San Luis Rey Mission was founded on June 13, 1798 by Father Fermin Lasuen. It was the ninth and last mission Father Lasuen founded, and one of the last built in California, number eighteen out of twenty one.
Early San Luis Rey Mission History
Father Lasuen chose the San Luis Rey Mission site because there were lots of friendly Indians living in the area, but he also picked a place with good soil, and under the guidance of Father Antonio Peyri, who stayed here for more than thirty years, it soon became the most productive of all the California missions.
The natives liked to work, and accepted baptism readily. Soon, they were making adobe bricks, and within two years, many tile-roofed buildings were completed and a big church with room for 1,000 people was under construction.
San Luis Rey Mission History in the 1820s-1830s
By 1821, the first church was finished. Only six years after its founding, the San Luis Rey was already producing 5,000 bushels a year, and its herds numbered more than 10,000 animals. The Fathers trained the Indians to do many kinds of work: candle- and soap-making, tanning, wine-making, weaving, farming and ranching. They also taught them to sing in the choir.
San Luis Rey Mission reached its peak in 1831, when records show there were 2,800 natives living there. It also had 16,000 cattle; 25,500 sheep; and 2,150 sheep on its ranches, and its fields produced 395,000 bushels of grain and its vineyard yielded 2,500 barrels of wine.
Secularization and San Luis Rey Mission
Father Peyri stayed here for 34 years, but he couldn't bear to see what would happen with secularization, so he retired in 1832 and went back to Spain. The decline began as soon as he left. The natives tried to maintain the place, but were unsuccessful. Eventually, Mexican Governor Pio Pico sold the San Luis Rey Mission buildings 1846 for $2,427, a fraction of their $200,000 value.
The Indians moved to a reservation at Pala where they still live. The U. S. Army occupied the San Luis Rey Mission site for a time, but then it was neglected. The San Luis Rey Mission was was returned to the Catholic church in 1865, but it languished until 1892 when Franciscans from Mexico returned. Father Joseph J. O'Keefe, an American Franciscan, joined them. The church was rededicated in 1893, and reconstruction started in 1895.
San Luis Rey Mission in the 20th Century
It took until 1905 for the Fathers to finish enough reconstruction to move back in, and it continues today. The lavanderia and sunken gardens were uncovered in 1959.
Today, the San Luis Rey Mission is an active parish church.