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Fray Junípero Serra
Junípero Serra at age 61, several
years before his death.
Born November 24, 1713(1713-11-24), Petra, Majorca
Died August 28, 1784 (aged 70), at Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in California
Venerated in Roman Catholicism
Beatified September 25, 1988, Rome by Pope John Paul II
Major shrine Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in Carmel, California
Feast July 1
Patronage Vocations

Blessed Fray Junípero Serra (known as Fra Juníper Serra), in Catalan, his mother tongue [1] (November 24, 1713 – August 28, 1784) was a Spanish Franciscan friar who founded the mission chain in Alta California. Fr. Serra was beatified by John Paul II on September 25, 1988.



Junípero Serra was born Miquel Josep Serra i Ferrer[2] in Petra, Majorca, Spain. He later took the name of "Junípero" in honor of Saint Juniper, who had also been a Franciscan and a follower of Saint Francis. On September 14, 1730, he entered the Order of Friars Minor. For his proficiency in studies he was appointed lector of philosophy before his ordination to the 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 year he journeyed to North America, first to Mexico City, where he taught. Father Serra refused to ride the mule that was provided him and walked from Veracruz to the capital. He was bitten by an insect 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.

Monument of Junípero Serra (with Juaneño Indian boy) on plaza de San Francisco de Asis in Havana

In 1768, 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, 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).

Serra moved to the area which 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, 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. 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 Serra to travel to Mexico City to argue before Viceroy Antonio María de Bucareli y Ursua 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 Serra's favor on 30 of the 32 charges brought against Fages, and removed him from office in 1774, after which time Serra returned to California. In 1778, Serra 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 Serra refrained, and then Viceroy Majorga gave instructions to the effect that Father Serra was within his rights. During the American Revolutionary War, 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.[citation needed]

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.[3]

Allegations of Genocide

To the indigenous people of Alta California, the missions were nothing but forced labour camps. They formed the major part of a calamitous process of colonization that amounted to cultural genocide. Between 1769 and 1821, the Indian population dropped from 300,000 to 200,000. Most deaths were the result of disease such as malaria and smallpox; inadvertently introduced by the Spanish and to which the native population had little resistance. Serra planned to convert all Indians to Christianity and recruits to the mission were often almost forced to do so nearly at gunpoint. By law, all baptized Indians were under the authority of the Franciscans. Outfitted in blue uniforms and given Spanish names, they became slaves on the mission farms. Disobedience was punished by whipping, branding, mutilation or execution. If they fled the mission grounds they were hunted down.[4]

Life expectancy in the missions was around 10 years. As one Friar noted, the Indians "live well free but as soon as we reduce them to a Christian and community life... they fatten, sicken, and die." In 1775, 800 Indians revolted and burned down the San Diego mission. The revolt was brutally put down by the Spanish soldiers.

Controversy over beatification

Many Indians and academics have condemned the decision of Pope John Paul II to beatify Serra. They point to the harsh conditions of mission life and Serra's own justification of beatings. (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.")[5]

See also


  1. ^ Mallorquí, a dialect of the Catalan, is and has been the language of Majorca and the Balearic islands and it is documented since 1229. Nowadays, both Catalan and Spanish are the two official languages of the Balearic islands.
  2. ^ The name Miquel Josep can be qualified in this article if he was named in the Catalan tongue. This translates into Miguel Jose in Spanish. The real case would rely on his name given at baptism
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^

External links

Stages of Canonization in the Catholic Church
  Servant of God   →   Venerable   →   Blessed   →   Saint  

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