white stucco on the walls. The remaining scattering of buildings seems to be organized in two sections, one centered around the church and another around what could only be a military compound of some sort.

Padre Mayorga was aboard the first boat ashore where a tall figure in a black robe raised a hand in blessing. “Welcome to Loreto, my brother. I am Juan María de Salvatierra, the Visitador. We will be going to the church, Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó. You will stay here briefly until you have learned how we do things.” He then closely examined the pale and trembling priest and turned to a nearby man of swarthy complexion wearing white pants and blouse with a large, crude wooden cross hanging around his neck. “Brother Pedro la Cojera, please take the reverend father to the church and the infirmary. Have one of the others see that he has refreshing fluids and rests from his strenuous journey.”

Padre Mayorga quickly learned why the man was called The Limper.

One other individual introduced himself to Padre Mayorga. He wore no uniform that the priest recognized, only guessing his occupation from the sword at his side and the two pistols in his belt.

I am Alférez Mugazábal at your service, reverend father. If there is anything I or my wife may be of assistance with, please call upon us.” After a slight bow, the soldier hurried off to supervise the sailors unloading the much-needed supplies.

The newly arrived missionary staggered, with the help of the neophyte, up the hill to an open-sided building with a thick layer of palm branches for a roof. A small, screened-off area had been separated from the area occupied by a dozen rough cots. Padre Mayorga was shown to a cot made up of leather straps supporting a thin straw-filled mattress. After thankfully accepting a brimming cup of orange juice, he settled down.

With eyes closed, the newly arrived missionary lay on his cot, fingering his prayer beads, and reciting every prayer he had ever learned. So deep in his devotions, the Jesuit priest did not have to think about the hardships and frustrations facing him.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Jesuit Domain of California

A California Soldier and his wife

After 393 pages of text, dozens of maps and even more illustrations, a glossary, pages of footnotes in small type, and a bibliography, I finally finished Antigua California. [And, as DavidK pointed out, it was published in 1994 – not 1926]

What a learning experience!

Although stubborn and quite possessive, the Jesuits who explored California showed a great deal of foresight. Sent to secure California for the crown and fend off claims from other nations, they found a desolate land, lacking fresh potable water and deep-water ports. Stone Age savages could be quite hostile, although their weapons were no match for those of the Spanish.

So, what did these Soldiers of Christ come up with?

An amazing organization with provisions for making the impossible happen with some interesting twists.

Where to start?

In order to conduct explorations, they needed money. Not money subject to being granted or withheld by non-Jesuit sources, but funds of their own. So, what did they do? They established a separate fondo piadoso, a Pious Fund made up of donations by wealthy benefactors in the Old and New Worlds. And, they needed assurance from the crown that it would not interfere with the fund. However, they also needed funding from the crown and had those monies put into their pious fund where the viceroy or his people couldn't get to it.

And then, they dreamed up – or modified – an organization to make things work.

If you notice, the king and the viceroy are nowhere in the chart!

A Visitador was a kind of Chief Inspector in charge of the operations of the ecclesiastical entity. So, the chief honcho in California, The Father Visitador, was only responsible to the chief honcho of the Jesuit Order who, in turn, was responsible to the Pope. And, the Father Provincial in Mexico City – sort of like an Archbishop – also wasn't in the chain – he reported to the viceroy. There was the Father Procurator for California. His job was to take orders from the Visitador in California and purchase the supplies from the special Pious Fund.

Neat. Right?

Supplies were ordered as needed, but the Procurator in Mexico City had to gather, store, and see that they were delivered. The Jesuits had a huge plot of land north of Mexico City called Rancho Arroyo. That's where herds were gathered and large warehouses held the goods meant for missions – not only in California but Texas and New Mexico. Once everything was ready – and paid for, the Father Procurator for California arranged to have it shipped to Compostela or Acapulco where it was to be loaded aboard ship to sail to Loreto.

Easy. Right?

[Knew there was a bit more, didn't you?]

Ships built on the west coast of New Spain weren't exactly reliable. You see, there were no trees tall enough to make wood planks the length needed for a substantial ship. So, they were pieced together and lacked the rigidity needed to keep them together in rough weather and seas. As a tidbit, the Jesuits owned or leased 22 ships in the 70 years they were in California and all but two of them were either sunk in storms or crashed against the rocks.

In time of drought and need, there was no guarantee that supplies would reach California.

So, the Father Visitador for California went a step further. He was responsible for the Jesuits founding missions on the mainland of Sonora and Sinaloa specifically for providing supplies to the California missions.

So, if supplies couldn't make it safely from Acapulco or the ports close to Compostela, the Jesuits established alternatives just across the Sea of Cortez. Those were established along large rivers flowing from the Sierra Occidental. The only problem was that some were on the Yaqui River and the Yaquis, along with their neighbors, the Mayos, were not exactly friendly. It would take several decades, but those Indians would raise up in a two-year war that killed over a thousand and injured countless more.

And, to get to those missions, the Jesuits established their own navy! Launches were built and manned in the shipyard at Loreto and made the hazardous journey to gather what they needed.

One thing that has bothered me was why they selected Loreto and not La Paz. The later is a large sheltered bay with deep water for big ships. Loreto had a shallow bay with little shelter from bad weather. If may probably be that La Paz did not have a direct supply of fresh water throughout the year.

And finally, once the supplies reached Loreto, the Father Procurator in Loreto and his assistant, sorted the supplies to ensure they were hauled to the various missions that had asked for them.

Soldiers and civilians alike could order supplies and, with a set up like the company stores of mines, had accounts to pa for what they received.

There was no money of any kind allowed in California.

The Jesuits believed money could only bring sin, especially in buying alcohol. [It isn't in the book, but I'm willing to bet there were more than a few enterprising individuals who found way to distill strong drink. Far more potent than the wine used in Mass.]

Well, back to studying and will post more the next time. Hope you enjoy.