In 1833 a group of Mexican-born Franciscans from the College of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Zacatecas was sent to Alta California to replace their Spanish confreres in several of the northern missions. The Franciscan priests were not prepared, however, for the situation they would encounter as a result of mission secularization. With missions in decay and stripped of both their resources and their native inhabitants, these priests eventually found themselves marginalized in a society in which their Spanish predecessors had been protagonists. The political changes of the 1840s, from local insurrections against Mexican authorities and inter-Californio rivalries to the difficulties of U.S. military occupation, forced a shift in identity among some of these friars. No longer missionaries, they had to adapt to a hand-to-mouth existence and the lifestyle of an itinerant pastor, while seeking wherever possible to advocate for Native rights. Beginning with H. H. Bancroft, California historians often portrayed the priests' unorthodox lifestyles as the result of corruption and ignorance. A closer look at the life of one of these friars, José María Suárez del Real, helps contextualize their choices within the trying circumstances of years of upheaval and uncertainty.

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