Among the many missionaries
whose careers in America were inconspicuous in their own day, and
who even now do not receive the acclaim they
deserve, must be numbered Magin Catalá, "the holy man
of Santa Clara", who, loyally and unobtrusively serving the
mission to which he was assigned, spent an unusually fruitful life
of prayer and good works.
Magin Catalá and his twin brother were born in 1761 at Montblanch,
a village in the province of Catalonia, Spain. Their father, a doctor,
was a royal and public notary in Montblanch. Their mother, Francesca
Guasch y Burgeras, was the daughter of a prominent merchant in the
city. The Catalá family, though not wealthy, were comfortably
blessed with the things of this world.
On January 31, 1761, a few days after his birth, the future Franciscan
missionary and his twin were baptized in the parish church, each
receiving three names: the former - Magin José Matias; the
latter - Pedro Antonio Juan. Of Magin's boyhood days, nothing is
known. Early schooling and training must have been of the best, however,
while the piety he learned from the example of his parents doubtless
attracted him to the circle of Franciscans, who had a friary in Montblanch.
In time, he applied for admission into their ranks and received the
habit of St. Francis, in the friary of Barcelona, on April 4, 1777.
After pronouncing religious vows, young Magin pursued the required
courses in philosophy and theology, and in 1785 was ordained to the
At this time, the vast Franciscan mission fields in America clamored
for recruits. Father Catalá, a year after his ordination,
volunteered for these missions. In October of the same year, he sailed
for México and in due time reached San Fernando College, in
México City, where he labored until 1792, when the Guardian
of the college assigned him to the California field. In July of the
following year, Fr. Catalá arrived at Monterey, accompanied
by Fr. José de la Cruz Espi. Proceeding to San Carlos Mission,
the two newcomers reported to the Superior of the Missions, who thereupon
appointed Fr. Catalá to accompany the Saavedra expedition
to Nootka Sound, as chaplain of the frigate "Aranzazu".
On July 2, 1794, the vessel was back at Monterey. After resigning
as chaplain for the second voyage northward, Fr. Catalá was
sent to Mission Santa Clara, where the baptismal register has an
entry by him for the first time, on September 1, 1794.
At Santa Clara, the zealous friar labored without interruption for
thirty-six years. During that entire period, barring some visits
for ministerial purposes
to the neighboring missions, he never left the place to which holy obedience
had assigned him, and of which, after 1797, he was the responsible senior missionary.
Twice, in 1800, and again in 1804, he asked leave to return to the college in
México (for he suffered constantly from inflammatory rheumatism), and
reluctant permission was granted; but each time, the friar's love for the Indians
triumphed over personal considerations and kept him at his post, where he cared
for the neophytes, as well as his health would permit and sanctified himself
by prayer and suffering.
While Fr. José Viader took charge of the material affairs of the Santa
Clara Mission, Fr. Catalá devoted himself almost exclusively to the spiritual
instruction and direction of the Indian converts. The mission records show that
during the 36 years of his administration, not less than 5,000 persons (nearly
all of them Indians) were baptized at Santa Clara Mission. During the same period,
1,905 marriages were solemnized and about 5,000 Christian burials were performed.
Scattered over the valley in which the Mission was located were ten Indian settlements.
These too had to be visited at regular intervals and the Christian Indians living
there had to be instructed in the tenets of the Catholic faith. Considering Fr.
Catalá's physical ailment, this phase of his duties as a missionary must
have called for a spirit of sacrifice that bordered on the heroic.
Even more remarkable than his active life as a missionary was Fr.Catalá's
private and hidden life as a priest. There is no earthly record, of course, of
the many hours he spent in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, in the Mission
church or before the crucifix, over his favorite altar; of the religious fasts
he imposed upon himself and the mortifications he inflicted on his ailing body,
in the secrecy of his little room, near the church; of the many ejaculations
of resignation to the Holy Will of God that escaped his lips, when his limbs
were racked with pain, or when he was tempted to despondency and despair. It
is to be noted that this sanctified soul did not proclaim itself with outward
show. Father Viader, who spent 33 years with him at Santa Clara Mission, scarcely
ever in the many letters and reports he wrote makes mention of Fr. Magin's activities.
