Zephyrin Engelhardt.

The holy man of Santa Clara; or Life, virtues and miracles of Fr. Magin Catalá, O.F.M online

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Holy Man of Santa Clara


Life, Virtues, and Miracles





Author of
"The Franciscans in California,"

"The Franciscans in Arizona,"
"The Missions and Missionaries."

"It was not what we read of the
saints that made them saints; it was
what we do not read of them
that enabled them to be what we
wonder at while we read." (Fr. F. W.
Faber, "Growth in Holiness," p. 303.)



1 9O9



Sacr. Theol. Lector

Censor deputalus



Sacr. Theol. Lector

Censor deputatus

Imprimi JJrrmttlilijr


Minister Provincialis



Archiepiscopus Sancti Francisci, Cal.

Die 28 Junii, 1909

Copyright, 1909,




Commissary Provincial

of the
Franciscans on the Pacific Coast


It is with much diffidence that the author
offers this little volume to the reading public.
There is vastly more in the life of a saint than
appears on the surface. In order that it re-
ceive just treatment it should be written by a
saint. Gladly would the author have left the
task to a worthier pen, but obedience decreed
otherwise. He, therefore, decided to take
purely historical ground, and herewith pre-
sents the facts obtained through long and criti-
cal research. He believes that this course will
after all best serve the cause of Fr. Magin
Catala. May the holy servant of God forgive
what was written amiss.

In compliance with the Decree of Pope Ur-
ban VIII. , the author hereby declares that he
claims only human belief for the miracles, rev-
elations, graces, and other incidents attributed
to Fr. Magin Catala; that the terms holy,
saintly, and similar expressions, as applied to
the servant of God, are employed in a wider
sense, and not in the sense bestowed upon the
servants of God already canonized by the Holy
Roman Church ; that he professes himself an
obedient son of the same Holy Roman Church ;
and that he reverently submits to her decision
whatever he has written in this book.




California. Discovery of Gold. The Missions and
Missionaries. Fr. Magin Catala's Birth, Baptism,
Parents. Enters the Franciscan Order.

EVER since the discovery of gold in Northern
California, men of almost every nation
under the sun flocked to the Pacific Coast. Some
braved the hardships of the deserts and the
cruelties of the savages by making their way
through the country afoot, on horseback, or in
wagons of every description ; others took passage
on the Atlantic Coast to cross the continent at the
Isthmus of Panama, or sailed around Cape Horn
to reach the Golden Gate. All came animated
with the one desire of improving their temporal
fortunes. The country was new to them and to
the world at large, yet it was not a new country.
Others had preceded the fortune-hunters. It
had been discovered three hundred years before
the little town at the entrance of the famous bay
changed its Spanish name Yerba Buena to that
of the glorious Saint of Assisi. Carmelite friars,
accompanying Sebastian Vizcaino, had celebrated
the Holy Sacrifice on the shores of Monterey
Bay in December, 1602. Eighty years before the
region of the Sacramento began to surrender its
metallic treasures, Franciscan friars, vowed to
poverty and to contempt for that same metal,
had commenced Christianizing the degraded na-


tives of the coast and were developing a system
of civilization which has since forced the admira-
tion of the shrewdest statesmen as well as the ap-
probation of the most sentimental humanitarians,
and has afforded an inexhaustible theme for the
bard as well as the traveler.

The period of eighty years immediately pre-
ceding the arrival of the gold-diggers marks the
golden age of the California natives. During
this time, through the combined efforts of the
voluntarily poor Catholic friars and the naturally
poor Indians, twenty-one missionary establish-
ments arose and dotted the coast region from San
Diego to Sonoma. One hundred and forty-six
Franciscan priests, without any worldly compen-
sation whatsoever, there devoted themselves to
the arduous task of raising the savages to the
plane of Christian manhood and womanhood.
Nearly one-half of this faithful band of apostolic
laborers fell at their post among their dusky
wards as victims of Catholic zeal for the salva-
tion of immortal souls.

