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Blessed Junípero Serra
1713 - 1784

[ Chronology | The Man | Biography | Birth to Missionary | Travels ]


. . Miguel Jose Serra, born at Petra on the Island of Mallorca, Spain.

. . At the age of 16 he entered the service of the Catholic Church. He soon entered the Order of St. Francis of Assisi, and and took a new first name, Junípero, that of St. Francis' beloved original companion friar.

. . Father Serra volunteered to serve the Franciscan missions in the new world. He left Cadiz, Spain and sailed for Vera Cruz, Mexico, at the age al 36. He traveled by foot to Mexico City to dedicate his mission vocation at the shrine of Mexico's Our Lady of Guadalupe. His first assignment was in the Sierra Gorda in Mexico.

. . The Franciscans of Mexico were asked to take over missions in Baja California. These remote facilities became Father Serra's responsibility.

. . Spain began settlement of Alta California with the Sacred Expedition which Serra accompanied. The first destination was San Diego. It was on Presidio Hill where Serra planted the cross and dedicated the first mission in Alta California. At this same time, the first fortified settlement was founded. Serra himself established nine missions, with a total of twenty-one missions eventually being established along the El Camino Real, from San Diego to Sonoma, a distance of 700 miles.

. . At the age of 70, and after traveling 24,000 miles, Father Junípero Serra died at Mission San Carlos Borromeo and is buried there under the sanctuary floor.


Serra was president of the following missions.
(all founded by the Jesuits)
1. 1697 - Nuestra Señora de Loreto
2. 1699 - San Francisco Xavier
3. 1705 - Santa Rosalía de Mulegé
4. 1708 - San José de Comondú
5. 1720 - La Purísima Concepción de
. . . . . . . .María Cadegomó
6. 1720 - Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
7. 1721 - Santiago de las Coras
8. 1721 - Nuestra Señora de los Dolores
9. 1728 - San Ignacio
10. 1730 - San José del Cabo
11. 1733 - Todos Santos
12. 1737 - San Luís Gonzaga
13. 1752 - Santa Gertrudis
14. 1762 - San Francisco de Borja
15. 1767 - Santa María de Los Angeles
was responsible for the founding of the first nine missions.
1) 1769 - San Diego de Alcalá
2) 1770 - San Carlos Borromeo
3) 1771 - San Antonio de Padua
4) 1771 - San Gabriel Arcángel
5) 1772 - San Luís Obispo de Tolosa
6) 1776 - San Francisco de Asís
7) 1776 - San Juan Capistrano
8) 1777 - Santa Clara de Asís
9) 1782 - San Buenaventura
The next nine missions founded by Rev. Fermín Francisco Lasuén.
10) 1786 - Santa Bárbara
11) 1787 - La Purisima Concepción
12) 1791 - Santa Cruz
13) 1791 - Nuestra Señora de la Soledae
14) 1797 - San José de Guadalupe
15) 1797 - San Juan Bautista
16) 1797 - San Miguel Arcángel
17) 1797 - San Fernando Rey de Espana
18) 1798 - San Luís Rey de Francia
Founded by others.
19) 1804 - Santa Inés
20) 1817 - San Rafael Arcángel
21) 1823 - San Francisco Solano de
. . . . . . . . .Sonoma

San Carlos Borromeo, Carmel California
Founded in 1770
Serra's final resting place.




. . Interviews with California historians and scholars assessing Father Junípero Serra's role in the early history of California identify the Franciscan missionary as a major figure in California history whose founding of Mission San Diego de Alcala on July 16, 1769, marked the introduction of a new civilization in California. Father Serra came to what is now California as a 56-year-old man, asthmatic and suffering from a chronic leg sore that troubled him for the last 15 years of his life. Yet he walked thousands of miles, rode thousands more on the backs of mules, and traveled thousands of miles in sailing ships, bringing the Spanish language to California, as well as the Roman Catholic religion and a chain of nine missions that became the cities of today's California. He introduced agriculture and irrigation systems, pressed for a system of law to protect California's Native Americans against the abuses of Spanish soldiers and created a network of roads.

