Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

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.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, who would have thought that they knew how to network back in the day like that, huh? And they did it w/out computers and cellphones! *gasp* =)