California 'Holy Man' Is Up For Sainthood After Largely Unknown Astonishments
By Michael H. Brown
Let's hope they soon canonize a missionary priest named Magin Catala, an example at a time when our Church could use examples -- a refuge and point of light on the spiritual battlefield called California.
He is also one of the most remarkable mystics in the history of America, ranking up with Father Solanus Casey of Michigan and Brother Andre Bessette of Montreal.
It is one of those cases where history comes back to us as revelation. The photo at the left is not a statue of him, but is a statue that represents all the amazing California missionaries.
And this one was astounding.
A Padre Pio in America?
Of Spanish birth, Father Magin entered the Order of Friars Minor at the age of sixteen by taking the habit of St. Francis at the monastery of Barcelona on April 4, 1777. He served among the 21 missions established up and down the West Coast -- arriving at Monterey and focusing his efforts on Santa Clara, which is just south of San Francisco.
It was a mission of extraordinary distress and even danger -- converting the Indians. It was also part of the great push that claimed California, at least in the early days of America, for the Christians. This was to be seen in the very names of the missions, which later became cities like San Jose, Los Angeles (Our Lady of the Angels), San Francisco (for St. Francis), and Sacramento (for the Blessed Sacrament).
"Father Magin had a faith like Moses who 'Looked unto the reward,' 'For he endured as seeing Him that is invisible, [Hebrews 10: 26,27]," notes one writer, Father Zephyrin Englehardt, in the key work about Magin, entitled Holy Man of Santa Clara. "One day during Holy Week while kneeling before the Great Crucifix in the church of Santa Clara, Jose Antonio Alviso and several other persons present heard Fr. Magin sigh aloud, "When, oh my God, shall I see Thy Glory? How much longer shall my banishment last in this valley of tears?' Suddenly Alviso heard Our Lord from the Cross answer, "Soon thou shalt see God in Glory."
It was all reminiscent of the revelation to St. Francis himself.
Father Magin developed chronic inflammatory rheumatism very soon after he arrived and was afflicted with it throughout his missionary life. It was just one of countless sufferings. He called his locale the "valley of tears," which said something about the spiritual warfare.
"The zealous missionary sought inspiration as to what he should preach, guidance out of his difficulties, consolation for the waywardness of his flock, strength to persevere and even rest for the body," notes the book. "Many a time instead of retiring to his cell he would pass the night before his Lord on the cross falling asleep still on his knees. He preached Christ Crucified to instill in the hearts of all devotion to the Passion of our Redeemer. He erected the Stations of the Cross along the Alameda halfway to San Jose."
Every Friday "he with the Indians would begin the way of the cross before the altar in the church at 3 p.m. and then visit every station in turn."
Sufferings were countered by gifts and consolations. It is said that on one occasion while the priest was traveling with guards and two Indians across parched land, the men complained of thirst, whereupon Father Magin told them to go to a certain spot and they would find water.
"The astonished natives declared that there was no water in the whole region," writes Engelhardt. "The priest, nevertheless, directed them to refresh themselves with the water which they should see flowing from beneath a rock. Still incredulous, but to convince Fr. Magin that no water existed in the neighborhood, the men went away. On reaching the place they indeed discovered the rock and the water coming out of the earth beneath. Soldiers and Indians alike were amazed, as no one had ever heard of the presence of water in that locality. After they had refreshed themselves, the journey was continued. When they returned the same way, the guards and Indians visited the spot where they had satisfied themselves before, but both rock and water had disappeared."
There were other miracles. There was bilocation. It was said that Father Magin appeared where his physical body was not! At one point he suddenly materialized to chastise Indians practicing an occult ceremony.
"The Indians of Mission Santa Clara in time became so convinced that Fr. Magin could make himself visible in two places that they were very careful not to do anything seriously subversive of order lest they should incur the displeasure of the holy man. Among the white people of the surrounding country it was common talk that he made his presence felt in that manner."
Like Christ casting demons into the swine, the priest was also said to have ordered a plague of locusts to the sea -- where they plunged into a beach away from the Santa Clara Valley.
And rain? His prayers brought torrents of it when there was drought, witnesses claimed.
It was like something out of the pages of the Old Testament.
He is a patron, of sorts, for pregnant women.
