Alejandro Rapicani

San Francisco Xavier de Batuc


Ginny Sphar

Before 1737 no Padre had lasted more than a few months at Guevavi, after 1737 all of them did. Gradually the village came to resemble a mission community rather than a native ranchería. For the next 30 years neither disease nor revolt nor Apaches could keep the Jesuits away. During this period the gentile wilderness became a Spanish frontier. More settlers and cattlemen moved in on Pima’s lands. First one presidio, 19 leagues from Guevavi, then another, only 7 leagues away, was built at royal expense. The soldiers helped keep the Apaches in line. They tried to fend off the hostile invaders.

Although the next two Padres each lasted more than three years at Guevavi, their administrations belong to the wilderness phase rather than the more prosperous frontier phase. Their greatest contribution was their tenacity.

The first of these to reside at Guevavi was a real individualist. Alexandro Rapicani spoke his mind.

He was born in the town of Zeven in the duchy of Bremen on November 3, 1702. He was sound of body and had fair skin. His hair and beard were very blond, and his eyes were blue. Father Alexandro left the Jesuit college on April 14, 1735, and went from Westphalia across most of Germany.[1] From the port of Genoa he negotiated a passage to Spain. Once his ship anchored off the city of Cádiz, he and his fellow passengers were subject to a quarantine period, usually 5-10 days. He stayed at a Jesuit hospice while arrangements were being made for the ocean crossing.[2] Here he met Fathers Andrés Xavier García, superior of the group,Jacobo Sedelmayr, brothers Juan and Tomás Tello and more than 40 others of the Mission to New Spain. They departed November 22, 1735, on the ship Santa Rosa. On February 18, 1736, within sight of the port of Vera Cruz, the ship ran aground and foundered. Fortunately none drowned. From there on firm ground they pushed on to Mexico City.

On June 1, 1737, Father Keller turned over what was set forth in the inventory of Guevavi to Father Rapicani. The transfer was made in the presence of their Father Rector, Gaspar Stiger.

Five years had passed since the re-conquest began, yet Guevavi was still a poor mission. Father Alexandro would succeed in raising a surplus of wheat, maize, or grain and sell it to supplement the annual royal stipend of 350 pesos. If he had hoped to improve the mission, he would need more money.

Jesuit San Xavier del Bac rarely had a resident Padre. During the 75 years from Kino in 1692, to the banishment of the Jesuits in 1767, the Father’s house at Bac was vacant four out of five years. When Father Rapicani took over Guevavi in the summer of 1737, he also took over Bac. “The farthest and most populous” of the missions in Pimería Alta was administered by him and his successors for a dozen consecutive years essentially as a visita of Guevavi.[3] Some of the time they were granted an extra 200 pesos annually for their trouble.[4]

Although the religious objects were the same in number and kind as those of Guevavi, those at Bac bore the marks of the abortive uprising of 1734. There were exactly the same number of cattle, sheep and goats listed for Bac as for Guevavi, but fewer horses, mules and mares, no oxen.[5]

Alexandro Rapicani, whose subsequent career is well documented because of the polemics he engaged in, seemed to start out quietly.

Virtually nothing is known about his first two years at Guevavi. He did seem to be away for several months during the winter of 1737-1738.[6]

By June of 1739 he was complaining to Father Visitor that he had not received the items he had ordered from the Father Procurator in Mexico City, especially a heavy cassock for the cold Guevavi winters. In response, the Father Visitor suggested to the Father Provincial that the Father Procurator be admonished. Father Rapicani had every right to be annoyed. After all, “he is at one of the new missions of the Pimería and lacks everything of necessity unless Providence provides him with it.”[7]

Probably before Christmas of 1737 Rapicani had journeyed to San Ignacio with the books of Guevavi to present them to Bishop Martín de Elizacochea for inspection. Unless Father Alexandro had lapsed into some error of format, it was customary and routine for the Bishop’s secretary to enter a statement for the prelate’s signature, complimenting the Jesuit on his “apostolic and assiduous zeal” and urging him to continue the good work.[8]

Unfortunately most of the pages filled in by Rapicani in the Guevavi books are missing, as are those used by his resident predecessors. From August 17, 1739, the surviving pages of baptisms, marriages and burials form the most valuable single source for the history of Guevavi.[9]

Father Rapicani, who later hired an architect and stone mason to build for him at Batuc “without a doubt the most beautiful church in all Sonora,” had not the wherewithal at Guevavi to build even an adobe chapel.[10]

He did learn the Piman tongue, apparently well. However, this did not win over the village hechiceros, who continued to call down their evil magic and to obstruct his ministry. He was doing his best under trying circumstances. In the spring of 1740 there arrived from Rome a list of Jesuits deemed proven and ready to profess their final vows. Father Alexandro’s name was on it. Notified of the good news, the Padre of Guevavi rode south in mid-April to San Ignacio. He was joined there by former shipmate Jacobo Sedelmayr, also come to profess. On May 1, 1740, they professed at a public mass. As “professed” Fathers, Rapicani and Sedelmayr had reached the culmination of all their years of study and probation. As missionaries they had just begun.[11]

