- Category : Religion-Missionary
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 2/4 - Hermit / Opportunist
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX The Sleeping Phoenix 4
Junípero Serra, O.F.M., known as Fra Juníper Serra in Catalan, his mother tongue, (November 24, 1713 – August 28, 1784) was a Spanish Franciscan friar who founded the first nine of 21 Spanish missions in California from San Diego to San Francisco, which at the time were in Alta California of the Las Californias Province in New Spain. He began in San Diego on July 16, 1769, and established his headquarters in Monterey, California at Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo.
The missions were primarily designed to convert the Indians, and develop self-sufficient landed enterprises. The architectural design of the mission continues to be a major influence on California architecture. Serra not only dealt with church officials, but also with Spanish officials in Mexico City, to deal with his frequent controversies with the military officers who commanded the nearby garrisons. He brought to California the European products that eventually became central to the state's agriculture empire: oranges, lemons, olives, figs, grapes, and vegetables, as well as cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. He was not eager to see Spanish settlers move to California and therefore he made no effort to develop export crops that would have built the economy and attracted settlers. The treatment of the Indians at the missions has been controversial, for they were under tight controls, were given corporal punishment (beatings), and were not allowed to leave.
Fr. Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 25, 1988.
Serra was born Miquel Joseph Serra in Petra, Majorca, Spain. On November 14, 1730, he entered the Alcantarine Franciscans, a reform movement in the Order, and took the name "Junipero" in honor of Saint Juniper, who had also been a Franciscan and a companion of Saint Francis. For his proficiency in studies he was appointed lector of philosophy before his ordination to the Catholic priesthood. Later he received a doctorate in theology from the Lullian University in Palma de Mallorca, where he also occupied the Duns Scotus chair of philosophy until he joined the missionary College of San Fernando de Mexico in 1749.
That same year he journeyed to Mexico City, where he taught. He was bitten by a snake and suffered from it throughout his life, though he continued to make his journeys on foot whenever necessary. He requested a transfer to the Sierra Gorda Indian Missions some 90 miles north of Santiago de Querétaro, where he spent about nine years. During this time, he served as the mission's superior, learned the language of the Pame Indians, and translated the catechism into their language. Recalled to Mexico City, he became famous as a most fervent and effective preacher of missions. His zeal frequently led him to employ extraordinary means in order to move the people to penance: he would pound his breast with a stone while in the pulpit, scourge himself, or apply a lit torch to his bare chest. He established ten missions including Velicata.
In 1768, Father Serra was appointed superior of a band of 15 Franciscans for the Indian Missions of Baja California. The Franciscans took over the administration of the missions on the Baja California Peninsula from the Jesuits after King Carlos III ordered them forcibly expelled from New Spain on February 3, 1768. Serra became the "Father Presidente." On March 12, 1768, Serra embarked from the Pacific port of San Blas on his way to the Californias. Early in the year 1769, he accompanied Governor Gaspar de Portolà on his expedition to Alta California. On the way, he established the Misión San Fernando Rey de España de Velicatá on May 14 (the only Franciscan mission in all of Baja California). When the party reached San Diego on July 1, Father Serra stayed behind to start the Mission San Diego de Alcalá, the first of the 21 California missions (including the nearby Visita de la Presentación, also founded under Serra's leadership).
Junipero Serra moved to the area that is now Monterey in 1770, and founded Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo. He remained there as "Father Presidente" of the Alta California missions. In 1771, Fr. Serra relocated the mission to Carmel, which became known as "Mission Carmel" and served as his headquarters. Under his presidency were founded Mission San Antonio de Padua, Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Mission San Francisco de Asís, Mission Santa Clara de Asís, and Mission San Buenaventura. Fr. Serra was also present at the founding of the Presidio of Santa Barbara on April 21, 1782, but was prevented from locating the mission there because of the animosity of Governor Felipe de Neve.
In 1773, difficulties with Pedro Fages, the military commander, compelled Father Serra to travel to Mexico City to argue before Viceroy Antonio María de Bucareli y Ursúa for the removal of Fages as the Governor of California Nueva. At the capital of Mexico, by order of Viceroy Bucareli, he printed up Representación in 32 articles. Bucareli ruled in Father Serra's favor on 30 of the 32 charges brought against Fages, and removed him from office in 1774, after which time Father Serra returned to California. In 1778, Fr. Serra, although not a bishop, was given dispensation to administer the sacrament of confirmation for the faithful in California. After he had exercised his privilege for a year, Governor Felipe de Neve directed him to suspend administering the sacrament until he could present the papal brief. For nearly two years Father Serra refrained, and then Viceroy Majorga gave instructions to the effect that Father Serra was within his rights.
During the American Revolutionary War (1775–83), Father Serra took up a collection from his mission parishes throughout California. The total money collected amounted to roughly $137, but the money was sent to General George Washington. Serra also received the title Founder of Spanish California. During the remaining three years of his life he once more visited the missions from San Diego to San Francisco, traveling more than 600 miles in the process, in order to confirm all who had been baptized. He suffered intensely from his crippled leg and from his chest, yet he would use no remedies. He confirmed 5,309 persons, who, with but few exceptions, were Indians ("neophytes") converted during the 14 years from 1770.
On August 28, 1784, at the age of 70, Father Junípero Serra died at Mission San Carlos Borromeo. He is buried there under the sanctuary floor.
Intellect, personality and character
Father Junipero Serra was considered brilliant by his peers. Prior to his departure to the Americas at age 27, he was ordered by his superiors to teach philosophy in professorial status to students at the Convento de San Francisco. Among his students were fellow future missionaries Francisco Palóu and Juan Crespí.