In this, we are moved to believe that Fr. Viader merely followed the wishes of
his senior companion, who preferred to remain unnoticed and unknown.
Finally, the end came, serene and peaceful, welcomed by the saintly priest whose
life had been a ceaseless preparation for its close. At daybreak of November
22, 1830, the soul of "the holy man of Santa Clara" passed to the better
life. "The saint has left us!" cried the Indians at sight of their
father and friend in death. Placed in a coffin of redwood, his body was laid
to rest on the Gospel side, in the sanctuary of the Mission church.
Movement for beatification
On December 5, 1882, Archbishop Alemany, of San Francisco,
appointed Reverend Benedict Picardo, S.J., notary of the process
to be instituted.
Two years later, Reverend Joseph Bixio, S.J., was made Vice Postulator.
At the canonical process, held in August 1884, at Santa Clara,
California, 62 witnesses were examined. Shortly thereafter,
who had resigned his see and gone to Rome, notified his successor,
the Most Reverend Patrick William Riordan, that the Sacred Congregation,
having examined the acts of the court and found them good, desired
corroborative testimony. Thereupon, the Very Reverend John Prendergast,
Vicar General, was directed to act as judge during the subsequent
investigation. The court held one session at Santa Clara, but as
nothing could be done until new evidence was procured, the Reverend
Benedict Picardo, S.J., of San José, was directed
to present trustworthy witnesses and to report whenever he was
the matter was allowed to lapse, no report was ever made and hence
other session of the court took place.
In 1890, the Postulator General in Rome took steps to further the
Cause of Fr. Catalá. He urged Father Clementine Deymann, O.F.M., of
Watsonville, California, to write a life of Fr. Catalá. This Fr.
Deymann did, but the manuscript was never published. In 1904, Father
Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M., wrote a series on Fr. Catalá, in
the now extinct Dominicana, edited in San Francisco.
Interest was revived in 1907, when the Jesuits of Santa Clara resolved
to transfer the body of Fr.Catalá to a newly prepared vault, near
the altar of their church. In 1908, at the request of the Postulator
General, the Very Reverend Francisco Paolini, O.F.M., the Sacred Congregation
of Rites, after examining the testimony of the former process, decided
to advance the Cause of Fr. Catalá, by ordering the process de
non cultu. A sealed list of questions was sent to Archbishop Riordan,
following which the archbishop issued a decree, read from the pulpits
of the Archdiocese, calling for the writings of Fr. Catalá.
On September 19, 1908, a Vice Postulator for the Cause was appointed,
in the person of the Reverend Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M. The court was
established on November 6, 1908, and the process was promulgated in February
of 1909. Sessions began at Santa Clara, November 18, 1909 and ended January
27, 1910, following which the documents were taken to Rome, by Father
" The Cause of Fr. Catalá," Fr. Engelhardt writes, "now
rests with the Sacred Congregation of Rites." The examination
of his writings has been happily completed, and the way is being prepared
for the formal introduction of his Cause.
The Holy Man of Santa Clara, by Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M.,
James H. Barry Company, San Francisco, 1909
The Missions and Missionaries of California, by Zephyrin Engelhardt,
James H. Barry Company, San Francisco, 1908-1915. Vol. III, Part II
Aloysius S. Stern, S.J. at the altar.of
the crucifix in Mission
Santa Clara, on the University of Santa Clara campus.
Padre of Nootka Island
The steady rain of the Northwest coast was falling on the cabin
roof of the simple rectory of Friendly Cove, Nootka Island, in
the early winter
of 1909. The missionary pastor, Father Stern, settled into the
one comfortable chair of the house, for a quiet evening's reading.
