Blessed Junipero Serra (1713-84)

Franciscan Friar, missionary and founder of missions in California. He was the son of Antonio Nadal Serra and Margarita Rosa Ferrer and was born at Petra, Majorca, Spain on Nov. 24th, 1713. He was baptized on the same day in St. Peter’s Church and given the name Miguel Jose.  He was confirmed at the age of two by the bishop of Palma. He received his primary education at a school conducted by Franciscans at the friary of of San Bernardino.  When he was fifteen he was placed in charge of the canons of the cathedral in Palma and began to assist in Philosophy classes held in the Franciscan San Francisco Monastery.  Thus in his early life was deeply influenced by the Franciscans who were his teachers.

Young Friar-On Sept. 14th, 1730 at the age of 16 he became a novice at Convento de Jesus located near Palma and made his profession the following year on Sept. 15.  At his profession he chose the name Junipero, in memory of one of St. Francis Assisi’s first companions.

The young friar studied philosophy from 1731-1734 followed by four years of theology at Convento de San Francisco.  The date of his ordination is not known but it was probably occurred in Dec. of 1738.  The year following his ordination he served as friary librarian but began to teach philosophy in the fall of 1740 for three years at San Francisco.  He earned his doctorate in theology in 1742 from Lullian University in Palma and was called to the Scotistic chair of theology at the university in Jan. of 1744.  He had the reputation of being an excellent teacher and highly sought after preacher, renowned for his pulpit style and religious zeal.  But his local fame did not quench his thirst to be a missionary.  This was granted to him in 1749.  

Missionary in America-On April 13, accompanied by his formal pupil Francisco Palou, who would later write the first biography of Serra, the companions sailed from Palma to America by way of Malaga and Cadiz.  After a perilous voyage, Vera Crux, Mexico was reached on Dec. 7, 1749.  Refusing the horses offered to him, they walked 250 miles to teach Mexico City and arrived at San Fernando College on Jan. 1, 1750.

Six months later Serra and Palou answered a call for volunteers to adminster to the Sierra Gorda missions.  Together they walked 175 miles to Jalpan, the principal mission station that served the Pame natives. For the ensuing eight years he labored to enhance and enlarge missions under his care, mastering the Otomi language.  The Sierra missions prospered and he became a champion of native rights against obstinate white abuse.

He Sept., 1758, he was summoned to San Fernando College in anticipation of being transferred to the San Saba missions in Texas which had suffered from violent attacks from the indigenous people.  The posting never came about so he stayed at the college until 1767, where he was choir director, college counselor, and confessor and Holy Office of the Inquisition, which dated back to 1752 when he was first assigned the post.

As a home missionary Serra immediately was immensely active in preaching missions in numerous areas of central Mexico, ranging from Oaxaca in the south to Valles in the north.  He was appointed to the presidency of the ex-Jesuit missions in Baja California that were placed in the hands of the Franciscans after the Jesuit expulsion from the Spanish dominions.  He took up his new post at Loreto on April 1, 1768.

The California Missions-Acting on the orders of Jose de Galvez, visitor general to New Spain (Mexico), the exploration and settlement of Alta Californina was to be implemented.  Serra volunteered to undertake the evangelization of the new territory even though not in the best of health.  Galavez accepted and the Franciscans were granted Alta California as their mission field.

He set out on Mar. 27, 1769, from Loreto to join the expedition led by Captain Gaspar de Portola and arrived in San Diego on July 1.  En route Serra established his first mission at San Fernando de Velicata on May 14, 1769.  The journey was difficult for him because he suffered from varicose ulcers in his legs, which caused him acute pain, but was not deterred by his infirmities in his quest for native converts.

In the ensuing 15yrs of his life, Serra labored without surcease in his Alta California apostolate. He founded nine missions: San Diego, July 16, 1769; San Carlos at Monterey, June 3, 1770; San Antonio, July 14, 1771; San Gabriel, Sept. 8, 1771, San Louis Obispo, Sept. 1, 1772, San Francisco, Oct. 12, 1777’ San Juan Capistrano, Nov. 1, 1776; Santa Clara, Jan. 12, 1777 and San Buenaventura, Mar 31, 1782.  At the same time, the founding of the first civilian settlements at San Jose, Nov. 29, 1777 and Los Angeles, Sept. 4, 1781 were effected.

During his apostolate, Serra traveled extensively in Alta, California administering to the native peoples and his fellow Franciscans.  His travels included major trips to Mexico city to plead for the rights of the neophytes under his care as president of California’s mission. This trip resulted in the famed Regulamento of 1773 that provided for the governance of the new province issued by Viceroy Bucareli.  Plagued by his varicose ulcers and asthma attacks he labored tirelessly in his efforts to bring Christianity to California’s native people.

By the time of his death at Mission San Carlos, Aug. 28, 1784, the nine California missions he had founded reported a total of 6,736 baptisms and 4, 646 Christian Native Americans living in the missions. He remained a model for religious despite his distractions and activity – a man of prayer and mortification. He had a consuming love for the Indians and ever defended them.  He was considered a man of saintly qualities during his life.  His cause for beatification was introduced in the diocese of Montery-Fresno in 1934 and was completed in 1949.  The Sacred Congregation of Rites declared Serra Venerable on Feb. 15, 1985. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Sept. 25, 1988.  

Document written by Juniperra Serra-Junipero Serra Makes His Final Report on the Mission of San Carlos De Monterey, July 1, 1784.

Hail Jesus, Mary and Joseph! “On the Most Solemn Feast of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost Sunday, June 3, 1770, this mission of San Carlos de Monterey was founded to the joy of the sea and land expeditions. In a short time rejoicing was shared by the entire kingdom and eagerly celebrated in both Spains.The following day, after choosing the most likely spot on that plain, the construction of the presidio was enthusiastically begun by the men of both sea and land forces.  By the fourteenth of the same month, the most solemn feast of Corpus Chirsti, a chapel had been built, as well as it could be, at the spot of the presidio which it still occupies, and a high Mass was sung with the Blessed Sacrament exposed in its monstrance.  After the Mass there was a procession, in which His Sacramental Majesty passed over the ground that till then had been so heathen and miserable.  It was a day of great consolation for all of us who were Christians.”