Among those that volunteered for this life of
hardship and self-denial in the missions of Cali-
fornia Fr. Magin Catala stands conspicuous for
zeal, sanctity, and an uncommonly long term of
missionary activity in one place. This servant of
God was born on the 29th or the 30th of Janu-
ary, 1761, at Montblanch, in the province of
Catalonia and the archdiocese of Tarragona,



Spain. His parents, Matias Catala, a notary, and
Francisca Catala y Guasch, were exemplary
Christians. An uncle was a secular priest and
beneficiary of the church at Montblanch. In
baptism, which was administered on Saturday,
January 31st, by the Rev. Jose Montanez y
Murtra, parish priest of St. Mary Major at
Montblanch, the child received the names Ma-
gin,* Jose, Matias. The sponsors were Raimundo
and Josef a Catala. On August 7th, 1767, when
little more than six years of age, Magin received
the Sacrament of Confirmation in the same par-
ish church at the hands of the Most Rev. Juan
Lario Lanzis, Archbishop of Tarragona. This is
all we know of Fr. Magin's childhood.

Matias and Francisca Catala must have trained
their child in the path of virtue ; for, at the early
age of sixteen years, Magin sought refuge from
the allurements of the world in the Order of
Friars Minor by taking the habit of St. Francis
at the monastery of Barcelona on April 4th, 1777.
One year later he pronounced the vows of obedi-
ence, chastity, and poverty, without taking an-
other name on that occasion as is customary in
Spanish countries. When he had finished the
usual classical and higher studies, the young
cleric was elevated to the priesthood, probably
in the year 1785. Neither the date nor the year

* Vide Appendix A.


could be ascertained from the archives of the
Spanish monastery, owing to the fact that the re-
ligious houses in Spain have at different times
been subjected to the rapacity of unscrupulous
politicians, who under one pretext or another
despoiled the convents of their archives and
libraries as well as of everything else that ap-
peared valuable.


Dearth of Missionaries. Fr. Magin Goes to America.
Vandalism of the Liberal Politicians. Chap-
lain on the Nootka Ship. Arrives at Monterey.
Reaches Santa Clara.

AT the period when Fr. Magin became priest
there was much need of apostolic laborers
in the missions of the Friars Minor in America.
After the unjust and cruel expulsion of the Jesuits
from the Spanish dominions, the government had
directed the Franciscans to take charge of the de-
serted establishments. Though already employed
to the limit of their numbers among the Indians
of New Mexico, Florida, Texas, and many parts
of Mexico, they accepted the trust with all its
hardships, and sent their religious into Lower
California, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Arizona. Later
the missions of Upper California were founded.
This increased the sore need of more missionaries.
Frequent appeals were sent to the friars in Spain
to come to the assistance of their brethren in
America, and there were always found those that
expressed willingness to sacrifice their beloved
solitude for the privilege of toiling in the vine-
yard of the Lord. Life in the Indian missions at
its best was wearisome and full of trials. Gen-
erally it taxed virtue as well as mind and body,
and martyrdom could be expected even in Cali-
fornia. Nevertheless a great many religious vol-


unteered. From among these the most suitable
and most solidly virtuous were selected to join
their brethren in the Western Hemisphere ; for,
while no one, as St. Francis himself had com-
manded, could be sent out who in the opinion of
the superiors seemed unsuitable, no one was to
be refused permission whose piety and fitness ap-
peared evident.

Among the friars whom zeal for immortal souls
prompted to apply for the American missions in
1786 were Fathers Jose de la Cruz Espi and
Magin Catala, the latter but recently ordained.
After receiving the blessing of the Fr. Guardian
and the embrace of their brethren, both sailed
from Cadiz in October, 1786. As soon as they
reached the City of Mexico, probably at the close
of the year, they were incorporated into the mis-
sionary college or Franciscan seminary of San
Fernando, which institution trained and sup-
plied the apostolic men that spent their lives in
the midst of the California natives. Whilst Fr.
Jose Espi was at once sent as chaplain with a
ship in the Pacific ocean, Fr. Magin Catala, it
seems, was employed in the seminary or in
preaching missions to the Mexicans. At all
events, we read nothing about him until six years
later, and the reason is the same that prevents us
from obtaining particulars regarding the early
youth of the servant of God. As in Portugal,
Spain, Italy and France, so also in Mexico the


monasteries and convents, raised and furnished
through the abstemiousness of their inmates, at
different periods were looted or confiscated by
the respective anti-Christian governments that
succeeded one another. Some officials, not satis-
fied with plundering the homes of peace, prayer,
and charity, wantonly destroyed what they could
not utilize. Thus in 1864 the rabid Juarez faction
made bonfires of the archives of the famous San
Fernando College, so that there are no records
left to enlighten us with regard to the life of Fr.
Magin in Mexico.

