California Vaquero History St. Francis Retreat Old San Juan Bautista Mission
Vaquero Heritage DaysDates

The "Retreat" Story

Since 1947 St. Francis Retreat Center and home to Franciscan Friars has been a retreat facility welcoming all denominations and organizations to gather in the serene surroundings of the original 73 are homestead portion of Ranch San Justo including the original 1863 Flat/Bixby large New England style ranch home which overlooked a natural spring-fed lake with numerous out buildings and barn. Open to congregations, schools and organizations requiring conference facilities, also groups or individuals seeking a quiet environment for personal reflection. Staff members lead retreats emphasizing the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi and offer many planned retreats throughout each year.

Originally part of the 36,615 acre Rancho San Justo Mexican land grant of 1836 (when Missions were ordered to break up their vast land holdings as Spanish rule ended) and located a close 2 miles from historic Mission San Juan Bautista, this rancho was home to many vaqueros during the “rancho era” tending herds of cattle, sheep and horses. They would walk, ride horseback or travel in carts or by foot to attend mass at the Mission, baptize their children and enjoy the fiestas, music and vaquero contests.

Tragedy struck St. Francis Retreat in 2006 late into the night when the main building (the large historic Flint/Bixby home) was lost in a devastating fire. Thankfully, no one was injured, but all historic documents, furnishings and the entire structure was reduced to ash. Through donations and loans, the new structure was built on the footprint of the 1863 Flint/Bixby home in a style which accommodates today’s retreat activities – conference rooms, audio/visual seminar space, chef-kitchen facilities, dining room, gift/book shop and staff offices. The Retreat acreage includes resident housing, chapel, fireside meeting room, outdoor courtyards and overnight lodging accommodations for Retreat guests.

Although many of the original buildings have succumb with age, the beautiful 73 acre grounds of Rancho San Justo have walking trails, grassy areas, native plants and trees, quiet spots for solitude and reflection. Visitors view many deer, wild turkey, birds and other ranchland habitants meandering through the natural environment. Continued financial support allows the Franciscan Friars to maintain this engaging property. As you follow the narrow paved road leading to St. Francis Retreat, you will be transported back in time – to the world of California’s “vaquero heritage days”.


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