The Protomartyr of California

On March 12th, 1771, a band of 10 Franciscan missionaries disembarked at Monterey to receive their assignments from the superior of the missions of Alta California, St. Junipero Serra.

Among these was Fr. Luis Jayme, described in the records as a “person with well proportioned physique, somewhat thin, and of a darkish complexion.” Fray Luis was a native of Mallorca who had studied in the convent school of San Bernardino, once attended by the fellow Mallorcan Serra himself.

Mission San Diego de Alcala, from

By July 14th, Fray Luis had arrived at his new post at the mission of San Diego, to minister to the Kumeyaay Indians, also known as Diegueños.

Though the priest had some successes there, he found it plagued with significant problems, including its disadvantageous location atop Presidio Hill. As he wrote to his superior Fr. Serra in 1773: “it seems that as long as the mission is here, it will never have a firm basis. Nor should there be mission here, on account of the scarcity of water.”

It was thus agreed to move the mission to a better-watered and more fertile place called Nipaguay. Conversions increased dramatically there, with about 60 Indians baptized on the vigil of St. Francis, October 3rd, 1775, to add to a large group already brought into Holy Mother Church.

But this success, as Fr. Francisco Palou later recorded, inspired the devil to plan

“an attack on this spiritual conquest, and God in His inscrutable judgments permitted Satan to revenge himself upon those who had snatched so many souls from his infernal clutches.”

At 1 o’ clock in the morning of November 4th, 1775, a band of 600-800 warriors, including apostates from the missions, snuck onto the compound. They ransacked the chapel and then began to set fire to the buildings and kill some of the residents.

Awakened by the commotion, Fray Luis left his bed and approached some of the warriors

“Amar a Dios, hijos!” he greeted them: “Love God my children!” This was not a warning or command; merely his customary greeting.

But in return, the warriors seized the poor friar and dragged him down to the nearby river, where they stripped him, riddled him with 18 arrows, and then beat out with clubs whatever little life remained to him.

The next day. grieving residents found his disfigured body, only able to identify the priest by the whiteness of his skin. The only part of his body left intact were his hands alone–the tools with which he had offered the Holy Sacrifice of Mass.

St. Junipero Serra, upon learning what had happened, remarked:

“Thanks be to God: that land is already irrigated [with blood]; now the conversion of the Diegueños will succeed.”

If that sentiment at the death of a confrere strikes modern man as insensitive, it is because we, unlike the Apostle of California, have grown lax in our supernatural faith and have placed too much stock in our achievements of this world rather than our standing in the next.

For the martyrs of a much more ancient time have passed on a phrase that surely was behind St. Junipero’s reply:

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

Today, November 4th, we remember the protomartyr Fray Luis Jayme, and the blood he spilled so that the Church in California could flourish among the glorious flowers of the New World.


November 4, 2020