Before leaving San Ignacio there had been sporadic outbreaks of violence among the Yaquis and neighboring tribes. Yaqui agitators had even been reported in Pimería Alta. Responsibility, the Jesuits agreed, lay with one man, Governor Don Manuel Bernal de Huídobro. Since 1734, the five northwestern coastal provinces, Rosario, Culiacán, Sinaloa, Ostimuri and Sonora had been administered by Bernal de Huídobro. From the moment he took over, his pretensions to rule instead of reign over mission Indians had involved him in a continuous feud with the Jesuits. Now the effects of his policies had come home to roost and everybody would pay.[12]

As if this wasn’t enough, when Rapicani arrived back at Guevavi, he found that his friend and protector of the Jesuits was dead. It happened near Suamca. Father Keller, knowing the Apaches had scouted the area, told the Captain to be on his guard. Heeding the Jesuit, Anza closed ranks, but as they reached open country, Anza rode ahead. Without warning the Apaches attacked. Before his soldiers could help him, Anza was slain. The Apaches had claimed their trophy—the crown of Anza’s scalp.[13]

By June of 1740 the Yaqui and Mayo rebels had cut off all communication between Sonora and the south. Governor Bernal de Huídobro was holed up in Álamos. To hold the line in Sonora the Governor called upon a man he did not regard highly—the sargento mayor of that province, Don Augustín de Vildósola. He successfully defended Sonora and emerged the hero of the northwest.

Rapicani, who had endured the summer of 1740, was preparing to leave Guevavi. Sometime after August 27, 1740, he departed for the Seri mission of Pópulo on the Río San Miguel, 140 miles south.[14]

Not a year after he left Guevavi, Rapicani clashed with Vildósola, who succeeded the disgraced Huídobro. The Governor needed wheat for his horses since there was no maize that year. Father Alexandro, then serving at the Ópata mission of Batuc, refused to sell, saying if he did, he and his Indians would have none. One thing led to another. Don Augustín resorted to certain “indecorous epithets” to describe the stubborn Jesuit. Rapicani called the Governor an Attila, a scourge of God. He wrote in Latin to the Father Provincial that Vildósola was a wolf in sheep’s clothing “intolerably arrogant and vain, treats everyone including us, like slaves, expecting us to obey and to carry out his desires while he vigilantly attempts to acquire only things for himself.”[15]

Concerning the behavior of Rapicani, Father Juan Nentvig, 20 years later, wrote: “Because of his zeal, Father Alexandro Rapicani has seemed rather indiscreet to some persons. In the past he has given his superiors trouble and has suffered greatly because of it. Since he was restored to the mission of Batuc, he has behaved in such a manner that not the least complaint against His Reverence has reached me; he is indefatigable even though he is old and ailing.”[16]

But his enemies persisted. The teniente político of Batuc gathered testimony against Rapicani and submitted it to Governor Juan Claudio de Pineda. In his defense, Father Visitor Manuel Aguirre argued that the testimony was illegal. To prevent the Governor from making a hasty decision, the Visitor on Christmas Day 1764 delivered a letter praising Rapicani.[17]

Weighing the facts, the Governor concluded there was “nothing in the whole uproar contrary to the good reputation and honor of the Father.”[18]

Father Rapicani died during the Expulsion. In the church at Mátape, 50 Jesuits were gathered together to hear the decree read formally. Six of the ten Padres who had served over the years at Guevavi were present. Ahead of them now lay months of confinement at Guaymas in shacks not fit for animals, a disease-ridden voyage on the Gulf and a pitiful death march across Mexico.

As they toiled up the road from Tepic to Guadalajara, more than a year after the journey began, at least 20 died. Father Alexandro Rapicani died at Ixlán, two months before his sixty-sixth birthday, on September 3, 1768.[19] He had begun his stormy career at Guevavi, more than 30 years before.

[1] AGI, Contractión, 5550. For a biographical sketch of Father Sedelmayr, the best-known Jesuit to serve in Pimería Alta after Kino, see Dunne, Jacobo Sedelmayr: Missionary, Frontiersman, Explorer in Arizona and Sonora (Tucson: Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society, 1955) pp. 1-11.

[2] Treutlein, Travel Reports of Joseph Och, p. 7. See also Treutlein, “Jesuit Travel,” MA, XIX, pp. 107-109.

[3] One Father Joseph Favier, a native of Cologne and, like Rapicani and Sedelmayr, a member of the Mission of 1735, was assigned in 1737 to Kino’s old mission of Dolores. Because the climate there did not suit him, he was soon reassigned to San Xavier del Bac. Apparently death prevented him from ever reaching Bac. His burial was recorded by Father Stiger at San Ignacio on October 25, 1737. See José Pabier in Pradeau and Burrus, “Los Jesuitas.”

[4] Father Joseph Garrucho of Guevavi reportedly received the additional 200 pesos for looking after Bac in 1745, 1746 and 1747. “Quaderno de Misiones donde se relacionan las que estuvieron corrientes hasta el ano de 1753”; AGN, Misiones, 22.

