Dominicans at Baja California Missions (1773-1855)

Dominican Missions Baja

By David Kier

For over seventy years, from 1697 to 1768, the Jesuit Order of the Catholic Church had near-autonomy in the occupation and Christianization of the California Peninsula. They had founded 17 missions, in all directions from the first permanent headquarters, at Loreto. In the 1750’s they had begun to move northward in order to encircle the Gulf of California with their missions, once it was clear that California was not an island. That advance was halted with a political decision that forever changed the direction of the California missions.

The Franciscans were already chosen to replace the Jesuits in California, but the Dominicans had pleaded for some responsibility on the peninsula. Years of negotiations and revisions would transpire before the Dominican priests actually began serving the Baja California missions. The doorway to California mission service for the Dominicans opened once the 1767 Royal order of expulsion was delivered to the Jesuits missionaries. The Jesuits were forcibly removed from all their missions throughout the New World and sailed away from the coast of Baja California in February, 1768. The Franciscans were soon charged with occupying the ports of San Diego and Monterey, far to the north. An opportunity for other Catholic Orders to have a hand in the mission field was now available. The following is a summary of some of the events leading to the Dominicans arrival in Antigua (Old) California, later called Baja California:

July 24, 1768: A request for the administration of some of the Jesuit founded missions of Baja California was made by Dominican Fray Juan Pedro de Iriarte y Laurnaga. Iriarte was Procurator General for the Province of Santiago de Mexico, residing at the Royal Court of Madrid. He asked especially for those missions between the twenty-fifth and twenty-eighth degrees of north latitude.

December 17, 1769: The King (Carlos III) decided that ten Dominican fathers, destined for the nearest former Jesuit missions, should go there, but left the exact posts unspecified.

January 17, 1770: the Procurator-General, Fray Juan de Dios de Cordoba, recommended that Iriarte’s petition be granted, that the requested territory of Baja California be allocated, since there was urgent need tor the conquest of Nueva (New) California as a check against foreign encroachments.

June 15, 1770: Juan Pedro de Iriarte and Juan de Dios de Cordova asked the King for a grant of twenty four missionaries, at royal expense, for the missions of Baja California.

July 10, 1770: Iriarte issued a circular to the convents of the three Spanish Provinces of the Dominican order, announcing that the King had granted them a mission field in Baja California, and calling for volunteers.

April 30, 1772: The division of California was settled and the Dominicans accepted all of Baja California and the Franciscans had Nueva California, later called Alta California, as far north “as they can extend their spiritual conquests”. This arrangement was approved by the Council of the Indies on May 11, 1775.

September, 1772: Two boats were used to bring the Dominicans to California sailing from San Blas. Storms separated the boats and disaster would fall upon one. The storm, disease, and bad food forced one boat back to shore at Mazatlán. On board the doomed boat was their leader, Padre Iriarte. After arriving at Mazatlán he was taken to San Sebastián, where he died.

October 14, 1772: The successful boat with nine Dominican priests and one laybrother arrived at Loreto. Ten days later one of the priests died. Nearly six months would pass before news of the other boat carrying Dominicans had wrecked, and their leader, Padre Iriarte (and two other priests) had died.

May 12, 1773: Two boats brought the eighteen Dominicans who survived the shipwreck, arrived at Loreto. Three days later the padres were given their mission assignments (see list below). Now with 26 Dominicans in California, each of the missions would be assigned two, except for the far north missions of Santa María and San Fernando, which shared the same two priests. The Indians of Mission Santa María were transferred to Mission San Fernando the following year.

September 21, 1773: Padre Luis Sales arrived in Loreto after being delayed by his illness from the disastrous events of a year earlier. Sales was assigned to Mission Guadalupe.



