Junípero Serra y Ferrer, O.F.M., (Catalan: Juníper Serra i Ferrer) (November 24, 1713 – August 28, 1784) 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 beatified by Pope John Paul II on 25 September 1988 in Vatican city.
Pope Francis canonised him on 23 September 2015, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., during his first visit to the United States.
Because of Serra’s recorded acts of piety combined with his missionary efforts, he was granted the posthumous title Apostle of California.
The declaration of Serra as a Catholic saint by the Holy See was controversial with some Native Americans who criticize Serra’s treatment of their ancestors and associate him with the suppression of their culture.
Serra was born in 1713 into a family of humble farmers and devout Catholics, 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 record states his name as Miquel Joseph Serre.
His parents, Antonio Nadal Serra (born 1675) and Margarita Rosa Ferrer (born 1677), had married in 1707. Their first two children had died in infancy. Both parents spoke the Majorcan dialect of Catalan, which became Miquel’s native language; he acquired Castilian Spanish as his second language.
By age seven, Miquel was working the fields with his parents, helping cultivate wheat and beans, and tending the cattle. But he showed a special interest in visiting the local Franciscan friary at the church of San Bernardino within a block of the Serra family house.
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.
During the remaining three years of his life he once more visited the missions from San Diego to San Francisco, traveling more than 600 miles in the process, in order to confirm all who had been baptized.
He suffered intensely from his crippled leg and from his chest, yet he would use no remedies. He confirmed 5,309 people, who, with but few exceptions, were Indian neophytes converted during the 14 years from 1770.
On August 28, 1784, at the age of 70, Junípero Serra died at Mission San Carlos Borromeo. He is buried there under the sanctuary floor. Following Serra’s death, leadership of the Franciscan missionary effort in Alta California passed to Fermín Lasuén.
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.”
During Serra’s beatification, questions were raised about how Indians were treated while Serra was in charge. The question of Franciscan treatment of Indians first arose in 1783. The famous historian of missions Herbert Eugene Bolton gave evidence favorable to the case in 1948, and the testimony of five other historians was solicited in 1986.
Serra was canonized by Pope Francis on September 23, 2015, as a part of the pope’s first visit to the United States, the first canonization to take place on American soil. Nevertheless, Serra’s life underwent the same level of scrutiny the Vatican requires of all canonizations, including the compilation of thousands of pages of materials about his life and work.
He is the first native saint of the Balearic Islands. During a speech at the Pontifical North American College in Rome on May 2, 2015, Pope Francis stated that “Friar Junípero … was one of the founding fathers of the United States, a saintly example of the Church’s universality and special patron of the Hispanic people of the country.”
Serra’s feast day is celebrated on July 1 and he is considered to be the patron saint of California, Hispanic Americans, and religious vocations.
The Mission in Carmel, California containing Serra’s remains has continued as a place of public veneration. The burial location of Serra is southeast of the altar and is marked with an inscription in the floor of the sanctuary.
Other relics are remnants of the wood from Serra’s coffin on display next to the sanctuary, and personal items belonging to Serra on display in the mission museums.
A bronze and marble sarcophagus depicting Serra’s life was completed in 1924 by Catalan sculptor Joseph A. Mora. Serra’s remains have not been transferred to the sarcophagus.
Many of Serra’s letters and other documentation are extant, the principal ones being his “Diario” of the journey from Loreto to San Diego, which was published in Out West (March to June 1902) along with Serra’s “Representación.”‘
The Junípero Serra Collection (1713-1947) at the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library are their earliest archival materials.
The Santa Barbara Mission-Archive Library is part of the building complex of the Mission Santa Barbara, but is now a separate non-profit, independent educational and research institution. The Santa Barbara Mission-Archive Library continues to have ties to the Franciscans and the legacy of Serra.
The chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano, built in 1782, is thought to be the oldest standing building in California. Commonly referred to as “Father Serra’s Church,” it is the only remaining church in which Serra is known to have celebrated the rites of the Roman Catholic Church (he presided over the confirmations of 213 people on October 12 and October 13, 1783).
In 1884, the Legislature of California passed a concurrent resolution making August 29 of that year, the centennial of Serra’s burial, a legal holiday.
Among the many schools named after Serra are Junípero Serra High School in the San Diego community of Tierrasanta, Junípero Serra Elementary School in Ventura, J Serra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, Serra Catholic School (Grades JK-8) in Rancho Santa Margarita, Junípero Serra High School in Gardena, California, and Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo.
Both Spain and the United States have honored Serra with postage stamps.
Serra International, a global lay organization that promotes religious vocations to the Catholic Church, was named in his honor. The group, founded in 1935, currently numbers a membership of about 20,000 worldwide. It also boasts over 1,000 chapters in 44 countries.
Serra’s legacy towards Native Americans has been a topic of discussion in the Los Angeles area in recent years. The Mexica Movement, a radical indigenous separatist group that rejects European influence in the Americas, protested Serra’s canonization at the Los Angeles Cathedral in February 2015.
The Huntington Library announcement of its 2013 exhibition on Serra made it clear that Serra’s treatment of Native Americans would be part of the comprehensive coverage of his legacy.
On September 27, 2015, in response to the canonization, the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission was vandalized. The statue of Serra was toppled and splattered with paint, and the cemetery, the mission doors, a fountain, and a crucifix were as well.
The message “Saint of Genocide” was put on Serra’s tomb, and similar messages were painted elsewhere in the mission courtyard.
After the incident, law enforcement authorities launched a hate crime investigation since the only grave sites targeted for desecration were those of Europeans.