Junipero Serra

July 27, 1997

Brother John Raymond


I don't like to pass up feast days of saints that are special to our country, but one slid by me this month—that of Blessed Junipero Serra. His feast day is celebrated as an optional memorial on July 1. Who was he and how does he relate to the United States?

In 1713 Junipero was born at Petra on the Spanish island of Mallorca (pronounced Mayorca). In those days many entered religious life at an early age. At age sixteen Junipero entered the Franciscan Order. He received a doctorate in theology and soon after was ordained a priest in 1738. For the next eleven years he taught philosophy at Lullian University at Palma.

During this time Fr. Junipero became well known for his inspiring preaching and successful teaching. He had a great desire to be a missionary, though. His superiors allowed him to join a group of missionaries who were getting ready to go to Mexico. From 1750 to 1758, in the wild and isolated Sierra Gorda near Queretaro, Mexico, Fr. Junipero labored hard to civilize the fierce Indian sun worshippers and bring them to the true Faith. For the next ten years he moved around Mexico preaching missions in rough seaports, crude mining camps and cities. He brought many sinners to repentance.

At the age of fifty-six, when most people are considering retirement, Fr. Junipero continued to follow what he had said to someone on one occasion, "As long as life lasts, I will do all I can to propagate our holy Faith." And it was fortunate for us he did. On July 1, 1767 he entered California. He went on to establish nine missions along the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco. This priest was responsible for 6,000 Indian converts besides.

Now if that wasn't enough, Fr. Junipero layed the foundations of California's present day agriculture and stock-raising. This state's great coastal cities grew out of the mission he established. Without modern transportation, this zealous missionary covered, on foot, around ten-thousand miles in thirty-five years. And some of the walking was done with an ulcerated leg!

Now, obviously, Blessed Junipero's life was a life-long martyrdom of labor, loneliness and sacrifice. On the three-month voyage by boat to get to America his spirit of sacrifice was already noticed. During this long voyage the travelers suffered from lack of drinking water. Some passengers noticed that Fr. Junipero was either not complaining or not seeming to suffer from this situation. So they asked him whether or not he minded the thirst. He replied, "Not especially, since I have found the secret of not feeling thirsty, which is, to eat little and talk less, so as not to waste the saliva." I imagine that ended the conversation! Perhaps, he was being a little humorous, too.

Blessed Junipero Serra died in Monterey on August 28, 1784. He is buried in the mission church of St. Charles Borromeo, which he founded. I think it is definitely worth the effort to visit the church were Blessed Junipero is buried if you are in the area. Maybe it's worth it even if you're not in the area!




"God most high, your servant Junipero 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 evangelical zeal, inspire us to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever."


(Prayer taken from The Liturgy of the Hours, The Catholic Book Publishing Company)