May 15, 1773:

Loreto: Vicente Mora, Martín Zavaleta

San José de Comondú: Cristóbal de Vera, Andrés Souto

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe: JoséSantolárria, Nicolás Muñóz

Purísima Concepción: Francisco Galistéo, Juan Antonio Formoso

San Francisco Javier: Manuel Pérez, Domingo Ginés

San José del Cabo: Gerónimo Soldevilla, José Lafuente

Todos Santos: José Fernández Salcedo, José Armésto

Santiago: Antonio Salas, José Estévez

San Ignacio: Juan Crisóstomo Gómez, José García Villatoro

Santa Rosalia (de Mulegé): Joaquín Valero, Antonio Luésma

Santa Gertrudis: Manuel Rodríguez, José Díez Bustamante

San Francisco de Borja: Manuel García, José Aivár

Santa María, San Fernando: Miguel Hidalgo, Pedro Gandiága


Next we will examine surviving mission documents and letters to discover what Dominican priests served at each mission, after the initial assignments of May 15, 1773. In some cases the missionary may have only been visiting and was not the resident priest. He also may have been at the mission other years than those listed or served at more than one mission the same year.


loreto mission bajaLoreto

Francisco Galistéo 1779-1789

Nicolás Muñóz 1779

José Armésto 1790

Antonio Berraguerro 1793

José Herrera 1793-1794

Caietano Pallás 1794-1798

Pedro Acevedo 1795

Miguel Gallégo 1795, 1810

Pablo María de Zárate 1796

Plácido Sanz 1798, 1804

Vicente Belda 1798-1799

Rafaél Arviña 1799-1804

Ramón López 1812-1813


San Javier

Miguel Gallégo 1794

Gerónimo Soldevilla 1790-1798, 1808, 1810

Romantino de la Cruz 1812


mulege mission bajaSanta Rosalia (de Mulegé)

José Herrera 1783-1794

Miguel Gallégo 1795-1798

Rafaél Arviña 1796-1797

Domingo Timón 1798-1800

Vicente Belda 1802-1805

José Portela 1812

Tomás de Ahumada 1815


San José de Comondú

José Estévez 1791

José Aivár 1792

Ricardo Texéyro 1794-1796

Jorge Coéllo 1797-1798

Plácido Sanz 1803

José Antonio Sánchez 1812

Tomás Mansilla 1825-1826


la purisima mission bajaLa Purísima

José Antonio Sánchez 1793-1812

Domingo Luna 1826



Luis Sáles 1773-1778

Rafaél Arviña 1792-1795



Manuel García 1776-1780

Francisco Hontiyuélo 1790-1794


san ignacio mission bajaSan Ignacio

Joaquín Cálvo 1794-1795

Domingo Timón 1795-1798

Rafaél Arviña 1799-1802, 1804

José Espín 1805

Pedro Juan González 1812-1822

Félix Caballero 1840


San José del Cabo

Francisco Hontiyuélo 1794

Rafael Arviña 1795-1796

Eudaldo Surroca 1797-1798

Pablo María de Zárate 1798-1821

Ignacio Ramírez 1835-1841

José de Santa Cruz 1841-1844

Gabriel Gonzáles 1846-1848


todos santosTodos Santos

Mariano Fernández 1790-1811

Jacinto Tiól 1812-1820

José Duro 1822

Gabriel Gonzáles 1825-1840, 1850-1855


Santa Gertrudis

Joaquín Valero 1778

José Espín 1794-1798

Segismundo Foncubierta 1812


san borja mission bajaSan Borja

Luis Sáles 1778-1781

Antonio Caballero, Rafaél Caballero 1792-1794

Martín Zavaleta 1793

Mélchor Pons 1794, 1797

Juan María Salgado 1795-1796

Antonio Lázaro 1797-1798

Tomás de Ahumada 1805-1809

Ramón de Santos 1812

José Martín 1812-1816


san fernando mission bajaSan Fernando

Francisco Galistéo 1773-1774

Antonio Luésma 1782-1783

Juan Antonio Formoso 1785-1788

Pedro Azevedo 1788-1789

Jórge Coéllo 1794

Rafaél Arviña 1797-1799

Vicente Belda 1797-1798

José Caulas 1797-1798

Antonio Lázaro 1799-1804

Manuel del Aguila 1804-1806

Ramón de Santos 1808-1811

Bernardo Solá 1811-1813

Tomás de Ahumada 1815

Antonio Menéndez 1815, 1822-1825 (from San Vicente)

