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  • Educational Methods of the Franciscans in Spanish California
  • Daniel D. McGarry

THE MISSION, so fundamental in the transformation of colonial Hispanic America, has been characterized as the “kingpin” in Spain’s New World frontier system.1 The culminating stage in the evolution of the mission system, as well as the final fling of Spain’s “aggressive-defensive” in America, is to be found in Alta California.2 For the missionary sons of St. Francis, the achievements of their Fernandinos on our present Southwest Pacific slope constituted a fitting installment in a long series of “spiritual and temporal conquests.”3 During the sixty-five years between 1769 and 1834, over 80,000 Indians appear to have been baptized by the Franciscans in California.4 These savages were not only converted to Christianity, but also, in greater or lesser degree, habituated to Christian practices and morality, civilized, agriculturalized, industrialized and Hispanicized.5 This despite the fact that the California natives were described as a heterogeneous lot of culturally destitute, peripheral peoples, among the most backward and abject of American red men.6 For the Franciscans, the Gospel and whatsoever might be necessary thereto must be taught to every human creature.7 The distinguished lineage of mission [End Page 335] methods in California may be traced back to the Sierra Gorda and southern Texas,8 to the plains of Paraguay and the jungles of Brazil, and—still further—to the labors of missionary monks among the rude barbarians of early medieval Europe.

What were the educational methods of the Franciscans in their California enterprise? In the first place, they were essentially the same throughout the several California missions. Despite occasional local deviations, uniformity was the rule. Admitting certain differences in the case of San Diego in 1776, Father Font observed: “This method, which the fathers observe in these new missions, appeared to me very good; and I may note that what is done in one is done uniformly in the others. . . .”9 Font also remarked: “The doctrine which is recited in all the missions is the short one of Father Castañi,10 followed with complete uniformity, no father changing a single word, or being permitted to add anything to it.”11 The periodic reports submitted to Mexico by the Father Presidents of the Franciscans in California indicated that an identical, or practically identical, system was maintained in the several missions.12 The daily schedule, regulations, procedures, basic economy and even the general architecture of the missions were essentially the same. We are informed that a common guidebook served as a sort of blueprint for the management of temporalities of the mission: “The system of agriculture, manufactures, and instruction in operation at the missions was based on a work entitled Casa de Campo y Pastoril. . . .”13

Twentieth-century educators (and psychologists) are wont to stress the value of “integration.” The various aspects of California mission life, economic, civil, social and cultural, were coordinated about religion as a nucleus. Mission administration was “theocratic”. The Franciscans exercised control of temporalities as well as spiritualities. The whole mission schedule—day to day, and year to year—the liturgical seasons, ecclesiastical feasts, daily morning Masses, chimes of the Angelus, grace before and after meals, candle-lit evening devotions, [End Page 336] and the numerous other pious observances were constant reminders that religion was the central theme. Neither the dominating architecture nor the upreaching towers of the mission church, neither the periodic melody of the bells nor the brown-clad figures of the friars would suffer the native to forget that the missions were intended as vestibules of heaven.

According to the Franciscans, training in civilization and the economic arts must needs accompany instruction in Christian religion and morality if the missionaries were to achieve sound and enduring results. The friars insisted that their charges must live—and work—at the missions, and they made of the missions polytechnic schools, civic training grounds, and in general nurseries of civilized life, as well as places of catechumenal indoctrination.14 By being brought to settle at the missions, the natives were at once removed from the influences of a pagan environment and compassed securely within the sphere of Franciscan tutelage...


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pp. 335-358
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