Fortunately the Archives of Santa Barbara,
California, contain a letter addressed by Fr. Fran-
cisco Pangua, the guardian of San Fernando Col-
lege, to Fr. Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, the su-
perior of the California missions, which gives
some information about Fr. Magin's coming to
the Pacific Coast. It seems that the servant of
God urged his superiors to permit him to labor
for the conversion of the savages, that his peti-
tion was at last granted, and that the Fr. Guard-
ian only waited for an opportunity to transfer
the zealous volunteer to California. The oppor-
tunity arrived in 1793.

At this period Spanish vessels plied between
Mexico and the great Northwest Coast as far as
Nootka Sound on the western shore of what is
now Vancouver Island, in forty-nine and one-half
degrees north. This bay had been discovered in


the forepart of August, 1774, by Captain Juan
Perez, who had sailed from Monterey on June
llth, accompanied by the Franciscans Fr. Juan
Crespi and Fr. Tomas de la Pefia. Spain, there-
fore, claimed the territory by right of discovery,
and Spanish ships frequently visited Nootka
Sound until the king abandoned the region in
1794. The Spanish government generally in-
sisted that chaplains should accompany the sailors
on these voyages. Religious Orders were un-
willing to furnish priests for such expeditions,
because this kind of employment was foreign to
their objects and hazardous for the spiritual well-
being of the individual religious. When secular
priests, however, could not be secured, the gov-
ernment called upon some religious community
which then found it advisable to yield. Such a
demand brought Fr. Magin to the Pacific Coast.
In his communication Fr. Guardian Francisco
Pangua under date of November 21st, 1792,
notified Fr. Lasuen that two religious would
soon set out for California, Fr. Jose de la
Cruz Espi, a native of Valencia, who in years
past had acted as chaplain on an expedition to
Nootka, and Fr. Magin Catala. The Fr. Guard-
ian made the additional remark that both were
good and peaceful laborers. The two Fathers,
it seems, arrived at Monterey in July, 1793.
While Fr. Espi was at once assigned to Mission
San Antonio, Fr. Magin, after an understanding


with the Fr. Presidente and in compliance with
the directions of the Fr. Guardian, accompanied
the crew of the frig-ate Aranzazu to Nootka
Sound. The vessel was in charge of Cap-
tain Juan Kendrick. Of the movements of the
vessel we could discover nothing until June
the following year. On the fifteenth of that
month, 1794, Don Ramon A. Saavedra wrote
from Nootka to Governor Jose Joaquin Arril-
laga of California, that "the Rev. Fr. Magin
Catala, who accompanies the frigate Aranzazu
as chaplain, has orders to remain at one of the
missions of California. Your Honor will there-
fore please take the necessary steps that the
crew of that vessel be not without spiritual care
and that, with the consent of the Fr.
Presidente, one of the missionaries who are re-
tiring to the motherhouse be appointed, or that
Fr. Catala himself be bound to continue the voy-
age as chaplain."

When on July 2d, 1794, trie Aranzazu reached
Monterey, Fr. Magin declined to act as chaplain
any longer, inasmuch as he had been destined for
the missions among the Indians. It appears that
the governor requested him to make another voy-
age to Nootka. In reply the servant of God on
July 12th, 1794, addressed the following letter to
Arrillaga :

"Dear Governor : In response to what you say
in your letter of yesterday, I must inform you


that to my deep regret I am not able to comply
with your request asking me to continue as chap-
lain of the frigate Aranzazii on her voyage to
Nootka, as the captain of that ship desires ; for,
apart from the hardships of the voyages to that
port where I spent thirteen months in the midst
of no small difficulties, I have in the present cir-
cumstances the weighty reason that I must con-
sider myself one of the missionaries of this New
California, for which task I have been designated.
In virtue of this appointment I can in no manner
dispose of my person without previous orders
from the Fr. Presidente of these missions, whose
subject I am.

