Tapia, Gonzalo de
TAPIA, GONZALO DE
Founder and first martyr of the Jesuit missions of North America; b. León, Spain, 1561; d. Tavoropa, Sinaloa, New Spain, July 10, 1594. At 16 he entered the novitiate of Villagarcía under the renowned master Baltasar Álvarez. After completing his studies, he volunteered for the missions and reached Mexico on Oct. 10, 1584. During the next year he taught metaphysics, learned Nahuatl, and was ordained. He then went west to Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, and began missionary excursions. In 1587 he went alone to the wild Chichimeca in Guanajuato. His humor, courage, and ready speech won them over, making
possible the foundation of their town, San Luis de la Paz. He then wrote the General, Acquaviva, begging to be sent farther on. The Governor of Nueva Vizcaya, Rodrigo del Rio y Losa, a man of similar ideas, sensed that civilization would follow conversion. Viceregal permission was won, and the Provincial Díaz ordered him forward. With one companion, Martín Pérez, he rode 600 miles across the sierra to the Cahita people of northern Sinaloa and made his greatest conquest, some 10,000 conversions in three years. Two new companions, Santiago and Velasco, joined him in 1593, but the next year a medicine man, Nacabeda, plotted and executed Tapia's death. His mission formed the base for a broad advance. It went on until it reached the present United States in Arizona and up through lower California. Tapia's heroic death brought hundreds to follow him and build his great memorial, the Christianity of northern New Spain.
Bibliography: w. e. shiels, Gonzalo de Tapia (1561–1594 ) Founder of the First Permanent Jesuit Mission in North America (New York 1934).
[w. e. shiels]