The S.S. Maquina had touched at Nootka Entrance that day and there
was mail. Little time was needed to open and read the few letters.
was a book, just off the press, entitled The Holy Man of Santa
by the late Father Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M. The Nootka pastor opened
it casually and, by the soft light of the oil lamp, began to read. The
book told of the birth and life of Padre Magin Catalá, venerable
missionary of the Seraphic Order of St. Francis, and of his labors on
the West Coast of America. Catalá had been born in Montblanch,
Province of Catalonia, Spain, the year 1761. He had in the year 1777
entered the Franciscan novitiate. Completion of his studies found him
sailing from Cadiz to New Spain, 1786, where landing at Vera Cruz, he
made his way overland to the City of México. Special training
was given him at the missionary college of San Fernando de México,
and early 1793 found him sailing for his destined mission, Santa
Governor Arrillaga welcomed the arrival of the young priest's ship
at Monterey, and also somewhat changed his plans. The chaplain
of the ship
Aranzazu was ill. As the boat was due to carry needed supplies
to Nootka and must sail at once, the Governor suggested that the
serve as chaplain and winter at Nootka. Cueva de Los Amigos, or
Friendly Cove, as it was to be known to later history, was then
outpost, lying in latitude 49 30'. The young Franciscan Padre agreed.
In Nootka, 1909, as the pages of Catalá's biography unfolded before
Fr. Stern, he realized with deep feeling that the very spot where he
sat had once been hallowed by the apostolic tread of Padre Magin Catalá.
Fr. Stern read on. He read of the 36 years, 1794 to 1830, during which
the indomitable Padre Magin had labored against sickness and trial training
and Christianizing his great Indian family of 1,800 neophytes, at the
flourishing Mission of Santa Clara. Fr. Stern read of the death scene
of Catalá, the worn-out padre breathing forth his soul to God
in the arms of his brother priest, Fray José Viader, just
as the Indian neophytes were responding to the rising bell and
ascending, November 22, 1830.
Thirty-six witnesses of the exemplary padre's life and labors swore
to his personal virtues and holiness at the Ecclesiastical Process
As Fr. Stern read their testimony, the ejaculation which the early
Californianos were wont to use in time of need, found an echo in
his own heart: "Soul
of Padre Magin, assist me." It was more than five years that
Fr. Stern had then been laboring among the Indians of Nootka, on
coast of Vancouver Island. The response to his efforts had been
dis-heartening. He had come there as a young priest full of zeal,
to dedicate his
life to the salvation of this lowly people. But they would not
Only fishing, trading, money for liquor and ruin of body and soul
seemed attractive to them. They did not care about worthiness of
A strange emotion trembled in Fr. Stern's heart, as he read more
He recalled that Fr. Brabant, his distant neighbor Missionary, first
of the heroic Belgian missionaries who worked on Vancouver Island, said
that the Indians had told him, on his arrival in 1870, of remembering
in their distant childhood the men with long coats caught at the waist
with a cord, and shaven heads, who told them of "Dios".
Fr. Stern seemed to sense, as he read, the companionship of those
Franciscan padres of old. In his heart, a promise welled up, "O God, if You
will deign to bless and make fruitful my apostolic labors among these
Indians, granting this to me through the intercession of Fr. Catalá,
I will publish this to Your Glory and his honor."
On the following day, Fr. Stern announced to the two or three faithful
souls who came to Sunday Mass: "There will be a great series
of instructions, beginning in the church, tomorrow. Two hours talk
the morning for the women; two hours talk in the afternoon for
the men. All
Fr. Stern had tried this formula before. And before, no one came.
But this Monday morning, five women came. In the afternoon, three
Tuesday brought eight women. Tuesday afternoon, eight men. Day
by day, the number swelled. Within two weeks, the walls of the
church could not
hold the throng. Was it a movement of grace? The numbers kept increasing
and Fr. Stern continued his instructions. Six months went by, til
Holy Saturday saw a goodly number of neophytes, men and women,
bathed in the
saving waters of baptism.
A new series of instructions was begun at once. New classes of
Indians, old and young, presented themselves. Children were gathered
into a school.
