Monday, July 1, 2013

Blessed Junipero Serra

Blessed Junipero Serra (1713-1784)
America owes its Catholic faith from two people who are practically unknown, sometimes unrecognized and frequently ignored by many American Catholics. The first one brought the faith to the east coast, a French Jesuit priest, St Isaac Jogues who settled in upstate New York, along with a few other Jesuits, who unfortunately were all tomahawked and killed by the Iroquois Indians. On the west coast, the Catholic faith was brought by Blessed Junipero Serra, a Franciscan monk, born on 24 November 1713 at Petra, Spanish Majorca as Miguel Jose Serra. He entered the Franciscan University at Palma at age 15, and joined the Order at age 17, taking the name Junipero after the friend of Saint Francis. Ordained in 1737, and taught philosophy and theology at the Lullian University.In 1749, Serra was sent to the missionary territories of the west of North America. A mosquito bite he received early in his trip to the New World left one leg swollen; this and his asthma made walking a painful process for the rest of his life. In 1768 he took over missions in the Mexican provinces of Lower and Upper California, missions the Jesuits were forced to abandon by order of King Charles III. 
The 21 Missions (click to enlarge)

A tireless worker, Serra was largely responsible for the foundation and spread of the Church on the West Coast of the United States.He founded twenty-one missions, converted thousands of Native Americans, and trained many of them in European methods of agriculture, cattle husbandry, and crafts. He was a very dedicated religious and missionary, penitent and austere in all areas of his life.
Blessed Junipero Serra is the namesake of the Serra Club, an international Catholic organization dedicated to the promotion of vocations, and the support of seminarians and religious novices. Many of his letters and other writings have survived, and the diary of his travels to the west was published in the early 20th century.
He died on 28 August 1784 of tuberculosis at Mission San Carlos, California, USA of natural causes and he was  buried at Carmel, Monterey, California. He was proclaimed a Venerable on 9 May 1985 by Pope John Paul II, and beatified by the same Pope on 25 September 1988. We owe it to him that so many of the California cities have Christian connotations - Los Angeles, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Anita, San Francisco, even Corpus Christi, Santa Fe, Sacramento etc.

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