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The head of the Catholic missions in California between 1769 and 1812 was known as the President-General and was appointed by his apostolic college in Mexico City. After 1812 when Mexico became independent, he was appointed by the Commissary General of the Indies, a Franciscan residing in Spain and technically known as the Commissary Prefect (although President-General is the more common term used). The character of the job changed as the missions became secularized (1833) and the mission system collapsed.  Following is a list of the Presidents-General in charge of the Alta California missions:

1769 - 1784: Blessed Junipero Serra
This bio on a page of its own.
1784 - 1785: Padre Francisco Palóu
Padre Francisco Palóu (1723-1789) was born 22 January 1723 at Palma de Mallorca. He joined the Franciscans in 1739, studied theology under Blessed Serra, and was ordained in 1743. He came to the Californias at the invitation of his teacher in 1749. He worked with Blessed Serra in Mexico. After Blessed Serra left for Alta California he became President-General of the missions in Baja California. He came to Alta California and was diarist on two San Francisco expeditions. He was with Blessed Serra when he died 28 August 1784. He served as President-General until the appointment of Padre Fermín Francisco de Lasuén. He wrote a biography of Blessed Serra that was published in 1787. He moved back to Mexico City in 1785, served as Guardian of San Fernando and died in office 6 April 1789.
1785 - 1803: Padre Fermín Francisco de Lasuén
This bio on a page of its own.
1803 - 1812: Padre Estévan Tapis
Padre Estévan Tapis (1756-1825) was born in 1756 in Colona de Farnes, Catalonia. He entered the Order of Friars in 1778 and left for the New World in 1786. He came to Monterey in 1790 and was assigned to Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. After three years he moved to Mission Santa Bárbara where he made many improvements. His 1800 description of missionary methods is considered to be an excellent work. He served as President-General during the mission "Golden Age." He asked to be relieved of that duty in 1810 as was finally replaced in 1812. In 1812 he came to Mission San Juan Bautista. He was adept in music and developed a technique of using colored notes to aid the natives in learning. He started a famous choir of Native American boys that performed for many. He died there 3 November 1825.

1812 - 1815: Padre José Francisco de Paula Señán
Padre José Francisco de Paula Señán (1760-1823) was born in Barcelona 31 March 1760. He started his instruction in 1774 and was ordained in 1784. He was sent to Mexico City and about 1787 came to Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. He was elected President-General in 1812 and again in 1820. He was well regarded by all. He passed away 24 August 1823.
1815 - 1819: Padre Mariano Payeras
Padre PayerasPadre Mariano Payeras (1769-1823) was born in Inca on the isle of Mallorca in 1769. He arrived in California in 1796 and spent time at the Carmel, Soledad, and San Antonio missions. He was assigned to Mission La Purísima Concepción in the fall of 1804 and basically stayed there the rest of his life. He was named President-General for internal mission affairs in 1814 and Commissary Prefect (see intro above) in 1815. It was under his direction that the inland asistencias at Pala and San Bernardino were established. He passed away 28 April 1823 and was buried at La Purísima. A tomb was unearthed 27 July 1936 during rebuilding of that mission and identified as his. [Side note: Another tomb that is identified as Padre Payeras' burial place also exists at Mission Santa Bárbara. Apparently, some of the remains of Padre Payeras had been moved by Rev. Father Francisco Sánchez to a vault at Santa Bárbara for reasons presently unclear. Thus, Padre Payeras seems to be buried in two different places.]
1820 - 1823: Padre José Francisco de Paula Señán
See above for bio.
1823 - 1824: Padre Vincente Francisco de Sarría
I've found little written about Padre Vincente Francisco de Sarría. There are specific items listed however. He appears in the Henry Lebbeus Oak autograph collection at the Archival Center in Mission Hills. He is noted via comments in several biographies. He apparently baptized John Gilroy, the first foreigner to permanently settle in California. Gilroy landed from the Isaac Todd in Monterey in 1814 and was baptized Juan Antonio Maria 29 September 1814. He had a hand in the creation of the Santa Ysabel Asistencia. 2 February 1819 he noted that "in the place called Santa Isabel, toward the Sierra, they count a goodly number of baptized souls...I asked the governor for permission to formally erect a chapel there." Finally, he is credited with the "first original contribution every offered by a resident of California in the field of medicine": an 1830 paper on caesarian section.
1824 - 1827: Padre Narcisco Durán
Padre Narcisco Durán (1776-1846) was born 1776 in Catalonia. He came to the New World in 1803, arrived in Monterey in 1806 and was assigned to Mission San José. He spent 27 years there. He is noted for his prólogo on mission music; compiled in 1813. He was elected President-General in 1824 (and during later periods as well--see below). In 1826 he refused to take the oath of allegiance to Mexico and had troubles with public officials as a result, despite his good standing within the church. In 1833 Padre Durán moved the mission headquarters from San José to Santa Bárbara. He passed away there in 1846.
1827 - 1830: Padre José Bernardo Sánchez
I've found little written about Padre José Bernardo Sánchez. It's clear that he was a force in the California mission system. He appears in the Henry Lebbeus Oak autograph collection at the Archival Center in Mission Hills. He is known to have traveled with Padre Mariano Payeras to San Jacinto, a distant rancho of Mission San Luis Rey in September 1821. He also appears in an 1836 sketch at Mission San Gabriel. I have no actual biographical information, however.
1830 - 1833: Padre Narcisco Durán
See above for bio.

1833 - 1838: Padre Narcisco Durán
See above for bio.
1838 - ?: Padre José Joaquin Jimeno
I've found little written about Padre José Joaquin Jimeno. The one item I found mentioned that he was asked, in 1844, by Bishop Garcia Diego to be among those who petitioned Governor Manuel Micheltorena for land next to Mission Santa Inés to be used as a seminary.


  • Weber, Msgr. Francis J. Encyclopedia of California's Catholic Heritage. St. Francis Historical Society and The Arthur H. Clark Company. 2000.
  • President-General list at http://www.notfrisco.com/almanac/missions/

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