During the Spanish Colonial period, the California missions were run by a priest with the title of Father-President (padre-presidente). I'm trying to find more information about this office, specifically:

  • How was the Father-President chosen?
  • Did they have the authority to decide where new missions would be placed?
  • Is there a list of all the Father-Presidents of the era?

1 Answer 1


Father-President is a fairly common title in Catholic institutions where the chief executive is a priest.

The Spanish missions in North America were a "co-venture," with the Catholic Church seeking converts and the Spanish Crown seeking to "Hispanize" the native population. The former supplied the manpower for converting and educating the Indians, the latter the funding for salaries, supplies, and military protection; the missionaries. After the suppression of the Jesuits, the Spanish Crown gave the mission franchise in the Californias to Franciscans, who assigned the Californias to the Apostolic College of San Fernando, one of their missionary colleges in Mexico City. The College would have had authority over its priests. The superior in California, i.e. the padre presidente, would have been elected, although in several cases successors were elected in advance, e.g. for Tápis to take command after Lasuén.

Zephyrin Engelhardt's The Franciscans in California says "It had long been the intention to found a series of new missions, each equidistant from two of the old establishments." Most of the general locations were thus set after a series of surveys in the 1790s.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia article on California covers the relationships. After 1783, the father-president was in contact with the Bishop of Sonora, who named some of the father-presidents of the missions as vicar forane ("rural dean"), military vicar, and even vicar general. This provided them ordinary authority, for example, to conduct confirmations, in the absence of the bishop. This situation persisted until 1840. Still, these powers were conferred, and not inherent in the position of father-president, and the selection of father-president remained with the College of San Fernando, not with the episcopate.

In 1812, with Mexican independence, the office was split, with a father-president responsible for strictly ecclesiastical matters and a commissary-prefect (comisario-prefecto) for the missions' business affairs and temporal relations. The first commissary-prefects were appointed by the Franciscan order's Commissary General for the Indies in Spain, but later elected locally, de facto. (The office was vacant from 1830-1836.) In 1833, with Governor Figueroa seeking to rid Mexico of Spanish members of religious orders, the missions in northern California were transferred to the Apostolic College of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Zacatecas.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia gives the following lists.


President Term(s) of office
Junipero Serra 1768–1784
Fermín Francisco de Lasuén 1785–1803
Estevan Tapis 1803–12
José Señan 1812–15
Mariano Payeras 1815–20
Narciso Durán 1824–27
José Bernardo Sánchez 1827–30
José Joaquín Jimeno 1839–53

Francisco Palóu served as acting president between Serra and Lasuén.

Father-Presidents in northern California

Father-President in northern California Term of office
Rafael Moreno 1833–?


Commissary-Prefect Term(s) of office
Vicente Francisco de Sarriá 1812–18
Mariano Payeras 1818–23
Narciso Durán 1836–46
José Joaquín Jimeno 1846–53

Commissary-Prefects in northern California

Commissary-Prefect in northern California Term of office
Francisco García Diego y Moreno 1833–1840
  • Mariano Payeras was a prolific writer, and his letters have been collected and translated in a volume by Donald Cutter. Feb 10, 2017 at 4:39

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