Saint of the Day: Blessed Father Junipero Serra, the comic book and in real life
Somewhere, lost in the depths of a bookcase, my family has a comic book about Junipero Serra. It is set in the year 20something, still in the future from now, on board a space craft. The story is about a priest telling a friend of his about Serra. I first picked up the book, (actually I found it), in fourth grade, the time when all California kids study the California missions. That was the first real intro I had to Serra and the founding of the missions, because I found the book just before we started studying the missions in school. His story fascinated me, but soon I forgot about him and the book, until today when I started doing research for this post. Some might say that comic books never tell the truth, but they would be wrong about this one. The research I did showed me that the comic book is actually rather accurate at portraying his life.
Blessed Father Junipero Serra was born Miguel Jose Serra on November 24th, 1713 in Petra, Majorca, Kingdom of Spain. Later, he took the name “Junipero” in honor of Saint Juniper. He entered the Order of Friars Minor on September 14th, 1730. Because he was so good with his studies, Serra was appointed Lector of Philosophy (some sort of professor) before he was ordained a priest. Later on he also received his doctorate from Lullian University in Palma De Mallorca.
In 1749, Serra travelled to Mexico City. On the way from Vera Cruz to Mexico City, he was bitten in the leg by an insect. The bite never got better, and that leg bothered him for the rest of his life. He never wanted any help with it though, and preferred to walk whenever he could.
From Mexico City, Serra requested transfer to the Sierra Gorda Indian Mission. He spent nine years there, learning the language of the Pame Indians, and translating the Catechism into their language. He was soon recalled to Mexico City and gained fame as being the most fervent and most effective preacher, because he would do ridiculous stuff in order to get people to repent. It is said that he used to pound his breast with rocks at the pulpit, scourge himself and hold a lit torch to his chest. Whether or not he actually did any of that is debated.
The years went by, and in 1769, Serra acompanied Govenor Gaspar de Portola to Nueva California. On July 1st, 1769, the exedition landed in San Diego, where Fr. Serra founded Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first of 21 California missions. After founding Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in Montery, Serra relocated his head quarters to Carmel. Under his rule as “Father Presidente of Alta California”, the missions expanded to include: Mission San Antonio de Padua, Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Mission San Francisco de Asis, Mission Santa Clara de Asis and Mission San Buenaventura. Each of the California missions is located within one day’s walk of each other. He also pressed for laws to protect the Natives from the abuses of the military.
Around 1778, Serra was given dispensation to give the sacrament of Confirmation. He went around confirming people for a year until Felipe de Neve told him to stop until he could present a Papal Brief. Serra waited for two years, until the Viceroy Majorga gave instructions to the effect that Serra was within his rights. Over the next three years, Serra traveled from San Fransico to San Diego, over 600 miles, and confirmed 5,309 people. 600 miles may not seem like a lot now days, but it was a lot then, on foot, with a bad leg.
Blessed Father Junipero Serra died of a snake bite on August 28th, 1784. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 25th 1988. He is buried in the Carmel Mission.
P.S This is not actually Kathy writing. I am Rosie her 15 year old daughter. Gotcha!