Franciscans saw the Indians as children of God who deserved the opportunity for salvation, and would make good Christians. in terms of intellectual skills, but Franciscans considered Indians to be childlike and in need of protection. Converts were segregated from Indians who had not yet embraced Christianity, lest there be a relapse. Discipline was strict, and the converts were not allowed to come and go at will. Serra successfully resisted the efforts of Governor Felipe de Neve to bring Enlightenment policies to missionary work, because those policies would have subverted the economic and religious goals of the Franciscans.
The Mission in Carmel, California containing Serra's remains has continued as a place of public veneration. The burial location of Serra is southeast of the altar and is marked with an inscription in the floor of the sanctuary. Other relics are remnants of the wood from Serra's coffin on display next to the sanctuary, and personal items belonging to Serra on display in the mission museums. A bronze and marble sarcophagus depicting Serra's life was completed in 1924 by Catalan sculptor Joseph A. Mora. Father Serra's remains have not been transferred to the sarcophagus.
The chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano, built in 1782, is thought to be the oldest standing building in California. Known as "Father Serra's Church," it has the distinction of being the only remaining church in which Father Serra is known to have celebrated the rites of the Roman Catholic Church (he presided over the confirmations of 213 people on October 12 and October 13, 1783).
Statuary and monuments
A gold statue of heroic size represents him as the apostolic preacher at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
Jane Elizabeth Lathrop Stanford, wife of Leland Stanford, governor and U.S. Senator from California, though she was not a Roman Catholic herself, had a granite monument erected to honor Father Serra at Monterey.
In 1884, the Legislature of California passed a concurrent resolution making August 29 of that year, the centennial of Father Serra's burial, a legal holiday. Many of Serra's letters and other documentation are extant, the principal ones being his "Diario" of the journey from Loreto to San Diego, which was published in Out West (March to June 1902) along with Serra's "Representación."'
A statue of Friar Junípero Serra is one of two statues representing the state of California in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol. The statue, sculpted by Ettore Cadorin, depicts Serra holding a cross and looking skyward.
When Interstate 280 was built in stages from Daly City to San Jose in the 1960s, it was named the Junipero Serra Freeway. Along the freeway in Hillsborough, California, is a statue of Serra. It stands on a hill on the northbound side and has a large pointing finger facing the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific.
Points of interest
Many cities in California have streets, trails, and other features named after Serra. Examples include Santa Barbara, which contains Alameda Padre Serra (Father Serra's Street), running from Mission Santa Barbara along the base of the Riviera, the hill overlooking the city; Serra Cross Park in Ventura, site of the cross Serra erected at Mission San Buenaventura's founding; and San Diego, in which Father Junipero Serra Trail runs through the Mission Trails Regional Park to Santee. Among the many schools named after Serra are Junípero Serra High School in the San Diego community of Tierrasanta, Junípero Serra Elementary School in Ventura, J Serra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, Serra Catholic School(Grades JK-8) in Rancho Santa Margarita, Junípero Serra High School in Gardena, CA and Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo.
Both Spain and the United States have honored Fr. Serra with postage stamps.
Relationship with Native Californians
Most Native American converts in the early years were forcibly captured by Spanish soldiers, and once in the mission were not allowed to leave.
According to George Tinker, himself an Osage/Cherokee and professor at Iliff School of Theology in Denver Colorado, Serra's legacy included forced labor of converted Indians in order to support the missions, and creating an environment equivalent to a concentration camp. Overwhelming evidence suggests that "native peoples resisted the Spanish intrusion from the beginning". Tinker also states that Serra's intentions in evangelizing were honest and genuine.
...recent scholarship recognizes that...men like Serra played a significant role in the institutions and practices that brought extreme hardship and pain to native communities.
Serra's own views are documented. In 1780, Serra wrote: "that spiritual fathers should punish their sons, the Indians, with blows appears to be as old as the conquest of the Americas; so general in fact that the saints do not seem to be any exception to the rule." Serra pushed for a system of laws to protect natives from some abuses by Spanish soldiers, whose practices were in conflict with his.
Mark A. Noll, a professor at the religious Wheaton College in Illinois has noted that this reflected an attitude, common at the time, that missionaries could, and should, treat their wards like children, including the use of corporal punishment. On the other hand, Tinker argues that it is more appropriate to judge the beatings and whippings administered by Serra by 18th century Native American standards (since they were the recipients of the violence) and notes, for instance, that Native Americans were unaccustomed to punishing their children.
Dr. Iris Engstrand, professor and chair of the Department of History at the University of San Diego described him as "much nicer to the Indians, really, than even to the governors. He didn't get along too well with some of the military people, you know. His attitude was, 'Stay away from the Indians.' I think you really come up with a benevolent, hard-working person who was strict in a lot of his doctrinal leanings and things like that, but not a person who was enslaving Indians, or beating them, ever....He was a very caring person and forgiving. Even after the burning of the mission in San Diego, he did not want those Indians punished. He wanted to be sure that they were treated fairly..."
Junípero Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 25, 1988, this being the critical next-to-last step towards canonization, or recognition of sainthood, in the Catholic Church. His feast day is July 1 and his is a patron saint of vocations.
During Serra's beatification, questions were raised about how Indians were treated while Serra was in charge. Complaints of Franciscan mistreatment of Indians began in 1783. The famous historian of missions Herbert Eugene Bolton, gave evidence favorable to the case in 1948, and the testimony of five other historians was solicited in 1986 to bolster the canonization process when it came under attack.