Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Early Clericals of Los Angeles

BY H. D. Barrows.

As Alta California was settled by Spanish-speaking people who tolerated no other form of religion except the Roman Catholic, of course there were no churches except of that faith in Los Angeles, from the time of the settlement of the ancient pueblo, in the year 1781, until the change of government in 1846.

From and after the founding of the mission of San Gabriel, in 1778, until, and after the completion of the old Plaza church in the latter part of 1822, that mission became and remained the center of industrial activity, as well as the head-quarters of clerical authority for this portion of the province.

Fathers Salvadea, Sanchez, Boscana and Estenega managed with zeal and great ability the extensive concerns, both spiritual and temporal, of the mission, sending a priest occasionally to the pueblo, or coming themselves, to say mass, at the capilla or chapel which had been erected north and west of the present church. After the latter was built. Father Boscana became the first regular rector or pastor, serving till 1831. He was succeeded by Fathers Martinas, Sanchez, Bachelot, Estenega, Jimenez, Ordaz, Rosales, etc., who served as local pastors, for longer or shorter periods, of the only church in the town, from 1831 to 1851.

The first priest, whom I knew of, but did not know personally, was Padre Anacleto Lestrade, a native of France, who was the incumbent from '51 to '56. Padre Bias Raho, who came here in 1856, I knew well, and esteemed highly. He was broadminded and tolerant. He told me that he had lived sixteen years in the Mississippi valley before he came to Los Angeles. He was a native of Italy.

It was during his pastorate that the old church building was greatly improved. It was frescoed inside and out by a Frenchman, Mr. H. Penelon, the pioneer photographer of Los Angeles. The lettering on the front of the building as seen to-day was done by Penelon, viz.: "Los Fieles de Esta Parroquia A la Reina de Los Angeles, 1861;" and also on the marble tablets:

Dios Te Salve, Maria Llena De Gracia.
El Señor Esta En Su Santo Templo: Calle La Tierra ante su Acatamiento.
Habac. 2, 20.

Santa Maria Madre de Dios, Ruega por nosotros Pecadoros.

Padre Raho was the first Vicar General of the diocese, under Bishop Amat.

Later, Padre Raho, who served his parish faithfully for a number of years, and who was respected and revered by his parishioners, fell sick and went to the Sisters' Hospital, which was then located in the large two-story brick building which stood, and I think still stands, to the east of the upper depot, and between the latter and the river, which the Sisters bought of Mr. H. C. Cardwell, who built it.

I visited Padre Raho here during his last illness, at his request. He told me that he had not a cent of money (having taken vows of poverty,) in the world; and that the good sisters furnished him refuge, etc. The venerable Sister Ann, whom many will remember, and who, I believe, is still living at an advanced age, at the home of the order of Sisters of Charity, at Emmettsburg, Pa., was at that time the superioress of the order here.

Fathers Duran and Mora succeeded Father Raho. There were other priests whom I did not know so well, who' made their home at different times at the parsonage adjoining the old church. But none of these, so far as my acquaintance permitted me to know, with the possible exception of Father Mora, were as liberal as Father Raho. The bishop of the diocese during these times was Tadeo Amat, who, though his jurisdiction extended to' Monterey, made his headquarters first for a time at Santa Barbara, and then at this old church of "Nuesta Señora, la Reyna de Los Angeles." Bishop Amat was succeeded by Bishop (formerly Father) Mora, a gentle and scholarly prelate. It was during the latter's administration (in 1874, I think.) that the cathedral (and bishop's residence) was built, on Main street and the official headquarters of the diocese were removed thither. Bishop Mora was succeeded by Bishop Montgomery, the present head of the local church.

When Father Mora was made bishop, Father Peter Verdaguer, who was a very eloquent Spanish orator, became pastor of the old church. "Father Peter," as he was widely known, was made a bishop a few years ago, and he was succeeded by the present rector, a young and talented priest, Father Liébana. "Father Peter," now Bishop Verdaguer, presides over the diocese of Texas.

Bishop Mora, and genial, gentle Father Adam, long his Vicar General, and long an honored and active member of our Historical Society, both now reside with their relatives, in retreat, during the closing years of their lives, at Barcelona, Spain.

AHGP California

Source: Annual publication of the Historical Society of Southern California and Pioneer register, Los Angeles, Part I. Vol. V.,1900

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