Francisco Palóu.

Francisco Palou's life and apostolic labors of the Venerable Father Junípero Serra, founder of the Franciscan missions of California online

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Council of the College. In spite of the fact that there was such a
scarcity of Friars that lived in the Community, that those in the Con-
vent scarcely exceeded the mmiber of those who were engaged in these
nine Missions, and also that not a word of news had been recdved
from Spain, they still decided that two Friars should be sent to supply
the need which might occur here. These were gotten ready and sent
to San Bias, where they embarked without incident, and arrived safe
and sound at this port on the ad of June, of the year 1783. After
resting a few days in this Mission and in that of Santa Clara, they
went on by land to San Carlos of Monterey, there to receive the bless-
ing of the Prelate, whom they foimd quite sick from a severe pain
in his chest.

He had suffered for many years from this malady on his breast,
from the time he was in College, although he had never complained,
nor had he ever taken the least care to cure himself, paying as little
attention to this trouble as to the sore and the swelling on his foot and
leg. Whenever we spoke to him about applying some remedy he
would generally say: "Never mind, we might make it worse; I shall
get along somehow," and then he wotild repeat the words of Saint
Agatha: Medicinam carnalem corpori meo nunquam exhihui — "I have
never applied carnal medicine to my body." This pain and choking
of the chest, although he never said whether it pained him or not, must,
I am sure, have been severe, as I remember the custom his Rever-
ence had in many of the sermons which he preached in his Missions
among the faithful, and of which I have already spoken, to move his
audience to weep over their sins and to feel sorrow for their wrongdoing.


Besides the chain which he used to take out, in emulation of San
Francisco Solano, and with which he used to chastise himself in the
pulpit in the most cruel manner, he more generally would produce a
large stone which he kept concealed in the pulpit. When he had finished
the sermon and come to the Act of Contrition, he would lift up high in
his left hand the Crucifix and then, taking the stone in the other, he
would begin to give himself blows with such force that those in the
audience often feared he would break his chest and die in the pulpit.

He used also to have another device to move his audience which
he used principally in his sermons about hell and eternity. It was even
more serious, painful and dangerous to his breast. He had a large
taper with four wicks which he lighted, in order that his hearers might
see the soul in sin and under condemnation. He wotdd conclude by
opening his breast (and for this purpose he wore a tunic and habit
which opened in front), and then upon his bare flesh he would apply
the great flame of the taper, while his hearers were melted to tears, some
at the thought of their own sins, and others from compassion for the
zealous preacher, judging that without doubt he had badly burned
his breast. But the fervent Father would come down from the pulpit
without any sign of pain and he would never give the least indication
that he was suffering from what he had done, although it is only natural
to suppose that he suffered much, and that his breast must have been
bruised and burned. From these customs it came about that he en-
dured constantly a certain heaviness of the chest, from which he was
relieved only when he had discharged or vomited certain phlegms.
One of the occasions on which he felt the worst was when the two Mis-
sionaries arrived at the Mission of Monterey. The Venerable Prelate
received them with the affectionate embrace of a father, rejoicing
greatly in their arrival, but regretting at the same time that a larger
number could not have come out in order to make possible the estab-
lishing of the other Missions in the Channel. He thanked God fer-
vently and accepted His Holy Will, continuing to repeat his prayer that
laborers be sent out for the work in the Channel.

As soon as he had some one to take his place in his absence, he deter-
mined to leave at the Mission one of those who had just arrived, who was
the Father Fr. Diego Noboa, from the Province of Santiago de Galicia,
and to go down with the other, named Fr. Juan Riobo, from the same
Province, to San' Diego, the latter to supply any lack that there might


be in the Southern Missions, and then his Reverence wotild make his
last visit to those Missions and confirm their young converts. The
sailing of the vessel was delayed until August and during this time
his malady in the chest grew worse, so that we all judged he would
be in no condition to set sail, much less to return by foot over that
long road.

