The son of Lorenzo de Lasuénand Maria Francisca de Arasqueta, Fray Fermín Francisco de Lasuén, was born at Vitoria, in the province of Alava, (Cantabria, Spain), June 7, 1736, and was baptized on the following day by the Rev. Francisco de Elosu in the church of San Vicente Martir.
He received tire Franciscan habit at the Convento de San Francisco, Vitoria, March 19, 1751, from Fray Jose Ramírez, the guardian. He pronounced his vows on July 7, 1752. He made some of his studies for the priesthood probably at Vitoria and definitely for a period at Aránzazu. As a deacon, which order he had already received on July 15, 1758, he volunteered for the American missions and as such was listed in passport records at the port of Cadiz, at the age of twentv-three, awaiting embarcation. He had been recruited under Pedro Pérez de Mezquía, the commissary. The records described him as a man of symmetrical build, with light, somewhat ruddy skin, a pockmarked face, with dark eyes, and dark, curly hair.
Sailing on El Jasón,he
landed at Vera Cruz, Mexico, entered San Fernando College, Mexico City,
where presumably he was ordained to the priesthood sometime before February
25, 1761, when he received faculties to preach and hear confessions.
In 1762 he was sent to the Sierra Gorda missions and ministered
there until 1767 when he was sent to Lower California. No details of his
labors in the Sierra Gorda have come to light. With several Other missionaries,
including Fray Juan Crespi, he left the Sierra Gorda on July 26,
1767, and traveled directly to Tepic through Querétero and Guadalajara,
where he arrived on August 25. He stayed in the Jaliscan friary of Santa
Cruz de Zacate until transportation was available to Lower California.
First President of the California Missions
Under Junípero Serra as president, en route to take over the ex-Jesuit missions, Lasuén sailed from San Blas on the Concepcíon, March 14, 1768, and arrived at Loreto, Lower California, April 1. There, Serra assigned him to Misión San Francisco de Borjas in the north of the peninsula. Lasuén left Loreto on April 6. On arrival at San Borjas, as the place was called, he found neither church nor house. He soon set to work to build both of adobe. Early in 1769 he traveled to Velicatá in order to minister to the soldiers of the Portolá expedition encamped there, and arrived on February 22. Subsequently returning to his mission, he remained there until it was handed over to the Dominicans in 1773.
Having been invited to serve in the new missions by Francisco Palóu, president of the Lower California missions after Serra's departure for Upper California in 1769, Lasuén awaited the arrival of Palóu at San Borjas and on June 23, 1773, joined him on his trek to Misión Santa María where Sergeant josé Francisco Ortega accompanied them as far as San Diego. They arrived on August 30. Palóu, as interim president during Serra's absence in Mexico, took Lasuén as far as Mission San Gabriel and assigned him as supernumerary. Lasuén arrived there on October 2, 1773, and remained until 1775. In June of that year he accompanied a packtrain to Monterey, where he arrived on June 25. Along the Santa Barbara Channel at Dos Pueblos his life became endangered when Indians attacked the party. In the melee six natives were killed. At Monterey, Lasuén served as personal chaplain to Fernando Rivera y Moncada and ministered spiritually to the soldiers and their families at the presidio.
When Serra and Rivera agreed to found Mission San Juan Capistrano, the president appointed Lasuén and Gregorio Amurrió as the first missionaries. Lasuén left Monterey on August 21, 1775, and proceeded directly to San Diego, Amurrió joining him at San Luis Obispo.
Setting out from the southern port of San Diego with Lieutenant josé Ortega and soldiers, Lasuén journeyed to the spot where the mission was to be founded. On October 3o he raised the cross, hung the bells, and said Mass, thereby formally establishing the mission. Shortly after the soldiers began to construct the initial mission buildings, a messenger arrived from San Diego with the news that the Indians had burned the mission at San Diego and had murdered Fray Luís Jayme. Ortega hurried to San Diego, bidding the missionaries to follow and the soldiers to suspend the building operations at San Juan Capistrano. Lasuén was forced by these circumstances to remain at San Diego without employment.
Serra reestablished Mission San Diego in the summer of 1776 and on November 1, reestablished that of San Juan Capistrano. Lasuén accompanied Rivera north as far as San Gabriel and later went with Serra to San Luis Obispo, remaining there until 1777 when Serra appointed him as minister of Mission San Diego where he arrived by August. His first entry in the registers occurred on November 15. Lasuén served at San Diego until he received notification of his elevation to the presidency of the missions, October 11, 1785, succeeding Junípero Serra.