"Notwithstanding all I have said just now, I
am desirous, as far as I am concerned, of con-
tributing to the relief of the necessity which Your
Honor has explained to me. I have wished to
show how much I am interested in the welfare
of souls. When I therefore learned that the Rev.
Fr. Presidente agreed to comply with the order
of Don Ramon Saavedra, commander of the es-
tablishment at Nootka, to the extent that the Rev.
Chaplain of the frigate Concepcion should go on
board the Aranzazu, and that his place should be
filled by one of the missionaries about to retire to
Mexico, I have taken it upon myself to urge the
Rev. Fr. Bartholome Gili (who had expressed his
willingness to me of complying with the orders of
Saavedra), to gladly exercise the duties of chap-


lain on the frigate Concepcion, although he has
been informed that he would have, to make the
voyage as far as Acapulco, and from there back
to San Bias. I send Your Honor this informa-
tion to the end that, if it pleases you, you might
communicate it to the commander of the Aran-
zazu, and advise me of your good pleasure."

The difficulty was amicably settled in accord-
ance with Fr. Magin's proposition. The Rev.
Jose Gomez, a secular priest, who had come up
from Mexico as chaplain in the Concepcion,
took the place of the servant of God in the Aran-
zazu, which was to return to Nootka, and Fr.
Bartholome Gili, one of the Fathers retiring to
Mexico, on account of ill-health, filled Rev. Jose
Gomez's place on the Concepcion when she sailed
for Mexico.

Whether Fr. Magin at once traveled to Santa
Clara from Monterey by land or took ship for
San Francisco and thence made his way to his
destination, is not clear. Certain it is that, as the
mission records show, he baptized a child at Mis-
sion Dolores, San Francisco, on August 25th, and
that he officiated there at burials on August 20th
and 30th, 1794. His name appears for the first
time in the baptismal record of Santa Clara on
Monday, September 1st, 1794, when he baptized
a boy infant who holds number 2510 in the regis-
ter. That many had been received into the


Church of God there since January 12th, 1777,
when Fr. Junipero Serra founded the mission.

From that day on Fr. Magin labored zealously
and without interruption at Santa Clara for
thirty-six years. Nor did he leave the boundaries
of the mission except a few times in the first years
of his ministry. He was present at the founding
of Mission San Juan Bautista on June 24th,
1797, and on that occasion Fr. Lasuen took him
along to San Carlos. This was the only time, as
far as the records show, that he ever saw the
headquarters of the California missions after his
arrival at Santa Clara. Though the lands of
Mission San Jose adjoined those of his own mis-
sion, Fr. Magin seems to have made but five
visits there, and then only for the purpose of as-
sisting the Fathers in administering baptism to
the multitude of converts that applied for admis-
sion. After 1798 until his death, a period of
thirty-two years, the holy man, as far as we
know, never went beyond the limits of Mission
Santa Clara, save for the purpose of winning
converts among the pagans as far as the San
Joaquin River.


State of the Mission. Fr. Magin's Love of His
Rules. His Mortification. His Illness. Asks
to be Retired. His Zeal. Local Difficulties.
Dullness of the Indians. Statistics.

WHEN Fr. Magin arrived at Santa Clara he
was made assistant to Fr. Francisco Mi-
guel Sanchez, along with Fr. Manuel Fernandez,
and from August, 1796, with Fr. Jose Viader,
until Fr. Sanchez departed for San Gabriel in
October, 1797. Thereafter his only companion
for thirty-three years was Fr. Viader. The In-
dian population of the mission in 1794 consisted
of fourteen hundred souls. The livestock num-
bered 4200 head of cattle, 1000 sheep, 628 horses,
and sixteen mules. The harvest during that year
amounted to 3300 bushels of wheat, 1100 bushels
of corn, 95 bushels of beans, 26 bushels of len-
tils, etc. Twenty-four cattle were slaughtered
every Saturday to furnish meat for the members
of the Indian community. The converts and
catechumens were employed in the fields, among
the livestock, and at various kinds of mechanical
labor. There were rooms in one part of the mis-
sion buildings for spinning wool, for weaving
cloth, making clothes, shoes, candles and soap.
In other parts carpenters, blacksmiths, saddlers,
tanners, etc., plied their trade. Thus, for in-
stance, in 1792 as many as 2000 hides were


tanned. Almost everything used or consumed by
the Indians and Fathers was produced or manu-
factured by the natives under the supervision of
the missionaries.

