Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

Born at Milan, 15 November, 1648; died at Guadalajara, 17 July, 1717. His family was of Spanish origin, the name being written originally Salva-Tierra. While pursuing his studies at the Jesuit college of Parma, he accidentally came across a book upon the Indian missions. It so impressed him that he at once determined to give his life to the same work, although his parents had destined him for marriage with a lady of high rank. Receiving the habit of the Jesuit Order in Genoa, he sailed for Mexico in 1675, and on arriving in that country continued his theological studies for a time, after which he was assigned to a professorship in the college of Puebla. Declining a position in the cathedral, he received permission to devote himself to the conversion of the Indians and, in June, 1680, set out for the still unconquered and defiant Tarumari (q.v.) in the wild mountain defiles of south-western Chihuahua. Among these, and their neighbours, the Tubar, Guazaar, and others, he laboured for ten years, establishing or having charge of several missions, baptizing whole bands, winning the affection of the wild tribes, and, alone, holding them quiet when all around were in murderous revolt. In 1690 he was appointed visitador or inspector of the Jesuit missions of the north-western district. Soon afterwards, through conversations with the missionary explorer, Father Eusebio Kino , he conceived an intense desire for the evangelization of Lower California, for which undertaking official authority was finally granted in 1697, all expense to be at the cost of the missionaries. In the organization and later conduct of the work his chief collaborator was Father Juan Ugarte. The contributions for this purpose, by generous donors, formed the basis of the historic fondo piadoso , or Pious Fund, of California, for so many years a subject of controversy with the republican government of Mexico.

With one small boat's crew and six soldiers Salvatierra landed 15 October, 1697, at Concepción Bay, on the coast of the peninsula, and a few days later founded the first of the California missions, which he dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto, his special patroness through life. For a time he acted as priest, captain, sentry, and cook, besides studying the language from a vocabulary prepared by an earlier Jesuit visitor. Father Juan Copart, and from natives who could be induced by presents to come near. In the course of the next few years he founded six missions, successfully overcoming all difficulties. He also made some important explorations. In 1704, being summoned to Mexico, he was appointed provincial, but when accepting the office requested that he might soon again be permitted to take up his mission work. This was granted; in 1707 a successor was appointed, and Father Salvatierra returned to his mission charge, where he remained until summoned in 1717 to Mexico to confer with the new viceroy. Despite a painful infirmity he set out, but the fatigue so aggravated his disorder that he was obliged to stop at Guadalajara, to which place he insisted on being carried in a litter rather than turn back. Says the Protestant historian Bancroft: "It was thus that the apostle of California made his last earthly journey. For two long months he tossed upon his deathbed, suffering extreme agony. Then, feeling that his end was near, he summoned the faithful Bravo to his side, confided to him the particulars of mission affairs, and empowered him to represent California at the capital. On the 17th July, 1717, he died, as he had lived, full of hope and courage. The whole city assembled at his funeral, and the remains were deposited amidst ceremonies rarely seen at the burial of a Jesuit missionary, in the chapel which in former years he had erected to the Lady of Loreto. Salvatierra's memory needs no panegyric. His deeds speak for themselves; and in the light of these, the bitterest enemies of his religion or of his order cannot deny the beauty of his character and the disinterestedness of his devotion to California." His most important writings are: "Cartas sobre la Conquista espiritual de California" (Mexico, 1698); "Nuevas Cartas sobre lo mismo" (Mexico, 1699); and his "Relaciones" (1697-1709) in "Documentos para la Historia de Mexico" (4th series, Mexico, 1853-7).

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 3:14-21
14 This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father,15 ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 33:1-2, 4-5, 11-12, 18-19
1 Shout for joy, you upright; praise comes well from the ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 12:49-53
49 'I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 20th, 2016 Image

St. Paul of the Cross
October 20: St. Paul of the Cross was born at Ovada in the ... Read More