Lasuén's first years in Upper California were unhappy ones. He repeatedly asked to retire to San Fernando College. He stated that he had come to California only at Palóu's request and that he remained there solely because of Serra's urging. He disliked San Gabriel and was dissatisfied with his status there. Being a personal friend of Rivera, whom he greatly admired, he wished to accept the governor's offer to become presidio chaplain at Monterey. This Serra opposed because no provision had been made either by the government or by San Fernando College for such a post.
When Rivera threatened to resign if Lasuén did not become his chaplain, the latter obtained permission to go to Monterey, not disclosing the true reason for his decision. Serra allowed him the chaplaincy but with reluctance. There resulted a coolness between the two missionaries which lasted till the year 1777. Lasuén was unaware of the friction between Rivera and President Serra, but on becoming acquainted with the true status of affairs, Lasuén made a complete volte-face in favor of Serra and against Rivera. He even declined to accept the personal chaplaincy after it was ratified by the college.
Both during life and after President Serra's death, Lasuén considered Serra to be a saintly man and an exemplary superior, as his writings reveal. Serra, on the other- hand, praised Lasuén for his urbanity and affable manners as well as for his regular religious observance. In temperament the two men were entirely different.
Lasuén was gentle, gracious, and perhaps too introspective and sensitive. He found It hard to adjust to conditions in California. Moody and discontented, Lasuén clamored for retirement, especially from San Diego. He declared that it was only obedience that kept him in the territory. Undeniably the post at San Diego was the worst that could be offered any missionary, and Serra gave it to Lasuén precisely because he considered him the best missionary he could place there. But the crude and dangerous surroundings were hard on his refined character. The mutual correspondence between Serra and Lasuén between 1777 and 1784 shows that there was complete understanding between the two, and Serra's letters are replete with praise and encouragement.
Lasuén's feeling of inadequacy is revealed in a letter he wrote to a confrere in Mexico: "This land is for apostles only.... I am already old and all my hair is gray, and though my years have brought this about, the heavy burden of my office, particularly my five years as missionary at San Diego, has accelerated this condition greatly." When Lasuén wrote those words in 1782, he was only forty-six years old. One feels that Lasuén did not realize his full potential, while others did. No one reviewing Lasuén's years in Upper California between 1773 and 1784 would dream that he was the man who would succeed Serra.
At San Diego he built a new church and enlarged the mission compound and baptized the thousandth Indian since 1769. Even after the uprising of 1775, affairs at San Diego remained unsettled, and his life was in danger for a great period of the time, owing to the nature of the local Indians.
After Serra's death, August 28, 1784, Palóu remained in California as interim president. Lasuén was subsequently appointed president by San Fernando College, February 6, 1785. He baptized at San Diego for the last time on December 5, having received news of his appointment in October the same year. Palóu embarked for Mexico from Monterey, November 13. Lasuén arrived at Monterey by January 12, 1786. For the remainder of his life, Mission San Carlos was his official headquarters.
During his presidency of eighteen years, Lasuén founded nine missions in California, just as Serra had founded an equal number before him. Moreover, he was personally present at the establishment of each. These missions were founded in the following order:
2. Purisima Concepcion, December 8, 1787
3. Santa Cruz, August 28, 1791
4. Soledad, October 9, 1791
5. San Jose, June 11, 1797
6. San Juan Bautista, June 24, 1797
7. San Miguel, July 25, 1797
8. San Fernando, September 8, 1797
9. San Luis Rey, June 13, 1798
On September 30, 1796, Bishop Francisco Rouset, O.F.M., of Sonora, in whose diocese California lay, granted Lasuén all his faculties with authority to delegate them to his missionaries. At the same time he made Lasuén his vicar forane and ecclesiastical judge for California, and on October 22, 1796, his military vicar. In the preceding year, 1795, Lasuén had been appointed commissioner of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.
A summary view of how the missions developed between 1785 and the end of 1803 can best be seen by comparing their statistics at the death of the two presidents. The number of missions rose from 9 to 18, the number of missionaries from 18 to 40. Baptisms increased from 6,736 to 37,976. The number of Indians living at the missions at the end of 1784 were 4,646, at the end of 1803, 18,185. Cattle increased in the same period from 5,384 to 77,578; sheep from 5,384 to 117,736. The total produce of the fields at the end of 1784 were 15,796 fanegas, at the end of 1803, 48,003 fanegas.
