SAINT JUNÍPERO SERRA (1713-1784), priest and missionary
Prior to the days of the American Revolutionary War, another part of the future United States was being born on the west coast in California. A gray-robed Franciscan by the name of Padre Junípero Serra established several missions, bringing Christianity to the Native Americans in Mexico and California, and it is he whom the Church honors today.
Miguel José Serra was born on the island of Majorca, part of the kingdom of Spain, on November 24, 1713. At the age of fifteen, he entered the Franciscan University at Palma, Spain, and joined the Order of Saint Francis two years later, taking the name Junípero. Due to his considerable excellence in his studies, he was appointed as lector of philosophy before his ordination to the priesthood in 1737. Later he received a doctorate in theology.
Padre Junípero was thirty-six years old when he determined that his calling was to become a missionary in the New World. In 1749, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean in company with a number of Franciscan monks, several among them who afterward came with Father Junípero to California.
He remained but a short time in Ciudad de México (Mexico City), and was soon sent as a missionary to the Indians in the Sierra Madre, in the district now known as the State of San Luis Potosi. He spent nine years there, and then returned to Mexico City where he stayed for seven more years in the Convent of San Fernando.
In 1767, when he was fifty-four years of age, he was appointed to the responsibility of establishing missions in California. He arrived at San Diego in 1769, and, with the exception of one journey to Mexico, he spent the remainder of his life in the several missions he established.
Padre Junípero was a man to whom his religion was everything. All his actions were governed by the ever-present and predominant idea that life is but a brief probation, a time in which we contemplate the eternity which awaits us – with the unimaginable joys of Heaven on one side and the eternal torment of Hell on the other.
Earth for its own sake had no joys for him, for he did not recognize this life as his home. Rather, he lived his priesthood as a representative of the Church, bringing the Truth of Jesus Christ to the Native Americans in the New World. And, as a missionary priest, he is known to have baptized more than 6,000 people, and confirmed over 5,000.
Suffering from tuberculosis, Padre Junípero died peacefully at the Mission San Carlos Borromeo of Carmel which he established near Monterey, California, on August 28, 1784 at the age of seventy; and his remains are entombed in the mission. He was beatified on September 25, 1988 by Pope St. John Paul II and canonized a saint by Pope Francis I in Washington, DC on September 23, 2015, calling him “the evangelizer of the West in the United States.”
Saint Junípero Serra is the namesake of the “Serra Club”, an international Catholic organization dedicated to the promotion of vocations, and the support of seminarians and religious novices. Many of Saint Junípero’s letters and other writings have survived, and the diary of his travels to the West was published in 1902 titled Out West.
We commemorate his feastday on July 1.
(From saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org, sfmuseum.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Junípero Serra)
“God Most High, Your servant Junípero Serra brought the gospel of Christ to the peoples of Mexico and California and firmly established the Church among them. By his intercession, and through the example of his apostolic zeal, inspire us to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”