Miguel Gerstner

Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi


Ginny Sphar

Father Gerstner was born on March 17, 1723, in the town of Evenshausen, in the province of Franconia, Germany. He was admitted to the Society of Jesus on July 12, 1744, and was a member of the Jesuit province of the Upper Rhine when he volunteered for the Missions.[1]

True to his vow, Governor Mendoza saw to it that missionaries were sent to Tucson and the San Pedro Valley. During the first days of 1757, two of the five German Padres who had arrived on the frontier late in 1756 made ready to begin their missionary careers.

Miguel Gerstner, in the company of Fathers Hlava and Keller, rode forth from Soamca down the valley of the San Pedro to the north. Now the loyal Sobaípuris would have a Padre. But instead of welcoming them, the Sobaípuris wore menacing looks. They wanted nothing to do with the new Padre. Father Keller of Suamca was their Padre and they wanted no other.

The natives had gotten used to Christianity at a distance, and on their terms: they were willing to remain allies of the Spanish and go on their campaigns. They said they would kill any other missionary sent to them. There was nothing to do but retreat back to Soamca.

At this time Father Gerstner joined Father Pauer at Guevavi.[2] He stayed only a few weeks but later would return. He did so in mid-January 1760. Father Pauer turned over the inventory to Father Gerstner.

Miguel Gerstner, rejected by the Sobaípuris in the beginning, was continually ill from the time he entered the Pimería.[3] He was not quite 37 when he moved into the Padre’s house at Guevavi. His first entry in the Guevavi books was a burial on January 12, 1760.[4]

Ten days after taking over he called for his horse and an escort and took the trail north. His closest visita was San Cayetano de Calabazas. It had no church or cemetery.[5] Then he skirted the base of San Cayetano and visited the church at Tumacácori that Father Pauer had built. Because the Presidio at Tubac, one league farther north, still had no church, the troops and their families often met the Padre at Tumacácori.

He had trouble learning Piman and used an interpreter.[6] Then he went east past the Salero Mine and dropped down in the valley of Sonoita Creek. It was his most distant visita, another church built by Father Pauer. Then he returned to Guevavi.

In early 1760, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza came to Tubac. The Jesuits rejoiced. Now the Padres of Guevavi had little to fear from the sons of Luis of Sáric.

The 16 months that Father Gerstner spent at Guevavi proved to be a period of comparative peace. He finished Father Pauer’s church at Sonoita. At Calabazas he had the natives build a house for the missionary and began raising the walls of that mission’s new church.[7] His entries in the mission books for services rendered to both natives and gente de razón told of notable events and trends. Late in September 1760, Captain Anza’s mother died in Tubac and was buried at Guevavi beside Captain Beldarrain.

Providing for the spiritual needs of settlers and soldiers left little time for the Padre to care properly for his natives and mission administration. Captain Anza tried to recruit a secular priest for Tubac. He was Joseph Manuel Díaz del Carpio. He did sign a few entries in the Guevavi book of baptisms during the 1760s, but he did not care for the crude frontier post and his visits were short.[8]

As the Indian population kept declining and the non-Indian population kept rising, Father Miguel became more and more a parish priest. An extreme example of the trend, noticeable during the Jesuit years in the Pimería and culminating in the Franciscan period was recorded at San Ignacio in 1818. For every one Indian the Padre ministered to three dozen Españoles y Castas.[9]

Of the natives Gerstner baptized, nearly one-half lived at Tumacácori—showing that by 1760 it was the largest and most active village.

Father Miguel must have sensed the decline of Guevavi, and may have discussed it with his successor. For one reason or another, possibly ill health, he was preparing to leave.

On May 25, 1761, Father Miguel signed the entrega releasing him from Guevavi. He then rode to Sáric, where he built a church. To take his place at Guevavi was Father Ignacio Pfefferkorn, who came from Atí “seeking purer air and more healthful water.”[10] It was rather like musical chairs—there was always the chance that the next chair would offer a less pernicious atmosphere.

