Feast Day: July 01
Jose Miguel Serra was born in Petra, Mallorca, Spain, the son of a farmer, and joined the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’s childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was thirty-five, he spent most of his time in the class room – first as a student of theology, receiving a doctorate in theology, and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World.
Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1749, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross – sometimes life-threatening – for the rest of his life. For several years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula and became president of the missions there. The learned scholar trained himself in missionary skills and methods. He decided that to bring the natives to Christ he would have to become one of them. So he mastered their language, treated them as equals, and daily worked side-by-side with them in the fields.
When the Spanish undertook the conquest of Upper California in 1769, Junipero Serra accompanied the military expedition. That year he established his first mission at San Diego. Between 1770 and 1782, Junipero founded eight more missions, including San Francisco and San Carlos at Monterey-Carmel, which became his base.
Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders, and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all, his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight until dawn. He baptized over six thousand people and confirmed five thousand. His missionary travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death.
Junipero is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, California; he was buried with military honors. In 1931 his statue was placed in the Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C. In 1935 the Serra Club was founded in Seattle, Washington, to foster vocations and to promote Catholicism throughout the United States. Junipero Serra was beatified in 1988.
“God most high, your servant Junipero Serra brought the gospel of Christ to the peoples of Mexico and California and firmly established the Church among them. By his intercession, and through the example of his evangelical zeal, inspire us to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ.”
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day-Updated and Expanded.” Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.
Ghezzi, Bert. “Voices of the Saints.” Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar-Updated and Revised Edition.” New York: Alba House, 2012.