José Martín 1818

Francisco Troncoso 1819-1822 (from El Rosario)


The Dominican Founded California Missions:

el rosario mission bajaEl Rosario (July 24, 1774)

Francisco Galistéo 1774-1779

Manuel Pérez 1775-1788

Antonio Luésma 1781-1783

Pedro Gandiága 1790

Vicente Belda 1792-1798

Ramón López 1797

Juan Ríbas 1797-1802

Raymundo Escolá 1802-1807

José Caulas 1807-1814

Francisco Troncoso 1819-1822 (last resident missionary)

Antonio Menéndez 1822-1825 (from San Vicente)

Tomás Mansilla 1829 (from Santo Tomás)


santo domingo mission bajaSanto Domingo (Aug. 30, 1775)

Manuel García 1775-1776

Miguel Hidalgo 1775, 1777-1780

José Aivár 1776-1792

José Estévez 1783-1785

Miguel Abád 1791-1804

Jáime Codina 1794-1797

José Miguel de Pineda 1804-1809

Bernardo Solá 1809-1811

Róque Valera 1811-1812

José Duro 1812-1819

Domingo Luna 1819-1822 (last resident missionary)

Antonio Menéndez 1822-1825 (from San Vicente)

Tomás Mansilla 1829-1850 (from Santo Tomás)


san vicente mission bajaSan Vicente (Aug. 27, 1780)

Miguel Hidalgo 1780-1781

Joaquín Valero 1780-1783

Luis Sáles 1781-1787

José Estévez 1785-1789

Juan Antonio Formoso 1789

José Loriénte 1790-1791, 1794-1795

Miguel Gallégo 1789-1794

Miguel Abád 1793

Tomás Valdellón 1793-1797, 1801-1803

Ramón López 1797-1806

Segismundo Fontcubierta 1797, 1799

Pedro González 1808

José Duro 1808-1811

Antonio Fernández 1811-1816

José Martinez 1817

Antonio Menéndez 1817-1825

Félix Caballero 1814, 1822-1829

Tomás Mansilla 1829 (from Santo Tomás)


san miguel mission bajaSan Miguel (Mar. 28, 1787)

Luis Sáles 1787-1789

Caietano Pallás 1790-1791

Juan Salgado 1792-1793

Mariano Yóldi 1793-1804

Mariano Apolinário 1794-1796

Raymundo Escolá 1797-1800

Miguel Abád 1799

Tomás de Ahumada 1809-1815

Félix Caballero 1815-1834

José Martínez 1819-1822 (last resident missionary)

Domingo Luna 1829, 1833


santo tomas mission bajaSanto Tomás (Apr. 24, 1791)

José Loriénte 1791-1797

Miguel López 1793-1803

Segismundo Fontcubierta 1798

Eudaldo Surroca 1802-1803

José Miguel de Pineda 1812-1826

Tomás Mansilla 1826-1849


San Pedro Martir (Apr. 27, 1794)

Caietano Pallás, Pablo Grijálva, José Loriénte 1794

Rafaél Caballero 1794-1797

Antonio Caballero 1794-1797

Juan Ríbas 1797

Mariano Apolinário 1797-1798

José Caulas, Miguel López, José Loriénte 1798

Eudaldo Surroca 1803

Juan Ríbas, Ramón de Santos, José Portela 1806


Santa-Catalina-3Santa Catalina (Nov. 12, 1797)

José Loriénte, 1797

Tomás Valdellón 1797-1804

Jacinto Fiol 1804-1807

Manuel de Aguila 1807-1809

Antonio Fernández 1809-1810, and 1815-1817 (from San Vicente)

José Duro 1810-1811

Manuel Saiz 1811-1812

Félix Caballero 1819-1839


Mexico and Spain were at war from 1810 to 1821. In 1822, the two Californias pledged their allegiance to Mexico. The Spanish Mission Era was over, but the need for instruction and expanding civilization necessitated the missions to remain in operation. Many Dominicans retired from service in Baja California in 1822. Those that remained after 1822, or arrived during the Mexican mission period include:

Félix Caballero (to 1840)

