Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

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A strong presence still resides at the mission…




Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is a Catholic Church that has a long and historic past; being one of the California missions started by Fr. Junípero Serra. The church buildings are built around a quadrangle in the middle where a lovely garden brings beauty and history to the parishioners and visitors alike. You can see the original bells from Peru on display.

The buildings and church were beautifully restored years ago because of the work of die-hard preservationists who worked diligently to restore many of California’s Missions to their historic glory.

One of the unique features of the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is its sanctuary. The main nave is short and narrow, like many of the other mission churches, but also has a secondary nave of almost equal size located at the right of the altar. This creates the only L-shaped mission church; a unique building, unlike any other California Mission Church. The sanctuary is glorious with the some of original decor that was hidden under plaster and was nicely restored. Other decor is painted on and matches the historical aura of this special place. There are a lot of older church antiques, paintings and religious statues, perhaps replicas of what was here or even perhaps the original pieces.

Another unique feature is the layout of the belfry and vestibule that is also unique to any California mission. The distinctive front façade, which also serves as the church’s belfry, has been demolished and rebuilt more than once. One well-meaning renovation built a New England steeple instead. It is pleasing to see it as it was envisioned by the 1794 builders.

Today, the Padre’s Quarters have been made into a museum, detailing the past historic life of the mission and of the local Chumash Indians that existed before the Franciscans came to start their Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.




San Luis Obispo was first discovered by soldiers who had come down from the Presidio at Monterey to hunt Grizzly Bears to feed the people up at Monterey. The Chumash Indians were overjoyed because the soldiers killed a lot of the bears that had always terrorized them. They were friendly toward the soldiers, grateful to them. The soldiers called this area, la Canada de los Osos (Valley of the Bears.) Because of the surplus of natural resources, good weather, and the friendly, grateful Chumash who would be willing to help with the building, San Luis Obispo became a location of interest for the next mission.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was the 5th Spanish Mission established by Father Junípero Serra, from the Franciscan Order from Spain, on September 1st, 1772. It was named for Saint Louis of Toulouse, France. On September 1st, 1772, a cross was placed by the San Luis Obispo Creek, where Father Junípero Serra said the first Mass. Juniper Serra left for San Diego, leaving Father Jose Cavalier, Father Anthony and five soldiers for security stay behind to start building Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

With the help of the friendly Chumash tribe, they built some temporary buildings that were burned down by other not-so-friendly tribes who wanted the Spanish out. So, it was back to the drawing board learning to make their own tile and adobe bricks. By the 1790s the mission could produce enough tile to roof mission buildings and the construction to improve the mission began.

Staring in 1794, extensive building construction began; A new church with a new tile roof, numerous buildings for new Indian converts, as well as many improvements and additions to their beloved mission. In 1819, the quadrangle was finished. A year later, two mission bells arrived from Lima, Peru, and a large celebration took place.

From 1804 through 1832, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa grew on their acres of land 167,000 bushels of wheat, barley, corn, beans, peas & Lentils. They had the highest production of wheat of any California mission church. While this mission didn’t have any earthquakes or face more Indian attacks, their success wasn’t to last, due to the political agenda of the newly independent Mexican government. They looked at the California missions as a Spanish influence that they wanted to eradicate. So, they started the process.

After the Mexican Secularization Act of 1833, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa’s highly successful farmlands were taken away and put into land grants, leaving the mission having to rent rooms in order to keep their church open and serving. The Mission buildings fell into disrepair, becoming fixer-upper opportunities.

The end of the Franciscans was also near. In 1830, FR. Luis Gil Y Taboada took over the mission, but died three years later in 1833, leaving Fr. Ramon Abella with the challenges of the era. In 1842, Fr. Ramon Abella died, the last Franciscan at this mission.

In 1845, Governor Pio Pico finally went after all the mission church buildings, declaring them for sale. He sold everything that was connected to Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, except the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Church building. Perhaps the people who lived here had a fondness for the mission, considering it a landmark. Other uses for this building were found, making it still a viable structure.

During the war with Mexico, John C. Fremont and his California Battalion used the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa as a base of operations in 1846; probably making some needed repairs as well. After the war, The Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa became the first courthouse and jail in San Luis Obispo County, California. People of San Luis Obispo had indeed continued to find new ways to use it, while maintaining it at the same time.

