Fray Luis Cáncer, OP and Companions, June 20 and 26, Tampa Bay

Names:                 Fr. Luis Cáncer, O.P. (Barbastro or Zaragossa),

                             Fr. Diego de Tolosa, O.P.;

                             Brother Esteban Fuentes, O.P. (Tolosa)

Date:                     June 20 and 26, 1549

Place:                   Tampa Bay


Fr. Cáncer ministered successfully first in Puerto Rico and then in Guatemala, before turning his sights to Florida, which, according to an early historian, he “always held deep in his heart.” Having secured laborers, provisions, and permission from Spain, Fr. Cáncer set sail from Veracruz, Mexico, accompanied by fellow Dominicans and an interpreter.

On the vigil of the Ascension in the year 1549, this expedition sighted land just south of modern-day Tampa Bay (Bahía del Espíritu Santo). Fr. Cáncer celebrated Mass in Florida on the Feast of Corpus Christi. At first the missionaries were welcomed by the native peoples, who knelt in prayer as Fr. Cáncer chanted litanies to God and to the saints. Gifts were exchanged.

Fr. Cáncer’s two companions, Fr. Diego and Brother Esteban went ashore to stay with the natives, but they were killed on June 20. When Fr. Cáncer, on board a ship near present-day Safety Harbor, heard word of the killings, he resolved to journey to shore. As he made his way toward the woods, toward the natives who were hiding there, he was approached by a man who hugged him and began to lead him away. Then, apparently following a signal, Fr. Cáncer was surrounded by others; he was dragged toward the woods and clubbed to death.                                         ©2017 Martyrs of La Florida Missions