. . The following excerpts of interviews with historians and scholars, as well as a Franciscan priest with extensive knowledge of the life of the pioneer missionary, describe Father Serra, the man:

DR. MICHAEL MATHES, Professor of history at the University of San Francisco:
. . "Serra was the founder and the pioneer of California. The poor man has had no privacy for years. Everybody has picked at every little aspect that could be known about this man's life."
. . "Serra fought with the military and with the governors a lot. He was unusual in that regard. . . So we have, in a lot of correspondence of these governors, criticism of Serra, lots of criticism. But this criticism of Serra revolves around the fact that he was too much involved in the care and treatment of the Indians, that he would not allow soldiers to mingle with the Indians. He didn't want these people (the Indians) to be tainted with any possible immoral activities that the soldiers might be involved with.
. . "First came the Indians in his missions. Then, if there was anything left over, the soldiers could have it. These were the complaints of the government, of the civil governors: that Serra was such a fanatical missionary that he really didn't want to cooperate with the civilian government, that his first concern was the taking care of his mission. Criticism of Serra is really a boomerang against anybody that would say Serra was a 'bad person ,' because the criticism of him supports the theory that he was a dedicated missionary, He may not have been much of a diplomat or civil servant, but he was one fine missionary."

DR. HARRY KELSEY, curator of history at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History:
. . "Father Serra was certainly a very human man. He had lots of weaknesses, I suppose, but he had tremendous dedication and strength of purpose. He was as old as I am before he even came to California... It's something to think about doing when you're in your 20s and 30s, not when you're in your 50s. Serra had been a college professor for a long time, a fairly well known theologian, and he had lived a pretty comfortable life. When he went to Mexico, he decided he wanted to go to the missions, so his superiors sent him off to the missions. When he finished his mission, he decided that wasn't quite enough. He wanted to come here to the real frontier, so they sent him up here. "
. . "He tended to fly off the handle with the governors. Whether the governors could have been treated effectively any other way, I don't know. Serra got the missions started, though, and he was able to put them on a pretty firm footing."

DR. DAVID HORNBECK, professor of historical geography at California State University, Northridge:
. . "I look at him more as a leader in a sense of his extraordinary administrative ability, and his ability to coordinate the settlement of a whole new frontier. He did it all by himself... If he'd done that for Kentucky, if Father Serra had been Daniel Boone or any one of the sort of folk heroes that we have, well, their feats are exaggerated way beyond what they actually did. Yet, we have somebody here who took a whole brand new frontier, didn't know anything about it, and in four years had taken and converted it to a functioning, organized frontier."

DR. IRIS ENGSTRAND, professor and chair of the Department of History at the University of San Diego:
. . "We know Father Serra's life from the time he was born, where he was trained, what he thought and what he did. He wasn't out there saying, 'Wow, look at all these Indians. Let's whip them into shape.' He was physically there, he worked hard, worked 18 hours a day. He was 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 Deigo, he did not want those Indians punished. He wanted to be sure that they were treated fairly. . . "

DR. GLORIA MlRANDA, an historian who is associate professor and chair of the Chicano Studies Department at Los Angeles Valley College and who is working on a book about the pioneering family during Father Serra's time:
. . "He clearly saw the need for stability on the frontier. He was also very zealous in his protection of the tribes that he was working with. Often some of the soldiers who came north were not the best role models to imitate."
. . "He is as much a pioneer of the West as the pioneers we cherish in U. S. history. Not only because he introduced a faith -- he was a colonizer, an explorer, a man of great determination. Not that many people come around in history.
. . "His age is much more amazing. And his illness, his physical limitations. He was a very humble man, too. With his credentials, he could have had a very nice cloistered life, but he chose a life of hardship, which is very much apostolic, I think."