The Venerable Father President must have felt the same, for on the
day of sailing he wrote to bid me good-bye, and gave me particular
charge of the duties of his office and finished his letter with much grace
and resignation: "I write all this as it may be that I may return by
mail, as I feel very seriously ill. Please commend me to God." In
spite of his being so sick, the fervent flame of zeal which burned in his
heart made him postpone aU thought of his own health or even his life
in his love for his fellowmen, as he did not want to deprive them of the
spiritual benefits of the Holy Sacrament of Confirmation. And as he
saw that he had only until the following July in which to exercise this
right, before the ten years for which it was granted would expire, he did
not wish to omit any opportunity to be diligent in its use, in order that
he might give to them this spiritual good, praying that God in whose
behalf he undertook the voyage would give His aid. With this firm
confidence he set out with the other Father, and arrived without incident
in San Diego in September.

He was no better of his maladies on arrival there but greatly animated
in fervor and spirit, so that immediately he arranged with the Fathers
for the preparation of the neophytes that he might confirm them.
This he did, and then started out on the long journey back to Monterey
of one hundred and seventy leagues, making stops in each Mission and
striving not to leave a single Christian without Confirmation, as this
was to be the last visit he would make in which he would exercise this
faculty. In the Mission of San Gabriel, as the Missionaries afterwards
wrote me, he was so very bad of his chest that they thought he would
die, but he did not cease to recite the prayers, celebrate Mass, and to
confirm, though he did so with such suffering that the little Indian
altar-boys who served the Mass would say to the other Fathers, with
much sympathy and sorrow, whilst the tears would start in their eyes:
"Fathers, the old Father (for so they called him) wants to die." With
that the Fathers were greatly moved and felt a great sorrow of heart,
and more still when he had confirmed all and was ready to set out for


San Buenaventura; they greatly feared he would die on the road, as it is
a distance of thirty leagues with no place intermediate, except the homes
of pagan population.

But God gave him strength to arrive at his dearly beloved Mission
of San Buenaventura (the last which he had founded the year before)
and when he saw there quite a mmiber of Christians where the previous
year he had seen only pagans, he could hardly restrain his joy, and
thanked God. All these he confirmed with especial gladness and rejoic-
ing of heart, so that he seemed to be greatly relieved of his maladies, and
left that place much better in regard to the choking sensation in his

He went through the villages of the gentiles along the twenty
leagues of the coast of the Channel of Santa Barbara, where there were
not less than twenty Indian towns, well constructed and populated with
many people, and in each one of them his heart melted and his tears
flowed as he thought how he had not been allowed to water that field
with his blood in order to bring about their subjugation, because the
field had not been put into his hands. But he did try to water it with
his tears, which were bom of his most fervent desires. He covdd not
help bursting out with the prayer: "Rogate Dominum mesis, ut mittat
operarios in messem suam.'"^' (Matt, ix: 38.) The lack of laborers un-
doubtedly shortened his life, because of the very intense desires he had
for the conversion of the gentiles, for since the moment in which he re-
ceived the news that no Missionaries were to be sent for the Channel,
his heart was greatly oppressed and he offered himself more fervently
to God our Lord in the work of the Propagation of the Faith.

On leaving the Channel he continued his journey, passing through
the two Missions of San Antonio and San Luis Obispo in which he
stopped to confirm the newly baptized converts, and so, covered with
merit, he returned to his own Mission of San Carlos, in January of 1784,
much better in health than when he had set sail in August, causing all to
wonder and rejoice at seeing him once more at home, when they had
thought they would never see him again,

But his arrival at the Mission was not a sign to give rest to his
weary body, which had been biurdened with the long journey, added to
his more than seventy years of age. With greater fervor than ever he
applied himself to the task of cultivating his Vineyard, instructing the
gentiles, baptizing and confirming them, and performiHg the other


routine exercises in which his time was fully taken up. He celebrated
the Lenten season and Holy Week and performed the exercises with his
accustomed devotion, and after Easter when he had finished all the work
of hearing Confessions and giving Holy Communion in compliance with
the precepts of the Church, he prepared to come to these Missions of the
North to make his last visit.