Though the constant solicitude for the spiritual
and temporal welfare of the Indians, learning the
language, preaching, instructing, administering
the sacraments, visiting the sick, searching for
converts in the mountains and plains, and bearing
patiently with the dullness and rudeness of his
wards, taken altogether required a spirit of self-
sacrifice, Fr. Magin continued to observe the
Rules of his Order and of his missionary college
in every particular. To the prescribed fasts and
abstinences and other penitential practices he
added other austerities and long hours of prayer
and contemplation. Very soon he contracted
chronic inflammatory rheumatism, which afflicted
him throughout his missionary life. At times his
maladies hampered his work to such an extent
that he felt in duty bound to ask to be retired
as one unfit for the arduous task. Under the
rules issued by the Spanish kings, a religious that
volunteered for the Indian missions had to serve
laudably at least ten years, or until he was dis-
abled, before he could retire with the permission
of the superior and the consent of the governor.
The time of service was computed from the day
of incorporation into the missionary college. Fr.
Magin, having served more than ten years in


America, though only six years in California, in
1800 applied for a permit on the ground of con-
tinuous ill-health. Fr. Lasuen, the Presidente or
superior, granted the request. Whether his
health somewhat improved, or whether some other
potent consideration moved him to postpone his
departure, we do not know ; at all events he did
not avail himself of the license to retire. Four
years later, having completed the ten years' ser-
vice in California, and being withal more broken
in health than ever, he again asked permission
to leave for the mother college in Mexico. Fr.
Estevan Tapis, the superior of the missions, re-
luctantly granted the request ; but once more the
zealous man allowed himself to be persuaded, and
then resolved, come what might, to sacrifice him-
self for the good of his dusky wards, and to con-
tinue suffering for them, if perchance he should
not be able to do more.

Thus it was that Fr. Magin limped along for
twenty-six years more, bereft of all comforts or
conveniences. In addition he mortified his poor,
ailing body by various means which only a most
penitential spirit could suggest. From a letter
of his companion, Fr. Jose Viader, dated April
6th, 1812, and addressed to Fr. Presidente Tapis,
we learn that another malady afflicted Fr. Magin.
"I am well," he writes, "but Fr. Magin is troubled
with catarrh, though it is nothing alarming,
thanks be to God. He is in bed He is


infirm and disabled." Though his afflictions in-
creased with the years, the venerable Father
would insist on preaching to the people and visit-
ing the sick. During the last four years of his
life he found it impossible to administer baptism
or attend funerals, as he could not stand on his
feet. Hence it is that no baptisms were entered in
the records by him after October 27th, 1827. Fr.
Viader had managed the temporal affairs for
many years, though not without consulting his
senior companion, as he states in a letter to the
governor ; after October, 1827, he alone had also
to administer the sacraments. Though Fr. Magin
could neither walk nor stand in the last two years
of his life, he would instruct the Indians and
preach to the people in general. For this pur-
pose he would sit before the Communion railing
in the sanctuary, and from there address the
faithful in his usual forcible and fervent manner.
He appeared so weak at times that the audience
would shed tears of sympathy for their pastor.
More frequently, however, they were moved to
tears by his vivid descriptions of the truths of

The flock of Fathers Magin and Viader con-
sisted of the Santa Clara Mission Indians and of
the settlers of San Jose, three miles distant.
After 1804 the town of San Jose had a chapel of
its own. On Sundays and holydays of obliga-
tion one of the two Fathers had therefore to cele-


brate holy Mass among the settlers. However,
the main work of the missionaries lay among the
natives. The management of the California In-
dians was fraught with peculiar difficulties, as we
can see from a report which Fathers Catala and
Viader drew up in reply to a number of ques-
tions forwarded by the viceroy in 1814. The
Fathers explained that three Indian languages
were spoken at Mission Santa Clara ; two of
these were similar to each other, but the third
was altogether different from the other two.
There was no inclination on the part of the
natives to learn reading or writing, wherefore
both arts were taught to those only that showed
any desire and capacity for them. The virtues
especially noticeable among the Indians were love
for their relatives, submissiveness, and modesty
in dress among the women. Their vices, on the
other hand, were lying, stealing, gambling, dan-
cing, immoralities, and infant murder or race-
suicide. Superstitions also prevailed, inasmuch
as offerings were made to demons and sorcerers
were consulted.

The existence of vices and superstitions among
the neophytes must have been a source of much
grief especially to good Fr. Magin. Hence we
need not wonder to find him so insistent on teach-
ing the truths of religion to the carnal, ignorant,
and stolid natives. He also insisted that all re-
ceive the Sacraments at least during Easter time ;


yet with all his fatherly solicitude, and despite
the simplicity and clearness of his instructions,

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