"Many also testified at the hearing that the holy man's prayers often saved women in desperate cases of childbirth," says Englehardt. "In fact, the unanimous testimony of his surviving parishioners was that no woman -- during his lifetime or after his death -- who had sought his intercession in a life-threatening delivery ever failed to obtain a happy outcome. After his death, some midwives kept relics from Fr. Magin Catala's habit to use in desperate cases; they testified before the court that they never once lost a mother or a child when they invoked the intercessions of Fr. Catala."
Now, long after his death, relics of the saints allegedly cause miracles. Testified one man named Rafael Pacheco, "When I was twenty-five, a great tumor developed on one of my breasts. I feared greatly that I should have to undergo a painful operation. I recommended myself to Fr. Magin and promised a cord of all colors and two pieces of silk for the Great Crucifix at Santa Clara. Soon the tumor opened by itself and pus flowed out. On the third day I was cured. Grateful, I hastened to keep my promise. Many people have applied Fr. Magin's relic to various bodily ailments and have claimed to have received immediate relief.
In 1884 Archbishop J.S. Alemany of San Francisco instituted the process of his beatification. This, in 1908, was followed by the process de non cultu publico, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. Now the effort is being pushed anew by followers in California -- as well as elsewhere. It is time to pray for it.
Maria (Majors) Castro told the commission the following incident: "I was once bathing in the sea of Santa Cruz. I was then as now rather fleshy, and could not help myself very well, and hardly knew how to swim. Suddenly a wave carried me out into the deep. I felt myself sinking. In terror I cried, "Father Magin help me!" and found myself on the shore without knowing how it happened."
It seems that the servant of God also had full power over the spirits of darkness, notes Englehardt. On one occasion, in the middle of the day which was very hot, the people saw Fr. Magin, in surplice and stole, going along the Alameda reciting prayers, just as he did when he exorcised persons and places that were thought to be possessed by evil spirits. He said that he was exorcising not only a few, but a whole legion of devils who had come to cause destruction to the people of San Jose.
"One night Fr. Magin visited a sick person in an Indian rancheria. On the following Sunday, while preaching, he related that on this occasion he had discovered a legion of evil spirits there he had exorcised them and had commanded them not to go to the neighboring village, whereupon they had disappeared.
"The holy man then urged his hearers to strengthen themselves against the devil by reciting the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and thus to prevent the evil spirits from taking possession of their hearts."
Is this why the canonization of this priest may be imminent? Is he a sign?
Can it be that San Jose -- home to Silicon Valley -- now needs to be reclaimed?
[next: did Father Magin see the future of California?]
'Holy Man' Of California Foresaw Rise Of San Francisco, Great Quake, Own Death
A priest known as the "holy man of Santa Clara" is said to have prophesied the rise of San Francisco as well as the spiritual battle that now engulfs the state -- especially in the technological hotbed known as Silicon Valley.
The priest was Father Magin Catala [see previous story, above], one of the Franciscan missionaries who helped found 21 Christian outposts in spots that would later become major West Coast settlements -- including Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
Catala, who was deeply devoted to the Blessed Mother, arrived at Monterey, California, in July 1794, and from there traveled to the Santa Clara Mission. He died on November 22, 1830 -- the same week that Mary began to appear in the famous Miraculous Medal apparitions in France, where the Blessed Mother was seen stepping on the serpent. The California missionary is now being considered for beatification -- a cause for which we are asked to pray.
"His Rosary at his side was truly not an ornament," notes biographer Father Zephryn Englelhardt in the book Holy Man of Santa Clara.. "Every morning he would gather the whole Indian population, colonists, neophytes and their families in front of the Mission. There before the Mission Cross which still stands today encased, hymns were sung to the Mother of God. At night all gathered in their family circle and recited the Rosary and Litany of the Blessed Virgin and again sang beautiful hymns to Mary Immaculate. Even on her special feast days it was celebrated with particular splendor. It was all very childlike, very tender, but it forcibly aroused the natives as well as others to a realization of the beauty of purity and sinlessness. Father Magin did not take a drink of water without saying three times Ave Maria. Others followed in his way."
The priest was known for extraordinary gifts -- charisms similar to those of the later Italian mystic, Padre Pio -- and among them were prophecy and exorcism.
"It seems that the servant of God had full power over the spirits of darkness," noted Father Englehardt. "On one occasion, in the middle of the day which was very hot, the people saw Father Magin, in surplice and stole, going along the Alameda reciting prayers, just as he did when he exorcised persons and places that were thought to be possessed by evil spirits. He said that he was exorcising not only a few, but a whole legion of devils who had come to cause destruction to the people of San Jose.
