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.]

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