After the expulsion in 1767, Father Gerstner survived the horrible trip to Vera Cruz. He crossed to Spain along with Father Pfefferkorn after November 10, 1768.[11] They arrived at the beautiful hospice at Cádiz, from where they had departed earlier full of hope and zeal. Now it was their prison. Those who refused to die were sent to monasteries in Spain and remained under house arrest. The Bishop of Würtzburg secured a release for Father Gerstner in 1780.[12]

[1] Gerstner, Puerto de Santa María, July 17, 1768; Archivo Histórico Nacional, Madrid, Spain, Jesuitas, 453. Franconia, the province of Father Gerstner’s birth, was misread by the printer of the Zelis Catálogo and rendered incorrectly as Francia, or France. A German, not a Frenchman, Gerstner was born on March 17, 1723, and was admitted to the Society of Jesus on July 12, 1744. When he volunteered for the Missions he was a member of the Jesuit province of the Upper Rhine, which included Franconia. Lázaro de Aspurz, O.F.M., cap., La aportación extranjera a las misiones españolas del Patronato Regio (Madrid: Publicaciones del Consejo de la Hispanidad, 1946), Apéndice I, pp. 278-319; and Pfefferkorn, Sonora, p. 260.

[2] Roxas to Calderón, Arizpe, March 15, 1757; AHH., Temp., 17.

[3] Father Visitor Manuel Aguirre to Father Provincial Francisco Zevallos, Bacadéguachi, February 18, 1764; AHH, Temp., 17, and quoted in Pradeau, Expulsión, p. 156.

[4] Father Gerstner’s first entry in the mission books as Padre of Guevavi recorded a burial on January 12, 1760. Father Pauer’s last, noting a baptism, was dated January 15. The new Father Rector seems to have begun making regular entries in the San Ignacio baptismal book on January 23. Three weeks earlier, however, he must have made a preliminary trip to that mission, during which he recorded a baptism on January 2.

[5] Guevavi, “Tubaca y Otros.”

[6] Aguirre to Zevallos, February 18, 1764.

[7] Entrega, May 25, 1761; WBS, 1744, ff. 381-84; translated in Appendix II of the present study.

[8] The Bishop of Durango reported that Díaz del Carpio functioned as chaplain at Tubac “because the Captain’s wife is his sister.” Pedro Tamarón y Romeral, Demonstración del vastísmo obispado de la Nueva Vizcaya, 1765, introducción bibliográfica y acotaciones por Vito Alessio Robles, Biblioteca histórica mexicana de obras inéditas, Vol. VII (México, D.F.: Antigua Librería Robredo, 1937), p. 305; manuscript copy, M_M 232, BL. Anza’s will and various other documents confirm the date and the lady’s name. Perhaps some intricacy of Spanish usage accounts for the dissimilarity of Don Joseph’s and Doña Ana María’s surnames, or perhaps she was his half sister. The details of Anza’s baptism and marriage are provided and jumbled by J. N. Bowman and Robert F. Heizer, Anza and the Northwest Frontier of New Spain (Los Angeles: Southwest Museum, 1967), pp. 30, 90-92.

[9] “Estado Espiritual y Temporal de las Misiones de la Pimería Alta . . . 1818,” Fray José Pérez, Oquitoa, December 31, 1818, copy, Colegio de la Santa Cruz de Querétaro, March 8, 1819; AGN, Misiones, 3. Nearby Santa Ana probably accounted for many of the non-Indians.

[10] Pfefferkorn, Sonora, p. 263. Father Gerstner last signed the Guevavi book of baptisms on May 26, 1761. Two days later Father Pfefferkorn began making entries. The entrega turning Guevavi over to Pfefferkorn is in WBS, 1744, ff. 381-84, and is translated in Appendix II below. Pfefferkorn had given up Atí on May 19, 1761. Entrega, ibid., ff. 377-80. Gerstner took over Sáric on June 14, 1761. Entrega, ibid., ff. 385-86.

[11] “Nota de los 20 Regulares de la Comp.a embarcados p.a España en la Urca Sueca nombrada la Princesa Ulrrica,” Vera Cruz, November 10, 1768; WBS, 1745, ff. 461-62. “PP. Jesuitas que se embarcaron para Cádiz en el Verg.n frances el Aventurero. Su Cap.n d. Pedro Lavant, que salió en Abril de 1769”; ibid., ff. 465-66.

[12] Ibid., p. 14, n. 27.

To learn more about Padre Gerstner 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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