When one considers what the Franciscan friars accomplished in the 18th Century, one has to wonder how on earth they did it.
These men came from modest families in the outer areas of Imperial Spain. Even if their families were blooded and members of the aristocracy, they certainly had little or no background in the crafts needed to create self-supporting communities. What education they did received was ecclesiastical. They studied the bible and the teachings of the Catholic church. They spent more time kneeling in prayer than in actual physical activities.
Like Father Serra, most felt called upon to set forth to the New World, a place of danger in which they saw the opportunity to bring heathens to the Word of God. They endured dangerous journeys in leaky ships on which they had little in the way of decent food. They landed on the east coast of New Spain to be faced with a trek of several hundreds of miles to a place where they continued their education in things felt necessary to their calling.
I must admit that this is a place where my research into this era falls short. I have been unable to gather little information on the Franciscan mission to the College of San Fernando. I am certain it is contained in the archives somewhere but have yet found a source to provide me with more than the bare essentials of a school for priests.
Fathers Serra, Palóu and Crespí were but three of many who passed through the college to go on to places in Mexico [Majica as known to the inhabitants of that land]. These three first went into the rugged Sierra Gorda mountains. Eventually Fr. Serra was made President of five Sierra Gorda missions. He built the Church of Santiago de Jalpan, which is still in use, and supervised the founding of the four other churches. After being appointed as a professor at the college, he once again was given the chance to conduct a mission in Mexico. Fr. Serra's missionary activity during these years was mostly in south and central Mexico, in what is modem Oaxaca, Morelia, Puebla, and Guadalajara; the region east of Sierra Gorda; and in the province of Mesquital, part of Mazatlan [eastern Mexico]. The work was very exhausting, and the only rest he had was during the time required to go from one town to another or the return to the college after a mission. One time he was poisoned, someone putting rattlesnake venom in the chalice. He refused an antidote but recovered just the same.
But, to continue about what the friars had to do besides teaching new disciples and conducting holy rites. They were called upon to construct European style buildings in a land where permanent structures were unknown. The Indians lived in crude shelters made of twigs, limbs and brush, open to the breezes. The friars had to find the materials and shape them to be used for building not only places of worship but places to live and conduct the various trades.
Then, as if that were not enough, in order to put it all together, they had to be carpenters, masons, potters, farmers, herders, veterinarians, doctors, linguists, and teachers. Where on earth did they learn all of this.
Reviewing genealogy records for the period shows that most of the soldiers who served with the friars at the missions were poorly-educated men who had few skills beyond their military duties. Some were farmers and all knew horsemanship and how to care for their animals. I guess this is where the Indians learned to becomes such outstanding vaqueros in such a short time.
More about these amazing men in my next post.