July 4, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Possible U.S. saints: Father Magin Catala

John F. Fink(Sixth in a series of columns)

Franciscan Father Magin Catala’s life sounds similar to that of Franciscan Father Junipero Serra.

Father Magin served in the missions founded by Father Junipero, now known as Blessed Junipero. Father Magin arrived in California nine years after Father Junipero’s death.

Both men were originally from Spain and both entered the Franciscan seminary when they were 16. Both volunteered to labor in the New World missions and both were sent to the College of San Fernando in Mexico City, Father Junipero arriving there in 1750 and Father Magin in 1786.

Father Junipero went on to California, where he founded nine missions before his death in 1784. Eventually, there would be 21 missions.

Father Magin was sent to Monterrey in 1793. His first assignment was as chaplain on a Spanish ship that sailed regularly between Mexico and Vancouver, then known as Nootka Sound. After a year of this, the governor asked him to continue, but he declined because he wanted to devote his life to the Indians in California.

After a short time at Mission San Francisco, in 1794 Father Magin moved 40 miles south to Santa Clara, the eighth of Father Junipero’s missions. He remained assigned to that mission until his death 36 years later, ministering to more than a thousand Indians who lived there.

Although he was assigned to the Santa Clara mission, that doesn’t mean that he stayed there all the time. Father Magin knew that there were thousands more Indians in the villages so he traveled extensively as far as the San Jacinto Valley, about a hundred miles away, seeking unconverted Indians.

A prayer card said, “Often he made perilous journeys to distant tribes and invariably returned accompanied by large numbers of pagan Indians whom his sweet charity had induced to abandon their wild life for the happy Christian community at Santa Clara.”

He walked to the Indian villages despite extremely painful rheumatism that he contracted early in his work. In this, too, he resembled Father Junipero, who was severely crippled from an infected foot, except that Father Junipero rode on a mule.

Another priest arrived several years later, and he was assigned responsibility for overseeing the material well-being of the mission while Father Magin concentrated on the Indians’ spiritual well-being. He instructed them in the Catholic faith and taught such devotions as the Stations of the Cross and the rosary.

According to a biographer, Father Magin baptized 5,471 infants, children or adults, and presided at 1,905 weddings and more than 5,000 funerals.

He was known for his asceticism and sanctity. He ate very little, and no meat, eggs or wine. His evening meal consisted only of gruel made from corn and milk. He practiced disciplines popular in those days. He prayed long hours before a life-size crucifix in the chapel, sometimes seen to be levitating. Those who testified to his sanctity attributed miracles, prophecies, revelations and locutions to him.

He died in 1830 at age 69. †

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