California’s Missions

  • Religion
  • 1768

For nearly a century starting in 1768, Spanish priests (mostly Franciscans) founded and operated 21 missions across California to bring Catholicism and European-style development to the far coast of North America. The missions introduced to the region not only Christianity but schools and medical facilities, European crops and animals plus cropping and husbandry techniques, water works, and art and architecture that is still admired. These missionaries established much of the initial pathbreaking, population settlement, and place naming of our most important state. The Catholic church financed the initial mission settlements, which then undertook various kinds of economic activity in an effort to support themselves and the Indians seeking aid at their walls. Few of the missions ever became wholly self-sufficient, though, so supplementary funding came from a private religious endowment known as the Pious Fund of the Californias. It was built from voluntary donations by Mexican families and churches. This represented one of the most significant charitable ventures in early American history.