Franciscan Missionary Theory and Practice in Eighteenth-Century New Spain: The Propaganda Fide Friars in the Texas Missions, 1690-1821
The Franciscan missions in Texas were an important element in the larger colonial story of the region before 1820. But while all narrative histories of colonial Texas since the 1820s addressed the missions, recent scholarship downplayed the importance of the Spanish presence in favor of a greater emphasis on the indigenous polities that controlled the region, and those polities' role in restricting Spanish settlement. Even traditional narrative accounts, moreover, subjected the missionary himself to stereotypes and little further examination. This study fills these lacunae by looking at the formation, expectations, and lived experiences of these missionaries on New Spain's frontier, and how their preparation influenced the missions' outcomes. The curriculum and the socialization offered by Propaganda Fide colleges at Querétaro and Guadalupe de Zacatecas were critical to the formation and expectations of the friars sent to Texas. Archival evidence indicates that the collegiate Franciscans intended for both frontier and domestic missions prepared to be missionaries to a Catholic faithful perceived to need another period of evangelization. They were to be skilled preachers trained in moral theology who measured the success of their work by the sacramental actions their efforts produced in the target population. This orientation combined with a strong connection in their minds to the legacy of Observant Franciscan methods in central Mexico in earlier centuries while they experimented with an evolving missiology in Texas. Finally, their preparation reflected the idea that evangelization and colonization were connected and that they functioned as part of the advance of Spanish civilization. As self-perceived elites within their order, the missionaries pursued new conversions in Texas with the expected cooperation of the state. Texas presented diverse indigenous cultures which the friars struggled to address in effective ways. Their greatest successes occurred with hunter-gatherers near the San Antonio River and on the coast. But the friars' sacramental, parish-oriented approach coupled with the diversity of the target peoples led to the failure of most Texas missions. Despite this, the Texas missionaries maintained a consistent rhetoric of purpose that defined failures in uniquely Franciscan terms as trials to be suffered while persevering to desired ends.
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