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[122]

Chapter 13: the Jesuits.

“their task is done, and they are gone,” says Padre Varsi, Principal of the Jesuit College in Santa Clara, and an eminent member of his company.

A tall, dark figure, with a face of antique mould, in which the natural force seems tamed by fasting, prayer, and self-control, the reverend Father has lived in many cloisters, travelled in many countries, and is well acquainted with the world. He seems to live in his retreat, taking no thought of the world beyond his college gates; yet he is quick with news, and has a perfect knowledge of what is passing in the courts of London and Berlin, Paris and Rome.

He need to have his eyes and. ears alive. A great and arduous labour lies before him and the other Jesuits in California, for their Church has lost her ancient empire on the coast, and they are [123] cnarged with a commission to restore that empire to the Papal chair.

“ When I first came to Monterey,” said Spence to me the other day, “every man in this country was a Catholic, every woman a devout Catholic. The Roman sentiment was in the air. You could no more avoid going to mass in the morning than you could escape sleeping in the fort at night. No other rites but those of Rome were tolerated in the place. Whether you liked or not, you were obliged to keep the customary rules, and call yourself a subject of the Pope.”

“You were not a Catholic?”

“No, I was a Presbyterian, like my father, but a Presbyterian could not stay in Monterey, so I was forced to seem a Catholic, in order to stay and carry on my trade.”

When Spence proposed to marry, he had to go further still. Not for his blue eyes and yellow locks would his senorita wed a heretic. Her priest forbade such wickedness, and Spence, in order to secure his prize, was forced to ask admission to the Catholic fold. But things are changed. Though Catholic feeling still runs high, and some old ladies use big [124] words, nobody dreams of asking an American suitor to renounce his creed in order to obtain a woman's hand. An upper class now reigns in Monterey county, over which the priests and Jesuits have no control. Young ladies look for English mates, aware that English husbands will draw them to another Church. In other counties, Rome is weaker than she is in Monterey. Stockton and Sacramento are as strictly Evangelical as Pittsburg and Cincinnati. Oakland and San Francisco rival Brooklyn and New York. Even Santa Clara has ceased to be a Catholic town. Where Rome was lately all in all, she shows to-day no more than a broken sceptre and a scattered power.

At most the Roman Church retains a foothold in a section of the country here and there. These sections lie exposed, and she is still without a native army to repel attack. Her posts are garrisoned by foreign troops. Here is her weakness and her misery. Who drove her Orders into exile? Not her enemies, but her sons; the infants she had nursed, the pupils she had taught. Who gave her leave to bring these Orders back? Her enemies, not her sons; the very enemies who resent her policy, and resist her march. [125] “You must be gone,” scream her children, hating priestcraft more than they love liberty and justice. “ Our ports are open, even to you,” proclaim her enemies, loving liberty and justice more than they fear priestcraft. How, with such poor allies, are the Jesuits to confront such strong adversaries?

They have everything to create and to apply. These hybrids cannot furnish them a decent priest, much less a learned professor. As a rule the priests are foreigners. The bishop of Monterey is a Gaul, the cure is a Swiss. At Santa Clara the professional chairs are held by English, Irish, French, and Italian scholars. Not a single Mexican holds a chair. It is a great misfortune for the fathers, since no people on earth are so touchy on the point of foreign rule as those of Spain. But Padre Varsi cannot help this state of things. A foreigner himself, he sees that foreigners must supply the lack of native learning, loyalty, and faith.

The Church has much to do and much to undo. She has to train her officers to command, to teach her rank and file to obey. In front of her stands an enemy not only armed with physical power, but strong in law and logic, science and the liberal arts. [126] Such tasks are not for sleepy hollows, and for teachers hardly taught. In such a fight as Rome is waging on this coast, the camp must be a college and the captains must be learned men.

So far the Jesuit fathers see their way. In taking such a line, how far are they returning to the ground on which the brethren of St. Francis staked and lost their cause?

We pace the Franciscan garden, the old fountain still playing, the old olive trees bearing fruit. This garden is an idyl. Note how homely yet pictorial is that bit of wall on which the winter roses blush and burn, how daintily these screens and trellises bear the fruit, how grave and oriental rise yon cypresses and palms! Is there not something in this hush and shade which carries you in fancy to yet holier spots of earth? Glancing from the Spanish fountain to the Syrian palms, I ask the Jesuit father whether it is certain that their work is done.

