The men listed below were key figures in the formation of the California mission system.
Each devoted many years of their lives, traveling and working under hard and sometimes dangerous conditions, to establish and expand the mission communities.
Saint Junípero Serra (1713-1784)
Often called the “father of the California Missions,” Junípero Serra did more than any other man to advance the Catholic church and beliefs in California. He was an indefatigable explorer, organizer and administrator. Pope John Paul II beatified Serra (made him a candidate for sainthood) in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in 2015. Both Spain and the United States have honored Serra with postage stamps bearing his likeness.
Serra undoubtedly had a major impact on the settlement of California, but he has also been criticized for the abuse of the California Indians, and the destruction of their culture. In his writings, he sometimes justified the beating of Indians employed by the missions, as children who needed correction. However, more frequently he stood up for the Indians against ranchers and civil authorities who were attempting to enslave them.
In an interesting historical note, Serra took up collections among his parishes to support the American Revolution, and sent the funds to General George Washington.
Serra’s remains are interred at Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo.
Junípero Serra Founded:
|1||San Diego de Alcalá||1769||San Diego|
|2||San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo||1770||Carmel|
|3||San Antonio de Padua||1771||Jolon (Ft. Hunter-Liggett)|
|5||San Luis Obispo de Tolosa||1772||San Luis Obispo|
|7||San Juan Capistrano||1776||San Juan Capistrano|
|8||Santa Clara de Asís||1777||Santa Clara|
Don Gaspár de Portolá (1723-1784)
An experienced and able military leader, Don Gaspár de Portolá served as Governor of Baja and Alta California from 1768-1770. He organized the expedition to colonize Alta California, and personally led the parties that settled San Diego and Monterey.
We have no information on Father Cambón; if you can help, please contact us.
We have no information on Father Somera; if you can help, please contact us.
Pedro Cambón and Angel Somera Founded:
|4||San Gabriel Arcángel||1771||San Gabriel|
Francisco Palóu (1723–1789)
Palóu was a close associate of Junípero Serra, and wrote a biography of his life, as well as two books about the history of the missions.
Following Serra’s death, Palóu was named temporary president of the California mission system, until he was succeeded by Father Fermín Francisco de Lasuén.
Francisco Palóu Founded:
|6||San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores)||1776||San Francisco|
Fermín Francisco de Lasuén (1736-1803)
An able successor to Junípero Serra, Lasuén doubled the number of missions, and more than doubled the number of converts. He also greatly increased the productivity and wealth of the missions by emphasizing the development of mission farms, herds, and industries.
He is credited with introducing the adobe wall and tile roofarchitecture commonly associated with the California missions.
Fermín Francisco de Lasuén Founded:
|10||Santa Barbara||1786||Santa Barbara|
|11||La Purísima Concepción||1787||Lompoc|
|12||Santa Cruz||1791||Santa Cruz|
|13||Nuestra Señora de la Soledad||1791||Soledad|
|15||San Juan Bautista||1797||San Juan Bautista|
|16||San Miguel Arcángel||1797||San Miguel|
|17||San Fernando Rey de España||1797||Mission Hills|
|18||San Luis Rey de Francia||1798||San Luis Rey|
Pedro Estévan Tápis (1754-1825)
When Fermín Francisco de Lasuén died in 1803, Tápis became acting head of the California Mission system. He was subsequently re-elected to the position three times, and served until 1812.
He retired to San Juan Bautista, where he taught singing to the Indians. Among his other accomplishments, he developed a color-coded system of musical notation which could be easily taught to novices.
Pedro Estévan Tápis Founded:
Vicente Francisco de Sarría (1767-1835)
Sarría was noted for baptizing John Gilroy, who arrived at Monterey in 1814, and was the first foreigner to settle in the Spanish territory of Alta California.
Father Sarría headed the California Mission system from 1823 to 1825.
Where he was unable to find a priest for Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, he assumed the position himself. He is said to have died at the altar.
His body is interred at Mission San Antonio de Padua.
Vicente Francisco de Sarría Founded:
|20||San Rafael Arcángel||1817||San Rafael|
Altamira was an ambitious man; he founded Mission San Francisco de Solano at Sonoma without church authorization, and led the first expedition to Napa Valley.
However, he was a harsh and cruel leader. His abuse of the Indian novices led to a revolt, and Father Altimira fled toMission San Rafael Arcángel. He returned in disgrace to Spain in 1828.
José Altimira Founded:
|21||San Francisco de Solano||1823||Sonoma|