Under Lasuén, building operations at the missions developed apace. The mission buildings as we know them today to a very great extent date from this period. Besides the new ones which he founded, the older ones were expanded, and sturdier churches were erected, such as the present stone church at Carmel and the stone-brick church at San Gabriel. The library at Carmel under Lasuén became the first to be cataloged in California.
When the California mission system was attacked on the basis of the false charges made by the demented Antonio de la Concepción Horra, the charges were ably answered by Lasuén and his missionary associates. Lasuén, following the pattern of Serra and Palóu, defended the policy of the missionaries against the charges of Governor Pedro Fages. While Lasuén did not experience the almost constant controversies with the military and government officials that had characterized the earlier period under Serra, his presidency was not entirely devoid of differences with them. Serra had the more difficult task in laying the groundwork, and Lasuén could enjoy the fruits of the advances made. Moreover, the governors under whom he worked were more tractable. Finally, Lasuén, though firm in adhering to principles, because of his urbane character and gentle disposition developed that diplomacy in relationships which avoided heated controversies.
As president, Lasuén met a number of important personages of various nationalities who, fortunately, recorded their impression of him. When Captain George Vancouver visited Mission San Carlos in 1792, Lasuén gave him excellent hospitality. "This personage," wrote Vancouver, "was about seventy-two years of age, whose gentle manners, united to a most venerable and placid countenance, indicated that tranquilized state of mind that fitted him in an eminent degree for presiding over so benevolent an institution." Vancouver named two points of the bay of San Pedro after him, Point Fermin and Point Lasuén.
When J. G. de La Pérouse, the French navigator, anchored at Monterey in 1786, he paid a visit to Mission San Carlos. Of the president he wrote that he "is one of the most worthy of esteem and respect of all the men I have ever met. His sweetness of temper, his benevolence, and his love for the Indians are beyond expression." 
In 1791, the Spanish voyager, Alejandro Malaspina, after visiting Monterey and Carmel, declared: "He was a man who in Christian lore, mien, and conduct was truly apostolic, and his good manners and learning were unusual. This religious man had with good reason merited the esteem and friendship of both French commanders [of the La Pérouse expedition] and the majority of their subordinates. " 
Charles Chapman said of Lasuén: " [He] worthily filled the post of the great Junípero. As a mission-founder he achieved as much; ... he baptized a far greater number of Indians. He built up the missions economically and architecturally. He was far more successful than Serra in maintaining harmonious relations with the military. In zeal as a Christian and missionary he equalled, though he could not surpass, Father Junípero." 
Serra called Lasuén a
religious man of exceptional example. A substantial error crept into Lasuén's
chronology in the matter of his age at the time of his death. Vancouver
in 1792 considered the padre to be seventy-two years of age. Since he died
a little over ten years after that and the death record omitted mentioning
his age, historians came to the conclusion that he was about eighty-three
when he died. The discovery of his birth certificate at Vitoria, Spain,
in recent years, has settled the matter for all time. Lasuén at
the time of his death was only sixty-seven. The fact that Lasuén
in 1782 described himself as prematurely old no doubt led Vancouver ten
years later to make his great misjudgment of the padre's age.
Lasuén died at Mission San Carlos, Carmel, June 26, 1803, having received the last sacraments. He was buried on the twenty-seventh by Baltasar Carnicer in the stone vault of the sanctuary closest to the main altar on the Gospel side. His remains, together with the others buried at the mission, were first discovered under heavy debris in 1856, were exhumed again in 1882, and finally in 1943. Very few of the remains survived up to this latter year. His grave has been marked with a stone slab bearing his name. A monument to Lasuén has been erected at Mission San Fernando, and Lasuén High School at San Pedro recalls his memory. His writings have been published by Father Finbar Kenneally, O.F.M., of the Academy of American Franciscan History.
 Maynard Geiger, O.F.M. Franciscan Missionaries in Hispanic California, 1769-1848, pp. 136-142.
 Lasuén to José de Jesús Vélez, O.F.M., Museo Nacional, Mexico City. Copy in SBMA.
 Wilbur, ed. Vancouver in California 1792-1794, pp. 63-64.
 Cited in Chapman, A History of California, p. 378.
 Ibid., pp. 380-381.
 Ibid., pp. 381-382.
 Bancroft, History of California, II, pp. 8-9.