Francisco Palóu

Spanish Missionary, Historian, and Co-Founder of Mission San Francisco de Asis

Franciscan friar, Roman Catholic priest, co-founder with Fray Benito Cambón of Mission San Francisco de Asís (Dolores) and the assistencia of San Pedro y San Pablo. Fray Junípero Serra was his instructor in philosophy and after successfully passing qualifying exams, Palóu was appointed a lector in philosophy. In 1749, Palóu accompanied Serra to Mexico as a missionary. From 1769 until 1773, Palóu was president of the Baja California Missions. On August 19, 1773 Palóu erected a cross and inscription demarking for the first time the dividing line between the Dominican missions and the Franciscan missions, which line is said to be the basis for the boundary between Alta and Baja California. Palóu began writing the first great history of California, Noticias de la Nueva California, and then was assigned to two exploratory parties reconnoitering what was to become San Francisco, November 1774 and September 1775.

Assigned to the Moraga expedition, Palóu and Fray Benito Cambón arrived with colonists at the vicinity of Laguna y Arroyo de los Dolores on June 27, 1776. Moraga ordered the building of an open-air chapel (enramada) and on June 29, 1776, the first Mass was celebrated along the shores of the now vanished Laguna Dolores. Some look upon this date as the birthday of San Francisco. Palóu presided over the formal establishment of the Royal Presidio of San Francisco on September 17, 1776 and the formal opening of Mission Dolores on October 9, 1776. On June 24, 1777, Palóu baptized the first Ohlone Indian, Chamis. On August 25, 1782, Palóu laid the foundation stone of the present Mission Dolores church. On August 28, 1784, Palóu buried his teacher, Junípero Serra in Monterey after administering the last rites. After briefly serving as the acting president of the Alta California missions, Palóu returned to Mexico in 1785.

In Mexico, he completed his two books of history on the missions of Alta California and the life of Junípero Serra. An unsuccessful effort was made in 1940-1941 to transfer the remains of Palóu to San Francisco from their assumed resting place at the College of San Fernando in Mexico City. A plaque at Mission Dolores placed in 1938 commemorates Palóu as "Zealous missionary; able administrator; successful pioneer; chosen companion of Junípero Serra. First historian of California." With José Joaquin Moraga, Fray Francisco Palóu may be considered a co-founder of the Spanish Empire community that evolved into the modern City of San Francisco.

by Br. Guire Cleary, S.S.F


—Bancroft, Herbert H. History of California. Santa Barbara: Wallace Herberd, 1963.

—Beebe, Rose Marie and Senkewicz, Robert M (editors). Lands of Promise and Despair: Chronicles of Early California, 1535-1846. Santa Clara: Santa Clara University, 2001.

—Bolton, Herbert Eugene. Palóu and His Writings. Berkeley, University of California Press. 1926.

—Englehardt, OFM, Zephyrin. The Missions and Missionaries of California. San Francisco: James H. Barry Co, 1929-1930.

—Englehardt, OFM, Zephyrin, San Francisco or Mission Dolores. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1924.

—Font, Obrador, Bartolome. El Padre Francisco Palou. Palma de Mallorca: Ayuntamiento de Palma, 1976.

—Geiger, OFM, Maynard J. Franciscan Missionaries in California. San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1969.

—Geiger, OFM, Maynard J. Palou's Life of Junipero Serra. Washington, D.C.: American Academy of Franciscan History, 1955.

—Palóu, Francisco. Historical Memoirs of New California (Noticias de la Nueva California). Translated and edited by Herbert Eugene Bolton. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1926.

—Palóu, Francisco. Life of Fray Junípero Serra (Relación Histórica de la Vida y Apostólicas Tareas del Venerable Padre Fray Junípero Serra). Translated and edited by Maynard Geiger, OFM. Washington, D.C.: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1955.