Happily, in 1859, the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was returned by the Federal Government to the Catholic Church, under the Diocese of Monterey. The Mission Luis Obispo de Tolosa once again became a Catholic Church serving the people of San Luis Obispo, much to the relief of the community at large.

In 1872, the 100th anniversary of the mission spurred on some enthusiasm to renovate and restore the mission. The strongest efforts to completely historically restore started in 1933. The mission had shrunk to include the church, a small open space for a garden, and the Padre’s Quarters. Many of the original buildings were in private hands and but still standing.

The Mission Luis Obispo de Tolosa Church has been going strong ever since. they have a faithful congregation, a strong out-reach program and a museum to help bring in funds. While the city of San Luis Obispo has grown up around them, they still take up a large property and make good use of the space.

Apparently, not only the living are faithful and worship here. The living priests and their parishioners have friendly help as well from the spirit world.



People who had a dedicated passion to their life of service to others and to the Lord, sometimes want to find ways to continue to support their life’s work even when they are spirits.

Apparently, a former Friar still is serving his mission church as best he can even as a spirit. Other unseen spirits of other Franciscan brothers may have joined him as well.

People who loose a valued place in their lives due to circumstances beyond their control, are drawn back to this favorite place in this world when it is restored physically; plus having the same purpose that it once had been when they were alive. They want to make up for lost time that they were denied while they were alive. They continue happily in their former life they enjoyed; doing their routines, responsibilities the best they can without a body. They try to make sure that these circumstances don’t happen again.

In 1833, the Friars must of seen the writing on the wall about the demise of their mission. Despite this, they rented out rooms to eek out enough to continue their calling for the people.

In 1845, when the Mexican governor declared that all missions must be secularized and eventually sold, most of the Spanish Fathers were sent home.

People who die prematurely before accomplishing what they wanted to do sometimes like to come back and finish their work or help the living in any way they can.

FR. Luis Gil Y Taboada died after only three years at the helm, in 1833. He died during a terrible time for the mission when their land was being confiscated by military people. Perhaps he thinks that he may have made a difference if he hadn’t died. He wasn’t finished.

Fr. Ramon Abella died in 1842, three years before the mission closed as a place of worship and outreach. He wasn’t finished either. Perhaps he wasn’t able to accomplish what he wanted to achieve before this inevitable occurrence.



Spirit of at least one Franciscan Friar – who is a strong, known presence.  All of them may be here, trying to contribute something to insure their church continues. Possibly could be Father Luis Antonio Martinez, and/or FR. Luis Gil Y Taboada , and/or Fr. Ramon Abella, and/or the Friars who found ways to keep the doors open after loosing their farmland.

I couldn’t find any hard evidence posted on line from anyone; professionals or amateurs.

The personal experiences mentioned below have been reported by people for a long time.

Spirit of Franciscan Friar Praying

One of the things this Friar can still do without a body is pray, and/or lead prayers of the other spectral Friars, seeking the Lord’s protection and guidance for the priests and parishioners.

Apparently is still praying in Spanish for this church and congregation. Other unseen Friars may be praying with him.

Spirit of Franciscan Friar Gardening

This father may have been in charge of the gardens. He also continues to monitor the living; a true team player, showing himself to witnesses.

His faceless apparition has been seen in the full moon light, inspecting the gardens.


Spirit of Franciscan Friar Supervising

He keeps an eye on what the living are doing inside the buildings as well, looking over the inside of the mission, making sure all is right.


Probably so, and maybe by more than one spirit. While only one spirit has been seen, others may be there as well, but haven’t let anyone see them.

They all may be praying for this present church and the Padres who serve here.




751 Palm Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is located in the historic downtown section of San Luis Obispo. The Mission property sits nicely between Palm Street and Monterey Street (East/West) and Churro Street and Broad Street (North and South).

Parish Office hours: Weekdays 9am – 5pm. Please call 805-543-6850 for further information on visiting the mission.


  • “San Luis Obispo County Ghosts” on Weird California
  • Mexican secularization act of 1833 on Wikipedia
  • “Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa: The Fifth California Mission” on California Through My Lens
  • “San Luis Obispo de Tolosa” page on California Missions Foundation
  • California Missions Foundation Home page
  • Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa page on Wikipedia
  • “A merger of past and present at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, California” on Exploration Vacation, by Cindy Carlsson – TheTravelGal, retrieved October 9, 2018

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

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