Junípero Serra y Ferrer was a Roman Catholic Spanish priest and friar of the Franciscan Order who founded a mission in Baja California and the first nine of 21 Spanish missions in California from San Diego to San Francisco, in what was then Alta California in the Province of Las Californias, New Spain.
Serra was born on November 24, 1713 in the village of Petra on the island of Majorca (Mallorca) off the Mediterranean coast of Spain. A few hours after birth, he was baptized in the village church. His baptismal name was Miquel Joseph Serra. His father Antonio Nadal Serra and mother Margarita Rosa Ferrer were married in 1707.
Attending the friars' primary school at the church, Miquel learned reading, writing, mathematics, Latin, religion and liturgical song, especially Gregorian chant. Gifted with a good voice, he eagerly took to vocal music. The friars sometimes let him join the community choir and sing at special church feasts. Miquel and his father Antonio often visited the friary for friendly chats with the Franciscans.
At age 15, Miquel's parents enrolled him in a Franciscan school in the capital city, Palma de Majorca, where he studied philosophy. A year later, he became a novice in the Franciscan order.
He received a doctorate in theology in 1742 and served as professor of theology at the Franciscan university in Palma from 1744 to 1749.
Educated by the Franciscan fathers at Palma, Serra joined the order in 1730 and took the name Junípero in memory of a companion of St. Francis of Assisi. For several years following his ordination, Serra remained at Palma as both student and teacher. Then, at the age of 36, Serra joined a group of missionaries setting out for Mexico. Shortly thereafter he volunteered to go to the mission field of Sierra Gorda in northeastern Mexico, where for 8 years he served as preacher and teacher. He learned the Otomí language of the natives, built several churches which are still in use today, and established a successful and thriving mission system.
In 1758 Serra prepared for a new assignment at Mission San Sabá on the Texas frontier, but before he could go north, hostile Comanches attacked and burned the mission. The Church then ordered Serra to the Franciscan college of San Fernando in Mexico City, and from 1758 to 1767 he served as home missionary, preached throughout Mexico, and served as a commissioner of the Holy Office, or Inquisition.
During the march north Serra suffered from painful bleeding ulcers on his legs and feet, but he refused to turn back. He arrived at San Diego in late June 1769 and immediately began construction of the first mission plant. During the next 15 years Serra devoted his time and energy to the Franciscan establishment in California. When others despaired, Serra persevered.
By 1782 the indefatigable priest had founded nine missions: San Diego, San Carlos Borromeo de Monterey (Carmel), San Antonio, San Gabriel, San Luis Obispo, San Francisco, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Clara, and San Buenaventura. Slowly he overcame the fear and hostility of the natives and converted them to the Christian religion. Serra was as concerned with the Native Americans' physical well-being as with their spiritual life.
He introduced domestic animals and new agricultural methods and trades to the neophytes at his missions and did everything possible to help the natives adjust to a different way of life. Under his care the California missions became the most successful and prosperous in all of New Spain.
Not only did Serra have responsibility for the missions, but after the founding of the pueblos of San José and Los Angeles he also administered the churches there as well as those at the presidios of San Diego, Monterey, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara. His devotion and constancy were in large part responsible for the growth and development of Spanish California.
Serra died in August 1784 at Mission San Carlos Borromeo and was buried in the mission church (at present-day Carmel), which has become a shrine to his memory. Monuments to Serra dot the map from Majorca to San Francisco, and several societies, including Serra International, have been established in his honor.
Serra did not stand alone among Catholic missionaries in displaying self-punishment at the pulpit. The more zealous Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries did likewise. But few took it to the extremes that Serra did.
Emulating an earlier Franciscan missionary and saint, Francisco Solano, Serra made a habit of punishing himself physically, to purify his spirit. He wore a sackcloth spiked with bristles, or a coat interwoven with broken pieces of wire, under his gray friar's outer garment. In his austere cell, Serra kept a chain of sharp pointed iron links hanging on the wall beside his bed, to whip himself at night when sinful thoughts ran through his mind. His nightly self-flagellations at the college of San Fernando caught the ears of some of his fellow friars. In his letters to his Franciscan companions, Serra often referred to himself as a "sinner" and a "most unworthy priest. "
During other sermons on the theme of repentance, Serra would hoist a large stone in one hand and, while clutching a crucifix in the other, smash the stone against his chest. Many of his listeners feared that he would strike himself dead. Later, Serra suffered chest pains and shortness of breath; Palóu suggests that Serra's self-inflicted bruises were the cause. While preaching of hell and damnation, Serra would sear his flesh with a four-pronged candle flame—emulating a famed Franciscan preacher, saint John of Capistrano. Palóu described this as "quite violent, painful, and dangerous towards wounding his chest. "
In one of his sermons in Mexico City, while exhorting his listeners to repent their sins, Serra took out his chain, bared his shoulders and started whipping himself. Many parishioners, roused by the spectacle, began sobbing. Finally, a man climbed to the pulpit, took the chain from Serra's hand and began whipping himself, declaring: "I am the sinner who is ungrateful to God who ought to do penance for my many sins, and not the padre [Serra], who is a saint. "
He was a full member of the Franciscan Order.
Serra was considered intellectually brilliant by his peers.
Quotes from others about the person
“On the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe's official website, the community released a bilingual statement in support of Serra's canonization shortly after a visit between Chief Cerda and Pope Francis, stating: "Saint Junipero Serra Baptized and Married our ancestors Simon Francisco (Indian name "Chanjay") and Magdalena Francisca on April 1, 1775 at Mission San Carlos De Borromeo Del Rio Carmelo. .. We wholeheartedly Support the canonization of Saint Junipero Serra because he protected our people and supported their full human rights against the politicians and the military with total disregard for his own life and safety. "
Ruben Mendoza, an archeologist of Mexican Mestizo and Native Yaqui descent who has extensively excavated missions in California, stated during a March 2015 interview with the Los Angeles Times that "Serra endured great hardships to evangelize Native Californians. In the process, he orchestrated the development of a chain of missions that helped give birth to modern California…. When I don't go along with the idea that the missions were concentration camps and that the Spanish brutalized every Indian they encountered, I'm seen as an adversary. "
In July 2015, Mendoza testified at a hearing on a proposal to remove a statue of Junipero Serra from the United States Capitol. In his remarks, he stated, “What greater symbol of empowerment than that offered by Fray Junípero Serra himself can we offer our youth? I ask that this legislative body seriously reconsider this politicized effort to minimize and erase one of the most substantive Hispanic and Latino contributions to our nation’s history. ”
Biographer Gregory Orfalea wrote of Serra: "I see his devotion to Native Californians as heartfelt, plain-spoken and borne out by continuous example. "
Junípero Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 25, 1988. The pope spoke before a crowd of 20, 000 in a beatification ceremony for six; according to the pope's address in English, "He sowed the seeds of Christian faith amid the momentous changes wrought by the arrival of European settlers in the New World. It was a field of missionary endeavor that required patience, perseverance, and humility, as well as vision and courage. "
On the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe's official website, the community released a bilingual statement in support of Serra's canonization shortly after a visit between Chief Cerda and Pope Francis, stating: "Saint Junipero Serra Baptized and Married our ancestors Simon Francisco (Indian name "Chanjay") and Magdalena Francisca on April 1, 1775 at Mission San Carlos De Borromeo Del Rio Carmelo. .. We wholeheartedly Support the canonization of Saint Junipero Serra because he protected our people and supported their full human rights against the politicians and the military with total disregard for his own life and safety. "”