Mission San Luís Rey de Francia

The eighteenth mission in the Alta California chain, Mission San Luís Rey de Francia was the most successful and prosperous. Located in the city of Oceanside, about 30 miles north of San Diego, it is popularly referred to as the king of the missions because it is the largest and is named after King Louis IX of France, who was a crusader. The mission has a small museum, a lovely garden that contains the first Peruvian pepper tree planted in California, and the original cemetery.

The indigenous peoples of this mission raised more livestock than any other; they had several thousand horses, 27,000 heads of cattle, and 26,000 sheep. The Luiseño “mission Indians” also planted wheat, corn, and beans every year. Only the San Gabriel Mission grew more crops.

Father Lasuén founded the mission on June 13, 1798, and Father Antonio Peyri lived there for thirty-four years. When the Mexican government took over, the Spanish padres were asked to leave. Although Father Peyri did not wish to return to Spain, he was forced to leave the Americas. He took two indigenous boys with him and educated them. One of them, Pablo Tac, later wrote the autobiography Indian Life and Customs at Mission San Luis Rey: A Record of California Mission Life by Pablo Tac, An Indian Neophyte. This is the only known record written by an indigenous person from the missions.

In 1861, President Lincoln signed a decree returning the missions to the Franciscans, but the Mission San Luís Rey de Francia lay abandoned for several years before a few Franciscan fathers from Mexico received permission to establish a seminary there in 1893. Later, some restoration efforts were undertaken and today it is one of the most well maintained missions.