Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The California Jesuits – How Did They Do It? - Part IX

Father Baegert shivers slightly as he rises from his cot and places his bare feet on the earthen floor. How can it be cold? The temperature has been high since the date of his arrival in California.

He slips on his well-worn sandals and silently tells himself it is almost time to obtain another pair. Perhaps there is a leatherworker at the mission who can make a pair for him.

He rises to his feet and glances out of the window nearest him. The world is blurred, a soft shifting mist reducing visibility to a few feet. Only a faint lightening of the sky to the east tells him the sun is trying to rise over the mountains.

I have been told, reverend father, this is the time of year when fogs comes in from the ocean. It makes up a little for the lack of rain.”

Private Levia's presence no longer surprises him. The man has an eerie ability to be there when Father Jacob has a question. The Jesuit scans the area, seeing faint mounds off in the mist he has learned to be the local plebes asleep on the ground. He thinks of them, not as adults, but little children in need of strenuous guidance.

They walk down to the riverbank where, in the midst of the towering tule reeds, two spots are cleared for the gente de razón to take care of their personal needs. The Guaycura simply do so wherever they are at the moment.

Always scan the area first, reverend father. Many creatures come to places like this and most sting or bite.”

Father Jacob is well aware of that having been stung a two times previously in Loreto.

He wonders where he is going to say morning prayers and is surprised to see all the Indians gathered in front of the ruins of the chapel. Levia's wife and children wait at the front so Father Jacob starts, his escort and family being the loudest in repeating the words.

Without a signal, Levia understands when it is time for him to take Pablo, the mayordomo, with him to the storage shed. A group of six women follow them and gather up the foodstuffs they are handed. Pablo carries the large copper cooking pot to where a fire has been raised from the embers. It takes little time for the ingredients to be added to water in the pot to make the morning gruel.

Levia and Pablo must remind many of the converts they are to wait until Father Jacob says Grace before eating. At almost the moment Father Jacob finishes, the Guaycura gobble down the contents of their bowls and rush back to the cooking pot seeking more. It is only Levia's presence with his steel blades and pistols that keeps them from pushing and fighting.

As the disciples finish their meal and bring their clay bowls to be cleaned, Levia and Pablo go to the storehouse to remove the tools needed for the day's work. Father Jacob uses that time to tell the disciples a story from the bible about overcoming dire straits, stressing that God will look over them who follow His word.

Father Jacob then walks through the area. The new site for a chapel has been selected but he wishes to familiarize himself with the entire landscape. The irrigation ditch is still intact, the water temporarily diverted back to the river until gardens are ready for the water. But he follows it uphill to the place when water is diverted from the river into the ditch. There has been some erosion of the diversion weir and he notes he must speak to Pablo about it upon his return.


The steep walls of the canyon are near the river and he stop upon seeing markings on the rocks. He climbs up the rockfall and comes near to spy crude figures painted there. He has seen some on the way from Loreto, but this is his first chance to closely examine them.

Father Jacob is quite surprised to see the ancient figures are not that different from those in Europe he saw pictures of at the college. He does not believe the current occupants of the area are capable of such artistic endeavor – even though they highly decorate themselves with paint and tattoos.

The sound of steel on rock draws him to the quarry where Levia supervises converts in cutting stone for the new chapel. Another group shapes them so they will fit together with but a small amount of cement. There is a large pile of lime covered by a tarp held down by stones to add to clay and sand for the important substance. That is the major drawback to building with stone. Adobe bricks can be laid atop one another with a small bit of water to make them adhere to one another.

He returns to the site of the new chapel and bends his back to help pile rocks and stones in the floor to be. Earth is tamped into the spaces to make them solid. Hauling the rocks and stones to the site is a back breaking task and he barely notices it is the women who are doing so. Since his arrival in California, Father Jacob has been haunted by the visions of bare female breasts and genitals, causing him to have sinful thoughts of breaking his vows of chastity. He is no different from his fellow missionaries who seldom use the women for what they do best, prepare food and clothing for all.

A small bell hangs on a tree limb and a disciple rings the call to noon prayers. As in the morning, the converts gather in the open area in front of the ruined chapel to await the father's arrival. He wipes the dirt and dust from his hands and face and confronts them, starting off the series of prayers to which all respond as clear as they can. He has studied hard and recites what Father Bischoff has written in the Guaycura language. He finds it difficult to do so because the prayers are not similar to the words he has memorized in Latin.

He welcomes the noon meal, seeing the pleasure on the converts faces as their bowls are filled with gruel and pozole. He could fill his own bowl with the mixture of chicken pieces, but holds himself to the simple concoction of corn and wheat. His reasoning for the lesser nourishing food is repentance for his sinful lust and desire to turn his back from the undertaking given him.

The one thing Father Jacob enjoys most is talking to the children. About thirty of them gather in a circle around him beneath the spreading branches of an oak tree as he reads from the book Father Bischoff wrote of takes from the bible. The good father had taken care to rewrite the stories in a way the children can understand. That had not been an easy task as the primitive Guaycura could not possibly comprehend big walled cities or vast armies of soldiers.

While everyone else takes their afternoon siesta, Father Jacob sits at the small desk in his hut and writes in his journal by the light of a candle produced by the mission chandlery. He wishes to keep a detailed record of his missionary efforts in this forsaken land. How does the Lord God permit such barbarism in these times? he wonders. Children should learn from their parents. But what learn these when their parents are no more than children themselves?

The sounds of people moving outside tells the priest it is time when all resume their chores. Crossing himself and praying for strength and guidance, he dons a conical hat made of interwoven laths to keep the burning sun from his bare head. As always, the sky is void of even a wisp of a cloud and the heat engirds him.

The most grueling of toil, beside constant bending to remove unwanted plants from the gardens, is recovering soil washed away during irrigation of those same gardens. There is so little fertile soil that every bit of it must be saved and returned to the plots. A group is busy doing so from the fruit orchard and he joins them, cheating a bit by leaning on his staff with one hand while scooping up the soil with a piece of wood shaped for the task in the other.

The bell for Vespers halts the work and he gratefully accepts a sip of water in a ladle from a wooden pail, water drawn from the mission well. The little girl lowers her eyes shyly at being near the great magic bringer and he reaches out to gently pat her head as he thanks her. “We must go to prayers, little one. May The Lord be with thee.”

She knows not what is God as her people have no beliefs in such things. Will such words mean aught to her in the coming years?

The evening prayers over, all retreat to the communal dining area. As a self-reward for the day's toil, Father Jacob fills his bowl with pozole containing pieces of apricot from the orchard and vegetables from the garden. Several warm tortillas accompany the meal and he feels the tightness of his belly at having eaten so much.

Another sin, gluttony, for which he must atone in his dark hut during the night to come. The sun sets quickly in the peninsula and darkness enshrouds groups of Guaycura who have tossed aside their blue robes to lay down in the dirt as they have from the day they were born.

Father Baegert sighs and goes to his hut, lighting the way with a candle as he kneels before the crude crucifix to pray his Rosary before lowering the top of his robe to “punish” his sins with a strap of knotted leather. He swears he will have one made with tiny bits of metal to do more than raise welts upon his back.

Another day in Jesuit California

No comments:

Post a Comment