Serra, Junípero, Bl.

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Founder of Franciscan missions of California; b. Petra de Mallorca, Spain, Nov. 24, 1713; d. Carmel, Calif., Aug. 28, 1784; beatified Sept. 25, 1988, by Pope John Paul II. His parents, Antonio Nadal and Margarita Rosa (Ferrer) Serra, were farmers. José Miguel, as he was baptized, joined the Franciscan Order in Palma de Mallorca, Sept. 14, 1730, taking the name Junípero. Even before his ordination in 1738, he was assigned to teach philosophy in his province. Later he received his doctorate in theology from Lullian University, Palma, and in 1743 was appointed to the Duns Scotus chair of philosophy there. In 1749 he sailed for Mexico to enter the Apostolic College of San Fernando, Mexico City. En route he preached his first American mission at San Juan, Puerto Rico. From 1750 to 1758, he worked successfully in the missions of the Sierra Gorda, built the central mission of Santiago de Jalpan, supervised the mission district for three years as president, and learned the Otomí language. In 1752 he was appointed commissary of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. After returning to Mexico City in 1758, Serra was employed for the next nine years in administrative offices at the Apostolic College and as a missionary in the dioceses of Mexico, Puebla, Oaxaca, Valladolid, and Guadalajara.

In 1767, when the Spanish government exiled the Jesuits, Serra was designated presidente (administrator) of the Baja California missions, with headquarters at Loreto. When the conquest of Alta California was undertaken by Spain in 1769, Serra accompanied the military expedition under Don Gaspas de Portolá to San Diego where he founded his first mission in the territory on July 16. In June 1770 he established his permanent headquarters at San Carlos Mission at Monterey-Carmel. Under his administration nine missions were founded in Alta California where Junípero served as presidente until his death. These missions were San Diego, San Carlos Borromeo (1770), San Antonio (1771), San Gabriel (1771), San Luis Obispo (1772), San Francisco (1776), San Juan Capistrano (1776), Santa Clara (1777), and San Buenaventura (1782).

In his California foundations, Serra insisted on the full activation of the Spanish mission system, which had been in use for several centuries. Frequent conflicts with the military and civil authorities over their treatment of Native Americans prompted him, in 1773, to present a Representación of 32 points for the better conduct of mission affairs to Viceroy Bucareli in Mexico City. Serra visited all the missions a number of times, administering the sacrament of confirmation after 1778. Contrary to legend, he did not travel exclusively by foot. Though he walked thousands of miles during his misson career, he did, at times, travel by packet boat, carriage, or mule, at times accompanied by a military guard or a page.

The writings of Serra, confined almost exclusively to mission affairs, varied from factual reports to commentary that afford insight into his character. Though fundamentally robust, he suffered from an ulcerated leg and foot during his years in Mexico and California. His apostolate was characterized by a devotion to the natives that resulted in over 6,000 baptisms and 5,000 confirmations, and in a marked improvement in their standards of living. Under his administration, agriculture and domestic animals, as well as European trades, were introduced to the indigenous peoples of California.

After his death, Junípero Serra was buried with military and naval honors in the sanctuary of San Carlos Mission, Carmel; his remains were identified in 1943. Since the middle of the 19th century, the literature on Serra has reached great proportions in both Europe and America. Many monuments and memorials have been erected in his honor. The most significant distinction came in 1931 when his statue was placed in the Statuary Hall in the Capitol at Washington, D.C. His cause was opened in 1934 at the request of the bishop of Monterey-Fresno and of the Franciscan provincial of the Province of St. Barbara.

Feast: July 1.

Bibliography: f. weber, A Bicentennial Compendium of Maynard J. Geiger's: The Life and Times of Fr. Junipero Serra (Santa Barbara 1988). b. font obrador, Fr. Junipero Serra: Mallorca, Mexico, Sierra Gorda, Californias (Palma 1992). a. xavi er, Junipero Serra (Barcelona 1986). m. morgado, Junipero Serra's Legacy (Mount Carmel 1987), bibliography. m. geiger, Franciscan Missionaries in Hispanic California 17691848: A Biographical Dictionary (San Marino 1969), 23945.

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