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A Bishop Arrives

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:18 pm    Post subject: A Bishop Arrives Reply with quote

FATHER Serra had, under powers granted through the Franciscan college of San Fernando, filled the duties normally discharged by a bishop. His last trip through California was to administer episcopal rites. The succeeding padre-presidentes were likewise empowered to administer confirmation, and to direct the territory ecclesiastically. The right, however, was often contested by bellicose governors, notably Rivera, though obviously the matter was outside of their province. Fages and De Neve were others.

As early as 1830, correspondence began between Mexico and California, on the subject of erecting the territory into a diocese, and the appointment of a bishop. With the breaking-up of the Missions under the comisionados—the spiritual centers in the territory—the moral conditions throughout the province were bad, and rapidly growing worse. Organization had to be effected to re-enroll the shepherdless Indians and the often unshepherded gente de razon.

Under the authorization of Fr. Duran, Fr. Garcia Diego y Moreno, head of the Zacatecan Franciscans in California, Mexican college of the order, went to Mexico to urge the matter upon the Supreme Government, Fr. Diego sailed from Monterey the last of 1835 for San Bias, thence to Mexico City.
The result was the creation of a diocese of Baja and Alta California. Once more the two Californias were to be united.

From three names proposed by the metropolitan chapter of the Archdiocese of Mexico to the Mexican president, Bustamante, Fr. Diego was chosen (June, 1839). The government's request to the Mexican Ambassador at Rome to present the petition to the Pope, brought both projects to a successful issue (1840). San Diego, midway between the Californias, was designated as the site of the new Episcopal See on the far shores of the Pacific.

Fr. Diego took the oath of allegiance to the government in September, before the president of the republic, in an impressive ceremonial. On the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, the friar was consecrated bishop on October 4, 1840.

Returning to San Diego in December, 1841, the new bishop found no suitable residence for his occupancy in the place—never much more than a supply depot between Mexico and Monterey, although the site of the first Mission and Presidio. And now, under the rule of the Paisano Chiefs, it was further reduced to a state of decrepitude. Not more than one hundred and fifty persons in the pueblo altogether.

When a warm invitation reached the bishop from the Barbarenos to come to their pueblo to make his home in the Franciscan Mission, he gladly responded. So the Mission became the first episcopal residence on the Pacific coast. Santa Barbara Mission church, be it said in passing, is the only Mission church in which the sanctuary lamp was never extinguished from the day of its founding (December 4, 1786).

The Franciscans, Serra's own family, the Order of Friars Minor, had never been driven from it, so repairs and building operations were carried on by the lay members of the order, after the Indians were “freed.” So it was that California's first bishop was offered a suitable residence, though it was not without considerable difficulty that proper provisions were made for him and his staff, with the heavy demands of the comisionados upon the establishment.

Fr. Engelhardt asserts that the diocese was represented by seventeen Franciscans in Alta California and by four Dominicans and one secular priest in Baja California. The old-timers had died at their posts, and their places had not been filled by the government, far too busy with pressing needs at home. Besides, Spain, whose energies had developed the frontier on the Pacific, was no longer mistress of California; and Mexico knew her days were numbered as ruling power of the department.

One of the first projects the bishop undertook was the establishment of a seminary for the education of priests for his diocese, at Mission Santa Inez. To assist the enterprise, Governor Micheltorena had bestowed a grant of land of eight leagues—not mere acres in those days—upon the new college. A few students arriving with the bishop constituted the faculty. Thus was started the first educational institution in California, outside of the schools in the Mission, where the most intelligent neophytes were taught the elements of reading, writing, and music, aside from their industrial training. In the presidios and pueblos, the schools were represented principally on paper. Frequent attempts had been made to establish schools in the towns, notably in Monterey, two dollars per month having been offered to Don Fernando to teach the Spanish and Mexican children of the Presidio. Whether the enrollment was unattractive to Don Fernando, or that the pobladores refused to be bothered, does not appear. But nothing of a permanent, even temporary, plan for a school appears, until W. E. P. Hartnell started his own school on the Alisal Rancho, near Salinas. Don Guillermo had served as Mission Inspector, one of the worthy appointments of Alvarado.

Bishop Diego certainly had a hard circuit to ride. True, Father Serra had covered it—and walked it. And the others that followed covered it. But they were building. The psychological drive of creating is compelling. Then, the driving force of a Serra does not appear again in a century.

When the bishop arrived in Monterey, he was greatly depressed at the condition in which he found the two churches and the people. The only saving grace of the pueblo was the devotion of its women to the church,

Vallejo remarked “The coming of the Bishop is going to cause some headaches." No episcopal authority to check up the despoilers of the Missions heretofore.

His Grace, Bishop Garcia Diego y Moreno, died after four years of service. He was buried with all the honors of the Church in the Mission of Santa Barbara, the first shepherd of the Christian fold in California. His successor was the Dominican, the Right Reverend Sadoc Alemany, who landed at Monterey in 1850, bringing with him the first nuns in the country, also Dominicans. They established St. Catherine's Convent the following year, in a two-story adobe building erected by Don Manuel Jimeno for a hotel. This first convent in California—the first formal school for girls on the Pacific—stood upon the ground now occupied by the garage of San Carlos Hotel. Don Manuel, at one time Secretary of State, had married Dona Angustias de la Guerra, daughter of Don Jose, comandante at Santa Barbara, and had built for her a rambling adobe on the present site of the San Carlos Hotel. The adobe structure, adjoining the residence, was bought by the new bishop, who moved the teacher-nuns from a temporary establishment in 1851.

It was to this convent that Concepcion Arguello came, to "take the veil” after she had heard from Admiral Simpson the fate of her lover, Nicolas Resanov— heard, after forty years of waiting, that he had died on the steppes of Russia, faithful to the end.

The Dominican sisters moved their school, at the end of two years, to Benicia, and for a time the old convent served as a chapel and a stopping-place for visiting clergy. I remember it clearly, most happily when moonlight enveloped it.

When paved streets began to be thought necessary by an ambitious populace, the convent was torn down and its adobes used to pave them. Alas for the sentiment—or the sense—of the Church and the Monterenos!
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