[5] The original entregas, both in Father Rapicani’s hand and dated June 1, 1737, are in WBS, 1744, ff. 67-68, 71-73. They are translated in their entirety, along with two later ones, as Appendix II of the present study.

[6] On January 19, 1738, Father Keller baptized six persons in Gusutaqui. Felipe, native governor of the village, became little Aniceta’s godfather. The following week Keller was at San Xavier to celebrate another 23 baptisms. Back in Gusutaqui on February 22 he baptized still another native for whom Felipe was godfather. At no time did he mention the Padre Ministro of Guevavi. Soamca, Bautismos.

[7] Father Visitor Joseph Toral to Father Provincial Juan Antonio Oviedo, Banámichi, June 26, 1739; AHH, Temp., 17.

[8] Soamca, Bautismos. Donahue, “Jesuit Missions,” p. 158.

[9] Bound in a single manuscript and labeled “Tubaca y Otros,” the remaining pages of the Guevavi books, 1739-1767, are kept today in the Archives of the Roman Catholic Diocese, Tucson, Arizona. A companion volume, “De Calabasas Bautismos,” contains the surviving Franciscan records from Guevavi-Tumacácori, 1768-1825. Both are on microfilm at UAL and at the Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society, Tucson (APHS). Some years ago Father Victor R. Stoner tediously made handwritten transcripts in pencil of the Guevavi books, which he hoped eventually to have published. These, too, are at APHS.

[10] Roca, Paths of the Padres, p. 202. Rapicani’s impressive, vaulted, cut-stone church was inundated in the mid-1960s by the waters behind El Novillo dam. Only the façade was salvaged. See Juanita Ruiz, “Farewell Batuc—A Lost Historic Site,” Journal of Arizona History (JAH), Vol. VI (1965), pp. 152-54; also Pradeau, La expulsíon de los Jesuitas de las Provincias de Sonora, Ostimuri y Sinaloa en 1767 (Mexico, D.F.: Antigua Lìrería Robredo, 1959), pp. 202-203.

[11] Rafael de Zelis, s.j., Catálogo de los sugetos de la Compañía de Jesús que formaban la Provincia de México el día del arresto, 25 de junio de 1767 (Mexico, D.F., 1871), p. 72. On April 17, 1740, Rapicani baptized five children at San Ignacio.

[12] For details of the Yaqui revolt and Bernal de Huídobro versus the Jesuits, see Navarro García, La Sublevación Yaqui de 1740 (Sevilla: Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos, 1966).

[13] The details of Anza’s demise are provided in Apostólicos Afanes de la Compañía de Jesús (Mexico, D.F.: Luis Alvarez de la Cadena, 1944), 426-27 (originally published in Barcelona: Pablo Nadal, 1754). The year is generally given as 1739. It appears, however, the Captain died on May 9, 1740. Navarro García, Sublevación Yaqui, p. 97, n. 16.

[14] “Entrega que de orden del Pe. Visor. grl. Jsph. Xav. de Molina haze al Pe. Alexandro Rapicani el Pe. Nocolas de Perera de la Mission de Nuestra Señora del populo en 28 de Octubre del ano de 1740”; WBS, 1744, ff. 123-26.

[15] Rapicani to Father Provincial Matheo Anzaldo, November 16, 1742; quoted in Latin and Spanish in Pradeau, Expulsión, pp. 203-204. Toral to Vildósola, Guépaca, January 29, 1742; AHH, Temp., 17. Keller was also engaged in a bitter quarrel with Vildósola at this time. Letters of Keller, 1740-1742; ibid. See also Father Visitor Balthasar’s frank indictment of Governor Vildósola in Dunne, Balthasar, pp. 97-107.

[16] Nentuig to Father Provincial Francisco Zevallos, Opotu, July 18, 1764; AHH, Temp., 17. Rapicani had been removed from Batuc for several years, presumably for disciplinary reasons. In his absence, Father Bernardo Middendorf carried on the construction of Father Alexandro’s beautiful stone church.

[17] Aguirre to Pineda, Bacadéguachi, December 25, 1764; BNMex, 45/723. The Father Visitor was exaggerating a bit by claiming three different languages for Rapicani. Eudeve, or Southern Ópata, was a dialect of the Ópata.

[18] Pineda to Aguirre, quoted in Pradeau, Expulsión, p. 209.

[19] Rapicani expired on September 3, 1768. Matheu quoted by Pradeau, ibid., pp. 99-100. A curious statement concerning the death of Rapicani, obviously an error, was attributed to Fathers Retz and Kloeber writing in 1749. Referring to a member of the Lower Rhine Province, they wrote: “The ungrateful California natives slew Father Rapicani through witchcraft.” Burrus, Ducrue’s Account of the Expulsion, 147-48. Perhaps the allusion, somehow jumbled, was to Grazhoffer’s sad demise among the Pimas.

To learn more about Padre Rapicani go to Mission 2000 by clicking (here) and following the blue ID numbers. To return to Jesuit Missionaries, click (here).

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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