The Last Visit Which He Made to These Missions in the North.

AS soon as the Venerable Father President was somewhat freed from
the more urgent tasks of his Mission, principally those in the ful-
fillment of the precepts of the Church, he set out for these Missions in
order to administer Confirmation for the last time and to bless the
Church of the Mission of Santa Clara for which its Missionaries had
invited him, as they had resolved to dedicate the building on the i6th
of May. His Reverence left his Mission at the end of April, but passed
on without stopping at Santa Clara, postponing Confirmations there
until his return, and so came on to this Mission of Our Father San
Francisco, the point farthest away, where he arrived on the 4th of May
in fairly good health. His presence was a source of great joy to me in
this, the most northerly of the subjugated territory. It was nine
months since the Venerable Father, my Master and Professor, had writ-
ten me, bidding me good-bye, as if we were never to see each other
again. Therefore I was in the liveliest hopes of being able to enjoy the
great happiness of his beloved companionship for a few days in this
Mission; but God disposed otherwise than what we had desired, for he
had been here only two days when I was obliged to leave in all haste for
Santa Clara, as word had been brought that the head Missionary of
that Mission, the Rev. Father Fr. Joseph Antonio Murguia, was seri-
ously ill.

As soon as I received the letter I went to the Venerable Prelate for
his benediction, as I must needs leave him there to attend to the Con-
firmations, and then set out. I found the sick man suffering from a
high fever; I prepared him for the reception of the Holy Sacraments
and on the nth day of the same month of May he gave up his soul to
his Creator, and we all piously believe that he must have gone to rest
among those of the Church Triumphant and to receive from the Lord
the reward for his ardent zeal in the conversion of souls, in which exer-
cise he had been occupied for thirty-six years, twenty in the Missions
among the Pames of the Sierra Gorda, where he was the means of con-


verting many sotds, and where he btiilt a large church, which was the
first in those regions to be built of stone.

He afterwards came from those Missions to the Califomias, working
five years in Old CaUfomia and delivering over those Missions to the
Reverend Dominican Fathers; from there he came to this New California
and founded the Mission of our Seraphic Mother, Santa Clara, leaving
in it when he died more than six htmdred converted Indians. In this
Mission he had just finished building a large church (which, according
to the Reverend Father President, is the best and the largest in all
these settlements) and in which work the late Father had been not only
master, director and overseer, but also day laborer, teaching the con-
verted Indians how to do the work. Having concluded it in order to
celebrate the dedication on the i6th of May, God saw fit to take him to
himself on the nth of the month, without doubt, as we piously believe,
in order that he might receive a larger reward in heaven.

The especially warm aflEection which I always felt for this religious
since the year 1750 when we first met and began to be companions in
the ministry, and imtil his death, when God permitted that I was to be
the one to administer to him the Holy Sacraments to assist him in his
last hours, and also the great affection which he had for me, makes it
right that I should record here this tribute to his memory. No less was
the affection which the Venerable Father Junipero had for him, as he
always considered him a model religious, and a great laborer in the Vine-
yard of the Lord, and it wiU be remembered from certain letters which
I have copied and recorded in this narrative, how earnestly he had re-
quested that he should be sent out to these new Missions. In spite of
this great affection which he had for him, his Reverence was not able to
be present at his death-bed on account of the violence of the fever and
the long distance of fifteen leagues to the place where the Reverend
Father was occupied in administering Confirmation at this Mission of
Our Father. As soon as he had finished, after having confirmed all
the converts, he came on to Santa Clara in company with the Governor,
who had been invited to act as sponsor at the dedication of the church.

