Friar Alonso de Benavides, known as the Custodio y Conversión de San Pablo, the newly appointed ecclesiastical dignitary of the New Mexico mission field, he arrived with a supply caravan in 1626. The Portuguese Franciscan missionary was accompanied by 12 Franciscans, who joined 14 missionaries who were already residing in New Mexico. Benavides’ arrival signaled a new beginning for the New Mexican missions. The tireless friar toiled in the expanded mission field and promoted it with his prolific quill. Written for the Pope and Spanish king, his Memorial of 1630, and a revised version in 1634 were published in five languages before the end of 17th century. An offshoot of the colonial Mexican Church, the New Mexico missions were not unlike other mission provinces in the Americas. In his Memorial, Benavides offered a composite, albeit romanticized, view of “the pious tasks of the friars in these conversions.”
Of a day in the life of a missionary, Benavides, seeing through the eyes of a colonial missionary, wrote a description of a friar’s daily routine that could be applied anywhere in the Americas during the Spanish colonial period. Benavides’ Memorial embellished the successes of the New Mexico missions and brushed off the American Indian view — in particular that of anti-mission Pueblo Indians. Their view was often expressed as a rejection of the missionaries. When passive resistance failed, the Indians turned to armed rebellion. Despite their goals, the friars ultimately settled for imperfectly converted Christian Indians who integrated Christianity, native beliefs and spirituality into their customs and traditions. The missionaries had satisfied the Spanish government’s objectives to pacify the frontier, and the church’s quest to save souls and spread Christianity.
Benavides’ universal description of a day in the life of a missionary resonated in the daily lives of missionaries in remote lands. He wrote:
“Since the land is very remote and isolated and the difficulties of the long journeys require more than a year of travel, the friars, although there are many who wish to dedicate themselves to those conversions, find themselves unable to do so because of their poverty. Hence, only those who go there are sent by the Catholic King, at his own expense, for the cost is too excessive that only his royal zeal can afford it. This is the reason that there are few friars over there and that most of the convents have only one religious each, and he ministers to four, six, or more neighboring pueblos, in the midst of which he stands as a lighted torch to guide them in spiritual as well as temporal affairs. More than 20 Indians, devoted to the service of the church, live with him in a convent. They take turns in relieving one another as porters, sextons, cooks, bell ringers, gardeners, refectioners, and in other tasks. They perform their duties with as much circumspection and care as if they were friars. At eventide, they say their prayers together, with much devotion, in front of some image.
In every pueblo where a friar resides, he has schools for the teaching of praying, singing, playing musical instruments and other interesting things. Promptly at dawn, one of the Indian singers, whose turn it is that week, goes to ring the bell for the Prime, at the sound of which those who go to school assemble and sweep the rooms thoroughly. The singers chant the Prime in the choir. The friar must be present at all of this and takes note of those who have failed to perform this duty, in order to reprimand them later. When everything is neat and clean, they again ring the bell and each one goes to learn his particular specialty; the friar oversees it all, in order that these students may be mindful of what they are doing. At this time those who plan to get married come and notify him, so that he may prepare and instruct them according to our holy council;if there are any, either sick or healthy persons, who wish to confess in order to receive communion at mass, or who wish anything else, they come to tell him. After they have been occupied in this manner for an hour and a half, the bell is rung for mass. All go into the church, and the friar says mass and administers the sacraments. Mass over, they gather in different groups, examine the lists, and take note of those who are absent in order to reprimand them later. After taking the roll, all kneel down by the church door and sing the Salve in their own tongue. This concluded, the friar says: “Praised be the most Holy Sacrament,” and dismisses them, warning them first of the circumstances with which they should go about their daily business.
At mealtime, the poor people in the pueblo who are not ill come to the porter’s lodge, where the cooks of the convent have sufficient food ready, which is served to them by the friars; food for the sick is sent to their homes. After mealtime, it always happens that the friar has to go to some neighboring pueblo to hear a confession or to see if they are careless in the boys’ school, where they learn to pray and assist at mass for this is the responsibility of the sextons and it is their duty always to have a dozen boys for the service of the sacristy and to teach them how to help at mass and how to pray.
In the evening, they toll the bell for vespers, which are chanted by the singers who are on duty for the week, and, according to the importance of the feast, they celebrate it with organ chants as they do for mass. Again the friar supervises and looks after everything, the same as in the morning.
On feast days, he says mass in the pueblo very early, and administers the sacraments and preaches. Then he goes to say a second mass in another pueblo, whose turn it is, where he observes the same procedure, and then he returns to his convent. These two masses are attended by the people of the tribe, according to their proximity to the pueblo where they are celebrated.
One of the weekdays which is not so busy is devoted to baptism and all those who are to be baptized come to the church on that day unless some urgent matter should intervene; in that case, it is performed at any time. With great care, their names are inscribed in a book; in another, those who are married; and in another, the dead.