The Mission of Santa Clara de Asís is the eighth Spanish mission in California. It was founded on January 12, 1777, by the Franciscan Order to bring Christianity to the native Ohlone and Costanoan peoples in the Santa Clara Valley.
There were 21 Spanish missions in California, established to help colonize the Pacific Coast. The missions extended from San Diego to Sonoma and were each a day’s ride apart via horseback, about 30 miles. The El Camino Real connected the missions.
The Mexican Secularization Act of 1833 led to the Mexican government disestablishing the missions to reduce Spanish influence and power in California. Under the Act, mission lands were sold or given away in land grants called ranchos. The missions were divested of livestock and other assets. Spanish Franciscan priests were replaced by Mexican-born Franciscan priests. Half the land was returned to the Native Americans.
Some of Mission Santa Clara’s operations continued. The church remained a parish church for local people including those from San Jose. They traveled along The Alameda, part of the original El Camino Real, to attend services at the mission until St. Joseph’s Church was built in San Jose in 1803.
The Franciscan missionaries had brought cattle, horses, ranching, and European fruits and vegetables with them from Spain. Mission operations were supported by cattle and sheep; orchards; grains, maize and other cultivated crops; hide and tallow; wool and textiles; candle making and soap making; blacksmith services; vineyards and wineries; and carpentry, including constructing adobe houses. Without these assets to support their work, the Franciscans abandoned the missions.
The Mission of Santa Clara de Asís was named for St. Clare of Assisi, a companion of St. Francis of Assisi. It was the first mission to be named in honor of a woman. After California became a state in 1850, a bishop approached a Jesuit priest, Fr. John Nobili, S.J., about assuming management of the mission and establishing a college on the site. In 1851 the mission was transferred to the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), who founded Santa Clara College, California’s first institution of higher learning.
The mission church has been in its current location in the heart of Santa Clara University since 1828. The current mission building is the sixth. The first five structures, located in different areas on the mission property, were destroyed by floods, fires, and earthquakes.
Today the Mission Santa Clara is Santa Clara University’s student chapel. SCU’s Campus Ministry and Mission Church, and the Santa Clara Jesuit Community, collaborate on liturgical and pastoral activities at the church.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mission is currently closed to the public, but remains open to SCU students.