Where Does the Statue Controversy End?

(originally published Oct. 26, 2017  in Catholic San Francisco)

The San Francisco Arts Commission voted unanimously on October 2 to recommend to the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission the possible removal of the “Early Days” sculpture of the Pioneer Monument”. One of the three figures on the sculpture is a Franciscan priest. The timing of the push to remove the “Early Days” statue of the Pioneer Monument in San Francisco coincided with the removal of Confederate statues in the South, anti-Columbus Day news, when many were celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month, and the recent vandalism of memorials of the 18th century Franciscan, Saint Junípero Serra, who brought Catholic Christianity to California. Are those demanding removal of “Early Days” barking up the wrong tree?

Saint Junípero Serra, the founder of the California missions knew history and wanted to distance himself from the conquistadors and encomienda system. He wanted to change hearts and minds with the Gospel, not the sword. His heroics were recognized by the monument’s benefactors in 1894 with a portrait medallion near the “Early Days” statue. Dr. George Yagi, Jr., professor of history at San Joaquin Delta College, is not the first to argue how Junípero Serra defended the California Mission Indians against Spanish military abuse.  Like any institution, the California missions had its saints and sinners and all types in-between. The greatest tragedy was an unintended consequence of the cultural exchange—the majority of the Mission Indians died due to diseases to which they had no immunity. 

The plaque “California Native Americans” added in 1994 to the Pioneer Monument rightly notes that pre-contact with Europeans, the California Indian population was estimated to be 300,000. Historian James A. Sandos argued in Converting California that the overall population dropped 21 percent by 1830, just before Mexico took possession of California. Regarding the Indians in the area of mission influence, he notes from 1770-1830, the population declined from 65,000 to 17,000, a loss of 74 percent. Scholar Barry Pritzer estimates by the end of the 19th century there were 15,000 California Indians.  Therefore, the near annihilation of the California Indians came during the Gold Rush from the 49ers and with the blessing of the government of California. The native got in the way of so-called progress and genocide ensued. 

Accusation does not mean guilt. California Mission history is complex and generalizations, when looking at any history, should be avoided. It would be crazy to believe that all Pueblo Indians were bad because of Popé, the religious leader who headed the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 that killed 400 Spanish and relocated 2,000 settlers. Yet Popé has been honored with a statue in Washington, D.C.

If city officials are really set on righting a wrong of history, maybe they should demand that the San Francisco 49ers change its name. If they are really serious about removing offensive monuments, then they should consider the Monument to the Lincoln Brigade. The Republican forces (the side they fought for) in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) murdered 6,844 Catholic clerics and religious.

Yale University historian David Blight, an expert on slavery, and other historians presented a very sensible criteria when judging historical monuments: 

“ . . . discussions [should] weigh many factors, among them: the history behind when and why the monument was built. Where it’s placed. The subject’s contribution to society weighed against the alleged wrongdoing. And the artistic value of the monument itself.”

Maybe this will help the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission avoid politicization when it comes to the fate of the “Early Days” statue of the Pioneer Monument.

PC: Joshua Sabatini, San Francisco Examiner, Mar 5, 2018.

Christian Clifford is a veteran Catholic school teacher and author of three books about Catholic Church History in Spanish and Mexican California. Clifford’s writings have appeared in Aleteia, California Teacher, Catholic San Francisco, Catholic Standard, Crux, Patheos, and Today’s Catholic Teacher. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and son. For more information, visit www.Missions1769.com.

Resources: St. Junípero Serra & California mission history

I hope the resources on my website will help you learn about and teach this chapter in California history. It is by an educator who learned a lot by writing four books and articles about colonial California.

Included on my Resources page:

  • 10 Facts about Saint Junípero Serra
  • Discerning the Spirit of Saint Junípero Serra
  • Native Catholic Voices
  • Missions Timeline
  • Further Reading
  • Petition4PabloTac: Mission Indian, seminarian, scholar
  • Virtually visit the California missions on Missions1769 Flickr page.

¡Siempre adelante y nunca para atrás!

#GoGoStJunipero #PabloTacPray4Us #Forwardinmission

Pablo Tac Resources

As Oceanside, California gets closer to naming a public school after Pablo Tac, the following will help one learn about him.

First, read the only biography written for the general audience, Meet Pablo Tac, the story of the Mission Indian from San Luis Rey de Francia who became the first seminarian from the California missions. His writings are the earliest from a California Mission Indian. The book is about faith, courage in the face of adversity, and the universality of the Catholic Church. It is a must for California Indian studies.

Also, find videos and other resources about Pablo Tac at the following links:

“You know of Junípero Serra but have you heard of Pablo Tac?” in Aleteia
  • “Catholic Educator and Author Campaigns for Remarkable, Holy California Mission Indian” in OsideNews

Last, all are welcome to read, sign, and share the petition to nominate Pablo Tac for the cause of canonization at https://www.change.org/InvokePabloTac.

Pablo Tac on CNA Newsroom


Contact: missions1769(at)gmail(dot)com

Website: www.Missions1769.com

Story of California mission Indian Pablo Tac shared on award-winning podcast CNA Newsroom

San Mateo, CA — Christian Clifford, veteran Catholic school educator, has been on a quest to get the word out about Pablo Tac (1822-1841). He recently did just that while a guest on CNA Newsroom, an award-winning podcast of EWTN News, part of the largest religious media network in the world.

Pablo Tac was Luiseño Indian. He was born and raised at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, located in present-day Oceanside, California. At the age of ten, he left the Mission with Fr. Antonio Peyrí and another Luiseño boy, Agapito Amamix. Their destination was Rome. On September 23, 1834, Pablo and Agapito enrolled at the Urban College. There they learned how to be missionary priests, hoping to one day return home to minister to their fellow Luiseño. 

Clifford, author of the only popular biography about the Mission Indian youth, Meet Pablo Tac, hopes that bringing attention to Pablo Tac will lead to more research being done. He believes there must be more to discover about him beyond what we know. 

Pablo Tac’s writings are the earliest from a California Indian. While in Rome studying for the Catholic priesthood, Pablo wrote a description of life as a mission Indian (“Conversion of the San Luiseños of Alta California”, c. 1835), gave a public recitation of a poem at the Polyglot Academy (c. January 1836), in Sequoyahesque fashion created a dictionary of the language of his people (“Prima Linguae Californiensis Rudimenta a P. Tak proposita”, c. February 1838), and wrote an account of the native peoples in Southern California (“De Californiensibus”, c. after 1838). 

Clifford realizes that unlike the first North American Indian saint, Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), Pablo is little known. That does not seem to slow him down, though. He was overjoyed when he met Catholic Luiseños in July 2019 at the Tekakwitha Conference in Sharonville, Ohio who are aware of Pablo and follow in his footsteps. Also, a hall at Mission San Luis Rey was named after Pablo in 2012 and in June 2021 it was decided that an Oceanside public elementary school will take his name. He is confident that once people are made aware of his short life that it inspires, as attested by the over 500 Catholics and people of good will who have signed the petition to nominate Pablo Tac for the cause of canonization (an electronic version of the petition can be found at www.change.org/InvokePabloTac). The campaign has not yet received the support of the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians or the Diocese of San Diego.

Clifford, who finished walking the 800-mile California Missions Trail in the summer of 2020, made it a point to pray to and draw inspiration from Pablo Tac. He shares, “Pablo has the power to move hearts and minds.”

Listen to the podcast “Ep. 117: The powerful witness of Native American Catholics” at https://soundcloud.com/cnanewsroom. For more information about Christian Clifford, visit www.Missions1769.com. For a brief video on the life of Pablo Tac, go here.