The Faith manifestly had taken hold at Nootka. Nootka men and Nootka
women, between fishing trips came to the Father's house to ask
how they could help him. Did he want his garden weeded? Did he
want his church
painted, or the floor scrubbed? The fervent converts only waited
the priest's wishes to busy themselves as Nootka men and women
had not been
seen to busy themselves before.
If you grant this favor," Fr. Stern had promised to God, "I
will also make a pilgrimage to the tomb of Padre Catalá,
at Mission Santa Clara, in California. I will publish the results
It was a year of undoubted graces in the life of Fr. Stern and
in the development of the Catholic mission, at Nootka. But in Fr.
heart, there was now a new, strange stirring. The thought of adding
the oblation of religious vows to the already noble calling of
priesthood had begun to occupy his mind. He wrote and arranged
to make a three-day retreat at the community residence of Seattle
Benedictine Peace and Franciscan Lady Poverty were appealing strongly
to the missionary's soul. Was it a call from God?
To make sure, the young priest returned to his West Coast Indians
and worked more ardently than ever for them. "He is Nootka Man, now",
they said to him, "for he speaks our language". However, amid
continued favorable results in his mission work, the voice of the spirit
seemed to whisper: "Fulfill your promise! Go to Santa Clara. Offer
yourself for the religious life." Finally, Fr. Stern sought
and obtained the needed permissions from his Bishop, while his
and nearest neighbor, the missionary of Kyuquot, Father Emile Sobry,
agreed to look after Nootka.
Father Stern at Santa Clara offered Mass each day for ten days
at the Altar of the Crucifix, before which Padre Catalá was
known to have spent long nights in devotion. It was of this life-size
that eye-witnesses, in the ecclesiastical processes, had averred
figure of the Christ unbent to embrace the gray-robbed Franciscan
and to lift him above the ground.
In a metal casket close beside the Altar of the Crucifix, the dust
of the venerable Padre Catalá's remains rested. And a stone's throw
away, in the old Campo Santo, the burying ground beside the Mission wall,
there lay also the remains of certain Indians "de Nootke",
from Nootka, as the burial registers record. Perhaps their prayers, too,
were being joined on high with those of Padre Catalá to
ask special graces for the anxious Fr. Stern. At least, God's ways
not our ways,
and so we need not be surprised to find Fr. Stern at the end of
his ten days' retreat seeking permission of his Bishop to apply
at the Jesuit Novitiate of Los Gatos, California.
Father Sobry, who upon the departure of Fr. Stern from Nootka,
had generously taken over the work, gave the the writer the following
account of the
Indians as he found them. "I found a better disposition toward
religion among Indians at Nootka than I had encountered among Indians
had been laboring. For this reason, when Nootka was left to my
charge, I determined to make my headquarters there."
Fr. Stern, until very recently, was the Catholic Chaplain of the
city and county hospital of San Francisco, where besides the many
who come under his care, he has received hundreds of non-Catholics
into the fold. At present, he is stationed at the rectory of St.
Ignatius Church, San Francisco, much incapacitated by sickness,
yet busy still.
But amid his busy work, his thoughts go back at times to Nootka
Padre Catalá. He wants the results of that evening's reading
at Nootka made known. He hopes that others will seek the intercession
the Holy Man of Santa Clara, even as he did.
In 1908, the Sacred Congregation of Rites authorized the second
investigation regarding Padre Magin Catalá's life and virtue. The testimony
gathered under Fr. Richard A. Gleeson, S.J., was sent to Rome, and the
Cause of Padre Catalá now rests with the Sacred Congregation.
A prayer for the successful issue of the Cause was authorized by
Archbishop Hanna, of San Francisco, in 1916, and by subsequent
The devout faithful may be seen visiting the Padre's grave marker,
beside the Altar of the Crucifix, in the restored Mission of Santa
mention of the holy man by the present Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop
Amleto Cicognani, in his book "Sanctity in America",
may perhaps re-awaken the Cause and bring back to California lips
cherished invocation: "Soul of Padre Magin, assist