94. San Luis Rey de Francia:
The King of the California Missions
By Miguel Pérez
Some 40 miles north of San Diego, just east of the City of Oceanside, in an unincorporated community known as San Luis Rey, the Great Hispanic American History Tour found one of the last missions built by Spanish Franciscan friars in California: San Luis Rey de Francia.
If you had assumed the California missions were built in geographic order, from south to north, then you expected to find the second mission, following San Diego de Alcalá.
But the California missions were not built in geographic order, and Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is actually the 18th. It was built by Father Fermin Lasuen in 1798 to fill the gap between the already established missions of San Diego to the south and San Juan Capistrano to the north.
Father Lasuen had succeeded Father Junípero Serra as president of the California missions after Serra died in 1784. Lasuen is credited for starting nine missions, following the first nine established by Serra.
"By the time Mission San Luis Rey, the 18th mission, was founded in 1798, the template was set for how a mission should layout, operate and grow," according to a mission exhibit.
Named for King Louis IX of France, this mission claimed some 1,000 square miles in territory that now encompasses the cities of Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Vista, San Marcos, Fallbrook, Temecula and Camp Pendleton.
Led by Father Antonio Peyri, who was appointed by Lasuen, the mission's Luiseño Indians - and their harvests - thrived for 34 years - until 1834, when the Mexican government, having won independence from Spain, took control mission lands, effectively ending California's "Mission Period."
After trying to work with Mexican authorities, Peyri became disillusioned by the way the government was dismantling the mission system. He sought help in Mexico City, but was unsuccessful and returned to Spain.
"Under secularization, the Indians were removed from Franciscan tutelage, given Mexican citizenship and assigned land which was soon confiscated" (by new settlers), according to another mission exhibit.
And other exhibits explain that, "the Mission fields had grown to weeds, the Indians had no way to make a living and it was too late to return to old ways."
The exhibits explains that in 1846, this mission was sold by Mexican Governor Pio Pico for $2,347, and that the property was then divided; the buildings stripped of valuables and left for ruin.
And although California became U.S. territory in 1848 and a state of the union in 1850, and although Abraham Lincoln returned the missions to the Catholic Church in 1865, this mission remained abandoned until 1892, when a group of exiled Franciscans from Zacatecas, Mexico arrived here seeking refuge and spend several years rebuilding the mission. Other parts of the mission have been rebuilt over the years, resulting in a truly beautiful Hispanic heritage site.
According to another exhibit, "Today the San Luis Rey area is occupied by people from all walks of life. The Luiseños and the Franciscans continue to live and serve the greater San Diego North County community. The mission remains home to the friars and maintains an active Catholic parish, retreat center, cemetery and houses the Franciscan School of Theology."
Next, Did you know that some California Spanish missions had sub-missions created to extend their reach further inland? They were called "asistencias." But they were really smaller missions where Franciscan friars led native communities. Most of the asistencias are no longer active, or accessible to the public. But the one that still is most active is the asistencia to San Luis Rey. It's called San Antonio de Pala, because it was named after Saint Anthony and resides in an Indian Reservation called Pala. It's also the next stop for The Great Hispanic American History Tour. And so, before trekking further north, we must take a small detour and go east. Stay tuned!