“ Yes; that which they could do best is done.”

“Your company will not try to carry on their work? ”

“ Not here and now. The time for such a course is past. Lessons in farming and in raising stock [127] are not the things most wanted by people in these valleys. In Algiers and Paraguay, our Fathers taught the native how to till his soil and gather in his grain. At Santa Clara we have other things to do. The native race, for whom the brethren of St. Francis toiled, is all but gone. Our conflict lies in other fields.”

Varsi is right. His conflict lies in other fields than that in which Fray Tomas the Franciscan laboured. Pausing in the library, the theatre, and the playground, we note with curiosity his instruments of war.

“Our business,” says Padre Varsi, “ is to educate the young. Hoping to do our business well, we have enlarged the old fence, built a new front to the church, and added new halls and bath-rooms to the mission-house.”

“Pray tell me how you got the ground?”

“By bringing peace into the town, and proving that we came as friends. My predecessor, Padre Giovanni Nobili, came to Santa Clara shortly after the gates were opened to our exiles. There was some confusion in the place. The brethren of St. Francis, having just come back, were trying to [128] oust the settlers from their farm and c.lttle-runs. Right lay with the brethren, law with the settlers. Most of the intruders were English and Americans, who had bought their farms and cattle-runs from Mexicans, in free possession at the time of sale. The purchasers were armed with rifles, and the courts of law were on their side. What could the brethren do? Nobili counselled peace. The brethren quitted Santa Clara, having lost their means of doing good. Seeking another field elsewhere, they left their church and garden to Padre Nobili, who organised a college, which he hoped to make a rival of Michigan, if not of Yale.”

Padre Varsi has perfected what Nobili began. In Rome, a Jesait may denounce the modern world, but Varsi has to make this modern world a servant of his Church. “We pay attention to all improvements in physical science,” he says, and his laboratories seem to prove that he is right. Books, tools, instruments, crucibles are of the newest style. These Jesuit fathers understand their age. At Santa Clara we find a printing-press, a photographic studio, a monthly magazine. The rooms are airy, bright, and clean, for the Jesuits strive [129] not only to win their pupils but to keep them long; time being required for building up those habits of thought which a Jesuit thinks essential to the Christian life. We have a brass band, a gymnasium, a fencing alley, a playground. We count an Owl Association, a base ball club, a dramatic society, and a junior dramatic society. Acting of plays is one of our great amusements, and our theatre is popular with the young men in our college, and with young and old men beyond our gates. We sing operettas, and trip through farces and conversation pieces. We are fond of picturesque dances, which Father Mallon, one of our French professors, puts on the stage with an artistic eye. Of course, we suffer from the lack of female help, but Father Mallon dresses up his boys in skirt and bodice, so that folks before the curtain think them rather pretty girls. He gets the freshest music from Paris, and we are very rich just now in that of Monsieur Lecocq. But we are capable of higher things than acting Furnished Apartments; we have tried our luck at Hamlet, and have played Macbeth with some applause. Shakspeare is our poet, though we cannot put Othello on the stage so easily as we can Cherry Bounce. [130]

The library is mixed, yet many of the books are new. “ Unlike the Trappists,” says Padre Varsi, smiling, “we arm ourselves with books instead of relics. We believe in books.”

Twelve thousand volumes weight his shelves; a library which has only three superiors in California; the Odd Fellows library, the Mercantile library, and the State library. Some of these books are rare old tomes, but many of them are lexicons, translations, and the customary cribs. At Santa Clara the path of learning is not paved with spikes.

“Two countrymen of yours,” the Padre adds, “are on our staff; Professor Dance of Oxford, and Professor Leonard of Cork.” Dance professes English literature. Leonard, an Irish genius, professes mathematics, metallurgy, assaying, and other physical sciences.

“ How many Fathers have you in the college?”

“Forty Jesuits, and nineteen lay brothers; fiftynine in all. But we have branches of the company in other towns; one branch at San Jose, with five Jesuits, and a second branch at San Francisco, where Father Massenata superintends a school.”

The Fathers keep their college gay and winsome, [131] catching their Hybrid pupils through the sense of sight. It is their wisdom to be popular. A Jesuit planted the first vine in Santa Clara, a Jesuit pressed the first grapes in California. Mission grapes bring high prices in the market, and Mission wine is still a favourite of the table. Jesuits are pleased to hear the merit of these feats ascribed to them in many a pleasant toast and jovial song.

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