They arrived at the Mission on the isth, in the morning, when we
received them almost in silence, on account of the great grief which
almost sealed otir lips in view of the loss of the Father who had worked
so hard to build this church, which they were now coming to bless, and
from which, five days before the dedication, God had taken him away in


order to give him his reward in heaven. In the afternoon the ceremony
of blessing took place with all solemnity according to the Roman ritual,
the whole congregation of neophytes and many pagans being present, as
were also the troops and the colonists from the town of San Jos^ of
Guadalupe. On the next day, which was the fifth Sunday after Easter,
the day of the Dedication of the Basilica of Our Holy Father, San
Francisco, the Reverend Father President sang the Mass and preached
to the people with all his usual fervor and eloquence. When the Mass
was finished he administered Confirmation to as many as had been pre-

Although I expected to return to my Mission, the Reverend Father
detained me, saying that he wished to prepare himself for death, as it
might be we would not see each other again, and as he felt so seriously
ill that it covild not now be very long before the end wotdd come. He
spent some days in spiritual exercises, and made a General Confession,
or repeated the Confession which he had made at other times, shedding
many tears, but no more than I, as I feared that this would be the last
time that I should see him, as it could not be what both of us so much
desired, viz., that we should die together, or, at least, that one should be
able to accompany the other in his last moments, and as his Reverence
was looking forward to going back to his Mission and I to mine, making
a distance between us of forty-two leagues, all inhabited by pagans, it
would not be easy for us to enjoy this privilege. But it pleased the
Father of Mercies and the God of all Consolation to grant me this com-
forting privilege after all, as we shall see in the following chapter.

During the days in which he lingered in Santa Clara he spent the
time preparing for death, but he was also occupied in the holy exercise of
baptizing a few who came in (he was always greedy to perform this
sejivice and seemed never to tire of it), and in confirming the neophytes
who had not received this Holy Sacrament. As there were a few who,
on account of sickness, were not able to come to the church, his Rever-
ence went out to the village to confirm them in their homes, in order that
they might not be deprived of this good, and so he did not leave a single
Christian there who had not been confirmed. On the very day in which
he performed the last of these Confirmations he started for his Mission
of Monterey, leaving me to bear the burden of a grief which was the
result of the most filial affection.

As soon as he arrived at his Mission, which was early in June, he


sent back to Santa Clara, to act in the stead of the late Father Murguia,
the extra Missionary who had been stationed in Monterey, Fr. Diego
Noboa, and his Reverence took up anew his Apostolic labors, giving
himself to the instruction of all those who had not yet been confirmed,
so that they might be before the period of ten years for which this Com-
mission and Faculty should expire, which was on the i6th of July of this
same year, 1784. When that day arrived he had performed this cere-
mony upon all those who were in his Mission, so that there was not a sin-
gle neophjrte who had not been confirmed. When his Reverence saw
that his faculties had expired, there had been confirmed by him five
thousand three hundred and seven persons. It seemed that on that
same day, the i6th of July, he might have said what the great Apostle
to the Gentiles had said, "Cursum consumavi, fidem servavi" (I have
finished my course, I have kept the faith), for it seems as though on
that same day the announcement arrived which prophesied his early
death, as we shall see.

Upon this same i6th day of July there anchored in this port of
San Francisco one of the vessels which came from San Bias, bringing
provisions and supplies, and by it were brought letters from which he
learned that the laborers who were to come on this vessel for the found-
ing of the Missions in the Channel were not to be sent. As the letter
from the Reverend Father Guardian explained, it was due to the
reduced number of Friars who were at present at the College, as some
had died and others had returned to Spain after the expiration of their
terms of service at the Missions. The letter closed by saying that for
some years no news had been received from Spain.

This information was a hard blow to the fervent heart of the Vener-
able Father Junipero, because he saw his desires frustrated for those
Missions which he had so hoped to found before his death. When he
read that this was no longer possible it seems as though he also read in
the same letter the announcement of his own death, if it may not be said
that he had a more certain communication on that point, for from what
he did, it seems that he expected the end to come soon. As soon as the
letters had been received from the vessel, he wrote, as he was accus-
tomed to do, to the various Missions telling the Missionaries of the ar-
rival of the vessel and forwarding them the letters. To those who were
farthest to the South he wrote, bidding farewell for eternity, as I found
out some two weeks after his death from a letter which was sent in


