Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuén

Father Lasuen Founded Nine California Missions

Statue of Father Lasuen at Mission San Jose

2005 Betsy Malloy Photography

Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuén was a Spanish missionary who came to California in 1761. He founded nine missions and served as Father-President of the California missions for 18 years.

Father Lasuén's Early Life

Lasuen was born on June 7, 1736, at Vitoria in Cantabria, Spain. He was a man of symmetrical build with light, somewhat red skin, a pockmarked face, dark eyes, and dark, curly hair.

He became a Franciscan priest in 1752 when he was only 15 years old. In 1748, he and volunteered to work in the American missions. He arrived in Mexico in 1761 and went to Lower (Baja) California in 1768.

It was in Baja that Lasuen first met Father Junipero Serra at Mission San Borja in 1769. This is what Serra wrote about him: "My special affection for this excellent missionary detained me here for the next two days which for me were very delightful by reason of his amiable conversation and manners." 

Father Lasuén in California

In 1773, Lasuen was assigned to work in "upper" California. He arrived in San Diego and stayed there until 1775 when he and Father Gregorio Amurrio were appointed the first missionaries at Mission San Juan Capistrano. When they arrived, he said Mass and established the mission.

Shortly after that, news arrived that Indians attacked the mission in San Diego, and Father Luis Jayme was murdered. The soldiers and missionaries in San Juan Capistrano hurried back to San Diego. He stayed there, built a new church, and enlarged the mission compound.

In the summer and fall of 1776, Father Lasuén went with Father Serra to San Luis Obispo. In 1777 he was appointed the minister of Mission San Diego. In 1783, Lasuen was 47 years old. He described himself as "already old and entirely gray," which he blamed partly on how hard his job was.

Lasuén as Father President of the Missions

Lasuen became Father-President of the missions in 1785 after Father Serra died. After that, he moved to the Carmel Mission and stayed there until he died.

Lasuen was Father-President for 18 years, and he personally founded nine California missions. He also expanded many of the older missions. During his time, the number of Indians converted to Catholicism also doubled, and the missions became more prosperous.

Also, at the mission in Carmel, Lasuen worked to fulfill Father Serra's last wish, for a new stone church to replace the original adobe building. It took 14 years, but the new building was completed in 1797.

Because of his position, Father Lasuén met many people who wrote about him. Captain George Vancouver described him in 1792 as having gentle manners and a placid face. Alejandro Malaspina praised his good manners in 1791. Charles Chapman described him as a worthy successor to Father Serra. Father Serra himself called Lasuén a religious man of exceptional example.

Lasuén was known as a good administrator. He served in California longer than the more famous Father Junipero Serra. 

About the work of a missionary, he wrote: "He is responsible for the spiritual and temporal welfare of people who are many and varied. He has individuals who are more dependent on him than small children, for there are many needs that arise... and many different things to be done for the different groups that make up the community. He is surrounded by pagans, and placed in charge of neophytes who can be trusted but a little..."

Lasuén never adjusted well to life in California, and he repeatedly asked to be allowed to retire or transfer somewhere else. He said only obedience kept him here. Even as he grew older, he kept asking for a transfer or retirement. He never left California, and he died at the Carmel Mission on June 26, 1803. He was buried in the sanctuary there.

Missions Founded by Father Lasuén

Between 1786 and 1798, Lasuén founded nine missions, bringing the total Spanish missions established since 1769 to 18. They are:

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