JUNIPERO SERRA, APOSTLE OF CALIFORNIA
“I want to be a missionary.”
Brother John Samaha, S.M.
Saint Junipero Serra (1713-1784), the first apostle and colonizer of Alta California was a model evangelizer and is a benchmark for the missionary spirit for spreading and renewing the faith. The church celebrates his feast on July 1.
When Pope Francis visited the USA in September 2015 he canonized him at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.
A native of Petra on the Spanish island of Majorca and baptized Miguel Jose, he followed in the footsteps of his early educators, the Franciscans, and took the name of Junipero, who was a disciple of St. Francis himself. After a decade of service as a noted preacher and professor of philosophy, he rekindled his early desire to be a missionary and requested to be sent to Mexico in the new World. In 1749 at the age of 36 he wrote a formal petition to his provincial superior: “All my life I have wanted to be a missionary. I have wanted to carry the Gospel teachings to those who have never heard of God and the kingdom he has prepared for them.”
Fray Junipero was missioned to the New World in Mexico, where he served the native populations for twenty years. When Spain decided to complete the occupation of California, he and other specially trained Franciscan missionaries accompanied the military and the colonists. During the ensuing fifteen years in Alta California, he founded the first nine of the twenty-one missions. In this period Serra was compelled to confront the military and civil authorities concerning the mistreatment of the Native Americans. He drafted a statement of thirty-two grievances which he personally presented to the Viceroy in Mexico. Some of his recommended improvements were implemented and some were overlooked.
Though afflicted with an ulcerated leg wound, Padre Serra frequently visited his missions, often walking rather than riding horseback because St. Francis al Assisi had always walked. Records show that he baptized and confirmed thousands of natives without neglecting the colonists and the soldiers. He was beloved by all. While concentrating on the spiritual needs of the neophytes and catechumens, he and his collaborators did not forget their material welfare. The natives were taught methods of farming, cattle raising, along with arts and crafts. The native peoples were educated to shift from an unsettled lifestyle to a stable domestic way of life. Serra’s extensive written reports filed with government and religious authorities reveal a saintly man who loved and served his people as an adept teacher, organizer and manager.
Although some Spaniards were guilty of abusive treatment, Padre Serra had never been guilty of mistreatment. On the contrary, he defended them from harm. In 1784 Father Serra died at Mission San Carlos Borromeo, and later he was buried in the sanctuary of its church. When St. John Paul II beatified Junipero Serra on September 25, 1988, he praised the Apostle of California as “an exemplary model of the selfless evangelizer, a shining example of Christian virtue and the missionary spirit.” These are the traits we are challenged to exhibit.
A statue of Junipero Serra represents California in the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Imposing statues of the colonizer of California also grace Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and are also prominently placed in many other cities throughout the state. His name has been adopted by the international lay organization of men and women known as the Serra Club, which is dedicated to fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Saint Junipero Serra witnessed to the holiness of the Church and its concern for all people. As an extraordinary missionary and an exceptional example of the Church’s apostolic calling to preach and exemplify the Gospel to everyone, he personifies the spirit of the new evangelization that characterizes our times.
A Junipero Serra Vignette
November 24 is the feast day of Saint Junipero Serra, Apostle of California. The son of Antonio and Margarita Ferrer, he was baptized Miguel Jose and took the name Junipero as a Franciscan.
Pope Saint John Paul II beatifed him in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in 2015.
This is part of the documented legacy of Blessed Junipero Serra to the Church in California.
· He walked an estimated 4,000 miles in California on his missionary journeys with an injured leg.
· He baptized 98% of the adult converts at Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel.
· He confirmed 4,076.
· The records of The Early California Population Project indicate that his efforts supporting the 21 missions, the Los Angeles Plaza Church, and the Santa Barbara Presidio resulted in 101,000 baptisms, 28,000 marriages, and 71,000 burials.