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Blessed Junipero Serra Priest November 24, l 13-August 28, 1784 Spain, Mexico, United States Beatified 1988

Many large cities in California, such as San Irancisco, Santa Barbara, and San Diego, are the results of the efforts one man; a  five foot-two Franciscan named Junipero Serra. This Father of California is proof that in weakness God’s power is shown.
 Jose Miguel Serra was born in Spain, the son of a farmer. When he first applied to the Franciscans, they turned hi, down because he looked so frail, He did join them when he was seventeen and took the name Junipero. As a priest, he taught philosophy and theology and was a popular preacher. Then he asked to be a missionary. He wrote, “All my life  I have wanted to he a missioner. I have wanted to carry the Gospel teachings to those who have never heard of God and the kingdom he has prepired for them.” 

In 1749 Father Serra wrote to his parents, whom he would never see again. Then he sailed for Mexico with other Franciscans. On the ninety-eight-clay journey they lacked fresh food and water, and their thirst was terrible. Near Mexico a storm drove the ship off course and almost wrecked it.

After landing in Mexico. Father Serra and another friar walked the 300 miles to Mexico City. On the way, Serra was bitten on the left leg by a poisonous insect. For the rest of his life this leg caused him pain and made him lame. When the two men stopped at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Father Serra dedicated his work among the Indians to her.

After a training period, Father Serra went to work with the Pame Indians for eight years. Then he became a traveling missioner. In 1767 Junipero was made president of the missions in Lower California. Then when the Spaniards took over Upper California in 1769, Junipero went with them. At the age of fifty- six and with his leg and foot swollen, he traveled the 900 miles by muleback to San Diego, where he founded the territory’s first mission of the nineteen he planned. Altogether Junipero established nine of the twenty-one Franciscan missions along the Pacific coast.
The missions were communities of Native Americans where everything was held in common. The Indians were taught to grow crops and raise livestock. They learned to read and write, to sing and to paint. Most exciting for Father Serra, they learned about the faith and asked to become Catholics. He baptized about 6,000 Native Americans.

Father Serra made his favorite mission, San Carlos in Carmel, his headquarters. There he had a room with only one window, a wooden pallet for a bed, a chair, and a small table. Now he is buried there.

Junipero loved the Indians as a father. Often he came into conflict with authorities because of their mistreatment of the Indians. He made the long trip hack to Mexico City, arriving close to death, in order to meet with the military commander and establish rules that protected the Indians and the missions. Once when an Indian uprising at San Diego left a Franciscan and several others dead, Father Serra pleaded that the Indians held for the killings be released.

When Junipero was dying, he insisted on walking to chapel for Holy Communion. Father Palou and some Indian converts were with him when he died. Indians stayed with the body through the night. Father Palou recorded that at the funeral the weeping of the congregation drowned out the singing.

Father Serra’s statue stands in the Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C. When this tribute to the founders of the United States was planned, California nominated Father Serra. In 1935 the Serra club was founded to foster vocations and promote Catholicism. A United States airmail stamp issued in 1988 bears Father Serra’s picture. Even a mountain in California is named for him: Junipero Serra Peak.
Jun zero Serra, pray for Native Americans today!

Source: Saints Kit by Sister Mary Kathleen Glavich , S.N.D and oher Sisters of Notre Dame, Chardon
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