Our Patron Junipero Serra
A Franciscan missionary Blessed Junipero Serra is well known as the 18th century founder of a string of California missions. Like Father Serra, the Serrans of today put faith into action. Whether through meetings, vocational programs, or personal involvement in school, parish and diocesan activities, Serrans accept the challenge of fostering vocations and encouraging spiritual growth.
Father Junipero Serra was born Miguel Jose Serra on November 24, 1713 at Petra on the island of Mallorca in Spain. He entered the Franciscan Order when he was sixteen, taking the name Junipero. Serra was a great intellectual who was appointed as a professor of theology and he seemed destined for a lifetime of academic pursuits.
In 1750, in spite of his age and poor health, Serra volunteered to serve in the Franciscan mission in the New World. He arrived in Vera Cruz, Mexico in ill health but insisted on walking from there all the way to Mexico City, some 200 miles away. Along the way, he was bitten by a mosquito and the bite became infected. This injury bothered him for the rest of his life. Father Serra then worked in the Sierra Gorda area of north central Mexico for the next 17 years
When the Franciscans took over the California missions from the Jesuits in 1767, Father Serra was put in charge. In 1769, at the age of 56, he made his first expedition to California with Gaspar de Portola. The decision to create missions in California was political as well as religious. Spain wanted to gain a foothold in California before the Russians pushed southward. Serra traveled with a military expedition, establishing missions in the new territory. On the way to California, Serra’s leg was so sore that he could hardly walk, but he refused to go back to Mexico, saying “Even though I should die on the way, I shall not turn back”.
Serra spent the rest of his life as head of the missions in California, founding nine missions in all including his headquarters at the mission San Carlos de Borromeo in Carmel. Among other accomplishments, he introduced agriculture and irrigation systems and converted the Indians to Christianity. Unfortunately, not all the results of Spanish settlement were good. The Spanish carried diseases that the natives had no immunity to, and because of the resulting deaths the Indian population declined from about 300,000 in 1769 to about 200,000 in 1821.