FATHER FRANCIS F. GUEST, O. F.M., director of the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library:
. . "He was a man who was not really interested in fame or in honor, or in being held in high regard by the government or by the Viceroys, or by anyone. He was simply interested in doing his spiritual work and if somebody else got the credit for it, he was not concerned one way or the other.
. . "To me, this was an act of extraordinary virtue, extraordinary generosity. It might even be called magnanimity. He was very big-hearted in his love for the Indians, in his love for his work and his dedication to his work. He had very pure intentions. I think that this was an act of virtue on his part, which would merit him very high praise from historians who studied his life from this viewpoint."



. . When Father Junípero Serra founded California's first mission in 1769, he was 56 years old and asthmatic, with a chronic sore on his leg that troubled him for the rest of his life, and he suffered frequently from other illnesses, as well. He stood just 5 feet, 2 inches, and, as a journalist later wrote, "He certainly didn't look like the man who would one day be known as the Apostle of California." Yet he endured the hardships of the frontier and pressed forward with remarkable determination to fulfill his purpose: to convert the Native Americans of California to Christianity.

. . In pursuit of that goal, Father Serra walked thousands of miles between San Diego and Monterey and even Mexico City. He traveled the seas, also; and by the time he died August 28, 1784, in Carmel he had founded nine missions, introduced agriculture and irrigation techniques, and the Spanish language. He had battled governors, bureaucrats and military commanders to secure a system of laws to protect the California Indians from at least some of the injustices inflicted by the Spanish soldiers whose practices often were in conflict with Father Serra's.

. . Father Serra had been a philosophy professor and distinguished preacher at the Convent of San Francisco in Mallorca, the Spanish island where he was born in 1713. He was 36 years old when he reached the port of Vera Cruz, Mexico, on December 8, 1749, and walked to Mexico City. ( It was during that journey of 24 days that an insect bite caused the sore on his leg that sometimes became so painful he had difficulty walking. ) He spent 17 years in missionary work in the Sierra Gorda in the present area of North-Central Mexico. In 1767 he became president of the 14 missions in Baja California, originally founded by the Jesuits, then turned over to the Franciscans.

. . At that time, faced with the threat of Russian colonization from the north, Spain had committed itself to pushing northward into what is now the American state of California. Russian America (Alaska) was only 800 miles away. Spain feared that Russia would push south and gain a firm foothold in Alta California. The Spanish military launched an expedition into California in 1769 under the leadership of Gaspar de Portola. Father Serra set out with them to establish missions.

. . Serra's blessing of the site of Mission San Diego de Alcala on July 16, 1769, marked the beginning of the European settlement of California.

. . Between the years of 1796 and 1784, Father Serra made six voyages by sea totaling 5,400 miles. He traveled by land the distance between Monterey and San Francisco eight times, Monterey and San Antonio 11 times, His longest journey by land was from Monterey to Mexico City. In total, he traveled well over 5,500 miles by land.

. . Father Serra arrived at Monterey aboard the sailing ship San Antonio on June 1, 1770. He celebrated the first Mass on June 3, 1770, on the shore of Monterey Bay, where we now find the city of Monterey.

. . He returned to San Diego to work on the mission there, then founded Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1776, the year of the American Declaration of Independence.

. . When Father Serra died in 1784 he had established nine California missions and baptized 6,000 Indians, about 10 percent of the California Native American population. Those nine missions grew to 21. Today, more than 60 percent of the state's nearly 26 million people live in areas surrounding the missions, and El Camino Real, the road that Father Serra traveled on a tour of the missions shortly before this death, established a major artery running much of the length of the state.

August 28th is the anniversary of the death of Father Serra, and is set aside in special remembrance of his many contributions to the Catholic Church in America.

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The images of Serra, pictures of Mission Carmel, and maps are from the book:
Junipero Serra's Legacy (1956, Second printing 1987)
by Martin J. Morgado
Published by Mount Carmel
P.O. Box 51326
Pacific Grove, CA 93950

Created: 09/11/97
Updated: 7/24/08