Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.

Our Lady of Refuge, Nuestra Señora del Refugio, is Patroness of Both Californias (Ambas Californias) .
    The Franciscan missionary Francisco Diego Garcia y Moreno was the first Bishop of the Californias – Baja California (lower California in what is now Mexico) and Alta California (upper Calfornia in the present U.S.A.).  It was he who proclaimed Nuestra Señora del Refugio, Patrona de las Ambas Californias.  The official proclamation was made by Bishop Garcia Diego on January 4, 1843, at Mission Santa Clara in Alta California.

The Episcopal Proclamation
    The entire text of Bishop Garcia Diego’s declaration is recorded in Mission Santa Clara’s Libro de Patentes.  After citing the early Fathers of the Church on the practice and spiritual benefits of naming patrons saints, the first bishop of the Californias stated: “We make known to you that we hereby name the great Mother of God in her most precious title, ‘del Refugio,’ the principal patroness of our diocese….  With so great a patroness and protectress, what can we not promise ourselves?  What can be wanting and whom need we fear?
    “If through the centuries this most worthy Mother of God has shown goodness and compassion to all peoples and nations…will she not do likewise for those peoples who bind themselves to her as their refuge and special patroness?”
All California missions, and the parishes established later, celebrated this patronal feast with great solemnity.   In the many political and historical shifts, interest in celebrating the feast had waned.  But now the feast is attracting fresh attention.

The Liturgical Feast

    In 1981 the California Catholic Conference of Bishops petitioned the Vatican Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship for authorization to observe the feast of Our Lady of Refuge on July 5 as an obligatory memorial.  This was approved by official document dated January 15, 1982, and signed by Archbishop Giuseppe Casoria.  
    The dioceses of Baja California celebrate this patronal feast on July 4.  Because of Independence Day, the dioceses of Alta California chose July 5, and the memorial is listed for that day in their Ordo.  The feast of Our Lady of Refuge (sometimes called Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners) has its own proper prayers for the Eucharistic Liturgy and the Liturgy of the Hours.
    Over the last century and a half the original Diocese of Ambas Californias has been divided many times on both sides of the border as the local Church has grown.  Until the end of the nineteenth century the priests of the Archdiocese of San Francisco prayed a special liturgical office for the feast of Our Lady of Refuge.  In the Dioceses of San Diego the feast has always been observed.
    The renewal of interest in this Marian feast honoring the patroness of the Golden State was stimulated by the 1987-1988 Marian Year observance and Pope John Paul II’s encouragement to revitalize interest in special, local feasts of the Virgin Mother Mary.

The Image
    The entire coat of arms of Bishop Garcia Diego included only the image of Our Lady of Refuge.  A painting of Our Lady of Refuge holding her Child, usually the product of a local or native artist, graced each mission church after the bishop’s proclamation.  To this day most of the twenty-one missions of Alta California still display this image in the churches or in their museums.
    The original painting of Our Lady of Refuge came to the Franciscan College of Zacatecas in Mexico from Italy.  An Italian Jesuit missionary brought it to Mexico to explain the enthusiastic interest in Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners, that had developed in parish missions in eighteenth century Italy.  Devotion to the Mother of Jesus under this title and in this pictorial representation gained wide popularity among the Mexican and Californian Franciscans and the people they served.
    Paintings of Our Lady of Refuge are, with few exceptions, quite similar in design and execution.  The heads of the Infant Jesus and his Mother Mary lean together with no background between them.  Both figures wear a crown.  Mary’s eyes are turned toward the observer, while the gaze of the Child seems to turn left of the viewer.
    In the Santa Clara Mission church the painting of Our Lady of Refuge is found above the larger picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe in one of the side altar niches on the left as one nears the sanctuary.  Another painting by Eulalio, a local Native American, is on display in Santa Clara University’s De Saisset Museum near the mission church.
    Other known and attractive portrayals of Our Lady of Refuge are found at Mission Santa Barbara, Mission San Carlos Borromeo at Carmel, Mission San Francisco de Asis, and Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.   
    The proper name, Refugio, was and still is given to both male and female Mexican children at the time of birth and baptism.
    Church historians and native Californians applaud the move for restoring the Patroness of Both Californias  to her original and rightful prominence in the local Church’s liturgical calendar.