answer to his and which 'had reference to this farewell clause. To the
Fathers of the near-by Missions of San Antonio (twenty-five leagues),
and San Luis [Obispo] (fifty leagues) , he wrote saying that he would be glad
to have one Father from each Mission come, in order to receive the sup-
plies which the vessel had brought, and because he very much desired to
speak with them and to bid them good-bye as it might be the last oppor-
tunity. To me he wrote asking me to come to Monterey either by
vessel or by land as it might seem best. From what afterward happened
it can be seen that he did this in order that we might be present at his
death, and it would have come out so, if the Fathers from the Missions
of San Antonio and San Luis [Obispo] had received their letters as soon
as I did.



The Exemplary Death of the Venerable Father Junipero.

UPON receipt of the letter of the Reverend Father President, in
which he asked me to go to Monterey, although he did not ask me
to come quickly, I decided I had better go by land as the vessel would
be delayed in sailing. I arrived at the Mission of San Carlos on the
1 8th of August and found his Reverence very weak indeed, although
he was up and around, though with a heaviness on his chest. But for
aU that he did not refrain from going to Chturch in the afternoon to
recite the Christian Doctrine and the prayers with the neophytes, con-
cluding the vespers with the tender and devout hymn which the Vener-
able Father Margil had composed in honor of the Assumption of Our
Lady, in whose Octave we happened to be. On hearing him sing with
his usual natiu-al voice, I said to a soldier who was standing by and
speaking with me, that the Father President did not seem to be so very
sick. To this the soldier replied (he had known him since the year 1 769),
"Father, we must not be too confident; he is sick, but this Saintly
Father, when it comes to prajdng and singing, is always well; but he is
almost finished."

The next day, which was the 19th of the month, he charged me with
the singing of the Mass in honor of the most Holy Patriarch, Saint
Joseph, as he was accustomed to do every month, saying that he was not
well enough to do it. I did so, but his Reverence did not faU to take his
place in the choir, and sing with the neophytes, and repeat the seven
"Our Fathers" and the usual prayers. In the afternoon he did not fail
to repeat the prayers and to sing the verses of the Virgin, and on the
next day, which was Friday, he took part in the usual exercise of the
Stations of the Cross in the church with all the people.

We took up, one by one, the points which he had called me to discuss
with him while we were waiting for the arrival of the vessel. But he
always caused me to fear his death was near at hand, because, whenever
he entered into his little room or cell, which was made of adobe, we would
find him very much absorbed and quiet, although his companion told


me that he had been that way ever since the Faculty to Confirm had
expired, which, as I have said, was on the same day in which the vessel
anchored in the port of these establishments. Five days after my arri-
val at Monterey the packet-boat came in. Immediately the royal
surgeon came out to the Mission to visit the Reverend Father President,
and finding him so distressed with his chest trouble he proposed to apply
some plasters in order to draw out the humor which had gathered in his
breast. He replied that he might apply as many of these kinds of medic-
aments as he pleased. He did so without any other effect than that of
adding to the pain of the afflicted body, but neither this strong remedy,
nor the other pains from which he suffered, produced from him the slight-
est indication of any feeling, and he went about as if he had none of
these maladies and were quite well. As there had been brought out on
the vessel some cloth for the supply of the Mission, he set about cutting
it with his own hands and distributing it among the converts to cover
their nakedness.

On the 2Sth of August he mentioned to me how sorry he felt that the
Fathers had not come from the two Missions of San Antonio and San
Luis Obispo and that he feared that the letters had been delayed.
Immediately I sent to the presidio and the messenger came back with
the letters saying that they had forgotten to send them. As soon as I
had informed myself of their contents and saw that it was to invite them
to come to bid him farewell, I sent off a messenger with the letters, add-
ing in the postscript that they must come as soon as possible, as I feared

Online LibraryFrancisco PalóuFrancisco Palou's life and apostolic labors of the Venerable Father Junípero Serra, founder of the Franciscan missions of California → online text (page 27 of 35)