Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Saturday, July 26, 2014

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

And, as they return to camp, Mayorga sees upon the crest of a hill, the silhouette of a coyote calling to its clan. He wonders is it has caught a rabbit with the long ears of a mule and calls him family to join him.

After punishing himself for his early sins of pride, Father Mayorga kneels in the sand of the river bed still warm from the sun's rays and fervently says the Rosary, seeking to calm his mind from spinning from all he has seen and learned. His brow sweats and his stomach churns from the difficult foods and he earnestly prays to have sufficient strength and health to carry out his mission.

Please, oh Lord, give me strength to carry out Your will. Thy will be done...

The sounds of others moving rouses Father Mayorga. He struggled to open his eyes and rise, frustrated by the weakness of his body. He manages to make it to the stream, kneeling in the soft sand to lave his face, hands and arms – also splashing some on his intimate parts to remove the sweat gathered there.

De Castro has the fire going and Pedro, el arriero, brings an armload of firewood to add to it. A small iron pot is already in place and he knows it had pozole in it from the kitchen at the mission.

His only addition to the morning ritual is the recitation of Our Father, Ave Maria, and the Credo. The others softly speak the words as they continue preparing their break fast.

Father Mayorga's hands slightly tremble as he ladles the gruel in between his parched lips, trying not to savor the feeling of sating the weakness of his body. And, he struggles to mount the mule Pedro has saddled and bridled for him. Seeing his efforts, the Cochimi muleteer steps forward, then drops to his knees so the holy father can mount.

The priests signs the cross to Pedro who lowers his eyes as a sign of respect.

De Castro indicates they are but an hour's ride from Loreto and Mayorga thanks The Lord that the trek is almost over.

Blackness engulfs him.

He awakens, lying on the pebbles of the riverbed. De Castro and Pedro hover over him, fear in their eyes.

Reverend father. Are you well?”

The priest tries to respond but his mouth is dry, his throat parched. Pedro puts a calabaza de agua to his mouth and he shivers at the coolness of the liquid coursing down his throat.

You have not been drinking, reverent father.”

de Castro's words were as much an accusation as a question. Seeing the priest was not about to answer, he tells Pedro to refill the water gourd and have it ready when the priest needed. Both of them helped Mayorga mount the mule and Pedro moved up next to him, there to prevent another fall.

They soon reach the mission and de Castro leads the way directly to the infirmary. He and Pedro help Father Mayorga dismount. Father Brave arrives and, upon hearing what happened, orders the priest to a cot, motioning over a convert nurse to watch over him.

Staring up at the thatch roof, Mayorga watches the little creatures darting here and there. He wonders what they are finding to feed upon, shivering at the though of what it might be. He continue to recite his Rosary, still noticing the creatures seemed to come in several varieties, each with its own markings and colors.

Do not blame yourself, father. Even after all these years here, I find the food and climate difficult to cope with.”

Mayorga turns his eyes to the Father Procurator and whispers, “Does He forgive us for our weakness?”

Father Bravo smiles. “He must for He continues to give me the strength to do His will.”

The next months are difficult for him and Mayorga often wonders if the Father Visitador will ask that he be assigned to a mainland mission. Not that a personal weakness inwardly speaks to him that such a move would be good. But, he has set his mind in spreading The Word of God in California and does not wish to displease his Heavenly Father.


We have been blessed by an honored benefactor of having sufficient supplies to found another mission.”

Mayorga listens to Father Visitador Salvatierra announce this to the gathered group. Present are Fathers Ugarte and Bravo, Hermano Mugazábal, Captain Esteban Rodrguez, Sergeant Valdez, and Corporal de Castro.

Don José de la Puente Peña Castejón y Salcines, Marqués de Villapuente, has generally bestowed the funds for the venture.” Father Visitador Salvatierra turns to Father Ugarte and the captain. “It is the valley the Cochimi call Comondú. As you remember, there appears to be sufficient soil and water to support such an enterprise.” He also adds that the nearby Cochimi rancherias appear eager to have a mission among them.

Mayorga intently listens, learning the site is on the other side of the mountains about ten leagues north and slightly west of Loreto. He hears it was not far from where Father Kino had founded Mission San Bruno, which had been abandoned due to poor soil, lack of Cochimi, and undependable water.

Father Visitador Salvatierra then turns to him. “Father, I have been given a sign that you are to be the one to start and maintain this new mission which will be dedicated to Saint Joseph.”

Mayorga's heart sinks and he feels sweat in his armpits. Why me? I am neither strong nor experienced in the ways of this harsh land. Gathering himself, he lowers his eyes and responds, “It will be my honor to serve Him in whatever manner is set before me, reverend father.”

Preparations for the undertaking are complicated. Father Mayorga is involved in every minor detail, from the various holy articles necessary to conduct rights, the special slab of stone so carefully crafted to serve as the altar, the tools for constructing and preparing gardens and fields, and the various materials for the expected converts. The list is endless and he finds himself often bewildered and confused. Fortunately, Brother Mugazábal is a patient and understanding man.

Fortunately, Mayorga has always been a good student. He has studied Cochimi since his arrival, laboriously copied Father Salvatierra's dictionary, to include every Mass and prayer in the Missal. He had even struggled to say his Rosary and other personal prayers in the language of the natives. So, communicating with those who will come to the mission is not going to be a problem for him.

Father Mayorga has become accustomed to the wildlife of California, especially the lizards that skitter everywhere one looks. Vees of Pelicans skim the surface of the sea and gulls twist and turn overhead. But it is the spiders that cause him to shudder. He watches the converts pick them up and caress their backs. He is even told that when food is scarce, they eat them – along with every other living creature. But, the time one crawled upon him while he fitfully slept terrorized him and he could not settle into his cot for a fortnight afterwards.

Having been in California a little over one year and never feeling to be in good health, Padre Julián de Mayorga prepares to set forth on the most difficult journey of his lifetime. The party is large, led by Father Visitador Salvatierra, accompanied by he and Father Ugarte, a seasoned explorer. Capitán Esteban Rodríguez, his sergeant, several soldiers, some arrieros, and neophytes had loaded the pack mules with food and supplies. In addition, a steer and five heifers, a ram and three sheep, a male and three female goats, swine in baskets loaded on mules, along with similar baskets of chickens are prepared to follow along.

Nothing can be done to alter the well-established routine of the mission day so they first attend prayers, then eat pozole, before mounting.

They travel north along the coastline to the site of Mision San Bruno, now nothing but scattered piles of rocks and stones. Father Salvatierra sadly explains how it had been the very first attempt at establishing a foothold in California and had simply not been suitable. “What we learned here was most important in selecting the site of Mision Nuestra Seora de Loreto. This is a lesson you must learn, Father Julián. The Lord Almighty sets barriers in our way to test our faith. By overcoming them, we strengthen ourselves and the faith of those who come to us in Jesus, Our Lord.”

Mayorga hears the words, but continues to fear that he may not be up to the task ahead of him.

They turn inland into the daunting mountains known as Las Sierras Gigante. Rugged peaks and winding canyons with rocky floors and spiny plants. Father Ugarte leads the way as he had explored this area before, in fact locating the site where they would build the new mission.

Crossing a pass, Mayorga gasps at the panorama of twisting, turning canyons with steeps sides. How can there possibly be a place in this wilderness to plant gardens and orchards and graze the livestock that will come there.

That is where we will establish the mission dedicated to Saint Joseph.”

Mayorga hears the Father Visitador's words and wonders if what he says is possible. If it is the will of God, he prays.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I thank Victoria for posting but it was too long and not directly applicable to poor Father Mayorga.