"As a result, though everything was quiet, clouds of dust were seen to rise as though a whole herd of cattle were passing along the road," writes Englehardt. "Terrible noises, howlings and shrieks were heard, together with the sounds of horns and the bellowing of wild beasts. Then all was silent. Fr. Magin had explained that the evil spirits had gone away, some taking one road, some another, but that he had commanded them not to go to San Jose."
Such is fascinating in light of the spiritual dynamic now playing out in this same part of the world where computer, internet, and biological technologies have hit a fever pitch, home to both innovation and extremes of materialism -- the area where a culture of aloofness and mechanical means of dealing with people, instead of personal contact, has contributed to what could be seen as a general dehumanization of the Western culture -- along with the technologies that can been seen as benefiting us all.
Home also to many dedicated prayer groups and holy "prayer-warriors," this part of the nation's most populous state is a crucial battleground, one that has seen dynamic Marian, pentecostal, and charismatic groups side by side with the pagans, witches, and New Agers who openly ply their trade from Santa Clara and nearby Santa Cruz up through San Francisco and Berkeley -- where the Sixties revolution was largely given birth.
Nearly two centuries before -- it seems -- Father Catala was battling the same kind of spirits.
Then there was the prophecy. On a number of occasions, said witnesses, Father Catala interrupted prayer or services to announce that someone was in danger or dying, with the congregants later learning that such incidents were in fact occurring at that moment.
According to Father Englehardt, the holy missionary even announced the death of his own mother, who lived in Spain, before he was informed of the news, and he asked the people to attend a Novena of Holy Masses he offered for her soul.
Most startling was what it said about California itself -- and specifically northern California in the vicinity of San Francisco.
"It appeared that almighty God in those days allowed His servant a distinct view of the future of California," says Englehardt. "He had preached that [people] from almost all the nations of the earth will come to this coast. Another flag shall come from the East and the people that follow it will speak an altogether different language, and they will take possession of the country and the lands.
"On account of their sins the Californians will lose their lands and become poor, and many of their children will give up their own religion," continued the priest, according to the book. "The Indians will be dispersed and will not know what to do, and they will be like sheep running wild.
"Heretics will erect church buildings, but these will not be true temples of God. Sons will be against their fathers, and fathers against their sons and brothers will be against brothers. The coming of so many people will create great scarcity, so that a measure of wheat will be bought for its weight in gold... As a consequence, much distress will come upon the Indians and Californians. 'I shall not see this,' he exclaimed, 'but there are those alive that will see it.'"
Fr. Magin predicted that a large city would rise on the bay of San Francisco, great houses would be erected, and the people would be at its height, then it would be destroyed by earthquake and fire. "How well known this prophecy was at Santa Clara long before the calamity transpired in 1906," notes Englehradt.
He encouraged everyone to pray to St. Francis of Assisi, but he also asked them to call upon St. Emigdio -- to intercede for them against earthquakes; also to "faithful St. Anthony."
Father Catala ate only corn gruel and milk in small amounts, says the biographer. On Friday, it is said, he only drank water with his corncakes. "He also fostered devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus. The little Indian children were so taken by his holiness, they would peep through the keyhole and the cracks in the wall of the front of the Mission Church to watch him pray before the Great Crucifix. At times they were awe-struck when they heard him speak aloud to Jesus Crucified. While walking away they would whisper and say, 'Father is talking to God.'"
"He predicted the hour and manner of his own death," continues Father Englehardt. "The servant of God called Crisostomo Galindo to him, after coming from church, both sat on a bench in the front corridor. There he said, 'My time has come. I am going up above; in a day or two I shall die. Do you want to go with me?' Galindo much frightened replied, 'No Father.' Then Fr. Magin said, 'Well, you may stay; but remember what I tell you now!'"
According to Englehardt, the night before he passed away, Father Magin retained only two pious Indian attendants and an old Spaniard, and asked them to stay with him, as he should die that night.
"Watch the sky," he said, "and when you see the morning star appear let me know."
Father Magin, ever a man of few words, seems to have said nothing to men, but to have communed the more with his God.
"Finally the attendants came onto his room, and said, 'Father, the morning star has appeared,'" writes Englehardt. "'Then please call Fr. Jose to come and pray over me,' he replied. These were his last words recorded of him. [A priest named Father Viader] at once hastened to his dying companion and said the prescribed prayers. Meanwhile the servant of God quietly returned his soul to his Creator. It was a beautiful death, just such a one as the true child of God, unhampered by family or other ties, would wish for himself."
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