Gabriel Gonzáles (to 1855)

Domingo Luna (to 1832)

Tomás Mansilla (to 1855)

José Martínez (to 1836)

Juan Martínez (to 1840)

Antonio Menéndez (to 1825)

José Morquecho (to 1841)

José Miguel de Pineda (to 1826)

Ignacio Ramírez (to 1849)

José de Santa Cruz (to 1844)


Assisting the Dominicans in Baja California were three Mercedarians, who arrived in 1836:

Amado Aldana (to 1841)

Vicente Sotomayor (to 1851)

Ascenscio Torres (to 1845)


Two Mexican Missions:

El Descanso (San Miguel la Nueva) was established as a new location for Mission San Miguel in late 1809 or early 1810 by Padre Tomás de Ahumada, because of disastrous floods. Ahumada wrote that he moved the San Miguel mission to Descanso shortly after he arrived at San Miguel (June 19, 1809). Ahumada returned to the former site (San Miguel la Vieja), but Descanso likely remained active as a mission farm.

In 1830, Padre Félix Caballero re-established the site with a new church and other buildings constructed at El Descanso. Again, activity continued at both San Miguel locations, but they were both served by a single priest. Letters of the period use the word ‘mission’ to describe Descanso after 1830. That it was the San Miguel mission at a new site was made clear by the continuous referral to it as ‘New San Miguel’ and the previous location as ‘Old San Miguel’.

Guadalupe (June 25, 1834) was founded by Padre Félix Caballero and was made the administrative center for the northern Baja California missions. Caballero was assigned to Mission San Miguel in 1815 and it was his decision to move to Guadalupe and build there. Caballero named the mission at this new location in honor of Mexico’s patron saint.

While he would call it a mission, some historians considered it more of a way Caballero could attract mainland Mexicans to settle in the rich valley, and it was his own personal endeavor. It provided the services of a mission, but it was unable to attract Indians to stay there. Padre Caballero had to force baptism upon the native women and that angered the native Indian men to such a degree that in less than 6 years after it was founded, they destroyed the mission and wanted to kill Caballero. Caballero fled south to San Ignacio and died mysteriously a few months later, after drinking his morning chocolate.



The Dominicans operated the missions of Baja California for 82 years through a period of growth, dramatic changes, and disappointments. To some historians they were harsh and unbending to the needs of the native Indians they hoped to Christianize and convert to modern living. What is clear is that the Dominicans constructed many missions, including the cut stone churches at San Ignacio, Santa Gertrudis and San Borja. The Dominicans inherited a land that was already in decline, yet performed vaccinations to try and save the lives of those infected by European diseases. They endured years of neglect during the two wars (1810-1821 & 1846-1848), and a change of government in Mexico that attempted to secularize their missions. Still, they remained on the peninsula the longest of the three Orders assigned to mission duties in California. The last Dominican that came to Baja California to serve the missions was José de Santa Cruz, in 1841. The last Dominicans missionaries on the peninsula were Tomás Mansilla and Gabriel Gonzáles who left Baja California together from La Paz on or about Feb. 5, 1855.

The stories and details of the mission period in Baja California continue to entertain and enlighten us as to happenings in this harsh and rugged land, so many years ago.



‘The Dominican Mission Foundations in Baja California, 1769-1822’ by Albert Nieser, 1960

‘The Missions and Missionaries of California’ (Vol. 1, Lower California) by Zephyrin Engelhardt, 1929

‘The Dominican Mission Frontier of Lower California’ by Peveril Meigs, 1935

‘Observations on California, 1772-1790’ by Luis Sales, translated by Charles Rudkin, 1956

‘Historical Notes on Lower California’ by Manuel Rojo 1879, translated by Philip Gericke, 1972

‘The Peninsular California Missions, 1808-1880’ by Francis Weber, 1979

‘The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California, 1697-1834’ by Max Kurillo and David Kier, 2012


David Kier is co-author of ‘The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California, 1697-1834’.  The book is available for purchase HERE or at the DBTC offices (call 800-727-2252).  You can also read about the history of all of the Missions of Baja California.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.