by Richard Senate
New England writer Helen Hunt Jackson visited this area in the late 19th century collecting information for her classic romance Ramona. In her travels she met a Franciscan Padre who was seen by all as a living saint for his pious ways and kindness to all. His name was Fr. Francisco de Jesus Sanchez, attached then to the Mission Santa Barbara but he had served at Mission San Buenaventura as the priest for a year. He was always willing to listen to anyone and greeted all with the phrase “How can I help You?” He gave away all he owned, even his clothing, leaving only one habit to cover him. He was known to spend whole nights in prayer, and do extra work at the orphanage helping the children in their education and vocational skills. All who met him were impressed with his dedication to his faith. When Helen Hunt Jackson was introduced to him she wrote that he was the “Most Christ-like man she ever met.”
When he took sick and collapsed in church, his fellow monks took him to his room, only to discover he had given away his bed and had been sleeping on the floor. He passed away in 1884. Jackson used the good padre as the model for the beloved character Fr. Salvierderra in her popular novel Ramona. He rests with his fellow monks at a special tomb at Mission Santa Barbara. After his death, many stories were told of his saintly nature, revealing the impact he had upon the community. One tale has all the earmarks of folklore.
In the early years of the Twentieth Century, a flood damaged the Mission Santa Barbara. Workmen had to access the damage to the walls of the old church. To do so they had to break into the old padre’s tomb, also flooded. The workmen found bones, fragments of coffins, but, to their amazement, they reported the body of Fr. Sanchez, floating, unchanged over the decades after his death, his hands still folded , clutching his cross and a smile on his face. This shocked the workers and they were told never to speak of it again! Incorruptibility is an accepted sign of sainthood. In the year he served at our Mission I am sure he left a lasting impact on early Ventura.