Following the Trail

Spaniard Franciscan priest Magin Catalá arrived at Mission Santa Clara in 1794. His legacy is deep rooted in campus, literally.

Some people plant easy-to-spot roots, leaving changes recognized for generations. The Franciscan Father Magin Catalá was one such person. He arrived at the Mission Santa Clara de Asís in 1796, less than 20 years after its founding. Catalá remained until his death nearly 40 years later, creating a legacy one can follow in campus trees, Church records, and gifts—from the 1700s to today.

Relics

One of Santa Clara’s most important clubs is named in honor of the father. Founded in 1930, the Catala Club initially assisted Jesuits with the needs of the Mission Church. Today, the women’s service group raises money to fund scholarships for students in need.

Catala relics
Santa Clara University Archives is home to images and items dating back to Fr. Catalá’s time, including this photograph of relics from the priest’s good works. / Image courtesy SCU.
Pont Vell (the Old Bridge) And The Fortress Of Montblanc Town, Catalonia, Spain
Pont Vell and the Fortress of Montblanc, in Catalonia, Spain. / Image courtesy Shutterstock.

Origins

The Catalá in Magin Catalá’s name is from his native region in Spain. The city of Montblanc is famous for more than its priestly son. It’s also where Saint George, as legend goes, slayed a dragon to save a princess. In actuality, George was a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity and was executed for refusing to renounce his faith.

New Life

Records in University Archives date back to Catalá’s time, including the births, deaths, weddings, and religious conversions of many indigenous people. Relations between the region’s native Ohlone people and colonizing missionaries had long been fraught. Santa Clara’s Oholone History Working Group works with the Ohlone community to find ways to honor those who first called this land home.

Fr. Magín Catalá signed baptism records
Santa Clara University Archives houses a collection of items from and about Fr. Catalá’s lifetime, including this image of relics from his good works. / Image courtesy SCU.
Catala 3 Full

The movement to make Catalá a saint has stalled since first being introduced 111 years ago. / Image courtesy SCU.

Sainthood?

In 1909, the book The Holy Man of Santa Clara was published, which included a story of Catalá levitating in front of a crucifix in the Mission, from which the Christ figure removed its hands from the cross to lay them on Catalá’s shoulders as he prayed.

A Tree-Lined Alameda

Fr. Catalá is widely believed to be responsible for the planting of black willow trees along the Alameda in 1799. Many of the trees survived well after the Franciscans left the area. In 1947, Catalá’s work was honored with a plaque on one of the trees. In 1966, San Jose historian Clyde Arbuckle photographed the last standing original black Willow on the Alameda.

willow tree plaque
Two centuries ago, Fr. Catalá planted willows on campus to make a leafy tunnel leading to the Mission Church. / Image courtesy SCU.
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