California’s history is rooted in Catholicism. Notably, the land was discovered by Spaniards in the 16th century. Subsequently, the Jesuits and then the Franciscans were entrusted with establishing missions and stability in California. The celebrated St. Junipero Serra founded the first mission in San Diego on July 16th, 1769. The mission’s full title is the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá. 

St. Junipero Serra went on to found eight more missions before his death in 1784. “Siempre adelante!” or “Always move forward” was St. Junipero Serra’s motto for life.  He certainly embodied this motto through his tireless efforts to serve those under his care and to grow the Church in the New World.

Today, the Church has 21 missions in California, from San Diego in the south to Sonoma in the North. Eventually, California was divided into two archdioceses, ten dioceses, and also includes two eparchies. 

The state’s beauty and diversity is richly reflected by the Church’s historical footprint. California is one of the largest and most diverse states in the country. According to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Newsroom, there are nearly 11 million Catholics in the state of California. This represents almost 29% of the total population. California also boasts numerous Catholic schools, colleges, universities, and hospitals. The Church rises to meet the needs of those within some of the most populous cities in the country as well as densely rural areas.

Notable Institutions

California sets standards for culture, in many respects. It is also a major hub for Catholic gigs, particularly in media and the non-profit sectors. Some of the notable Catholic institutions headquartered in California include Catholic AnswersFamily Theater Productions, Homeboy Industries, Ignatius Press, and the  Napa Institute. These and many other Catholic organizations in California are working to influence the culture towards a Catholic sensibility. 


This is just a sampling of the many wonders California has to offer. Whether you are looking to encounter God  through your work, ministry, or in nature, there are numerous opportunities to do so in California. 

For more information on vibrant Catholic organizations, see our organization directory.

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