Fra Junípero Serra

Todays date, 4 September 2008 is the aniversary of the founding of Los Angeles, California. It caused me to think of Fra Junípero Serra. One need not go far in California to see a mission founded by Fra Serra. Living in El Toro, California during the 80's my wife and I often journeyed the few miles south along US Interstate5 to San Juan Capistrano. I first learned about Fra Serra while I was in St. Andrews School in Chicago. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would go to California let alone Majorca, Spain and see the birth place of this great Saint.

Junípero Serra was born Miguel José Serra in Petra, Majorca, Kingdom of Spain on November 24, 1713. He later took the name of "Junípero" in honor of Saint Juniper, who had also been a Franciscan and a follower of Saint Francis. On September 14, 1730 he entered the Order of Friars Minor. For his proficiency in studies he was appointed lector of philosophy before his ordination to the priesthood. Later he received a doctorate in theology from the Lullian University in Palma de Mallorca, where he also occupied the Duns Scotus chair of philosophy until he joined the missionary College of San Fernando de Mexico in 1749.

That year he traveled to North America, first to Mexico City, where he taught. While riding on a mule from Vera Cruz to the capital, he injured his leg in such a way that he suffered from it throughout his life, though he continued to make his journeys on foot whenever possible. He requested a transfer to the Sierra Gorda Indian Missions some 90 miles north of Santiago de Querétaro where he spent nine years. During this time, he served as the mission's superior, learned the language of the Pame Indians, and translated the catechism into their language. Recalled to Mexico City, he became famous as a most fervent and effective preacher of missions. His zeal frequently led him to employ extraordinary means in order to move the people to penance: he would pound his breast with a stone while in the pulpit, scourge himself, or apply a lit torch to his bare chest. He established nine missions.

In 1767, Serra was appointed superior of a band of 15 Franciscans for the Indian Missions of Lower California. The Franciscans took over the administration of the missions on the Baja California Peninsula from the Jesuits after King Carlos III ordered them forcibly expelled from "New Spain" on February 3, 1768. Serra became the "Father Presidente." On March 12, 1768, Serra embarked from the Pacific port of San Blas on his way to the Californias. Early in the year 1769, he accompanied Governor Gaspar de Portolà on his expedition to Nueva California. On the way, he established the Misión San Fernando Rey de España de Velicatá on May 14 (the only Franciscan mission in all of Baja California). When the party reached San Diego on July 1, Serra stayed behind to start the Mission San Diego de Alcalá, the first of the 21 California missions (including the nearby Visita de la Presentación, also founded under Serra's leadership) which accomplished the conversions of all the natives on the coast as far as Sonoma in the north. When he reached Monterey and founded Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo, Serra remained there as "Father Presidente" of the Alta California missions. In 1771, he relocated the mission to Carmel, which became known as "Mission Carmel" and served as his headquarters. Under his presidency were founded Mission San Antonio de Padua, Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Mission San Francisco de Asís, Mission Santa Clara de Asís, and Mission San Buenaventura. Serra was also present at the founding of the Presidio of Santa Barbara on 21 April 1782, but was prevented from locating the mission there because of the animosity of Governor Felipe de Neve.

In 1773, difficulties with Pedro Fages, the military commander, compelled Serra to travel to Mexico City to argue before Viceroy Antonio María de Bucareli y Ursua for the removal of Fages as the Governor of California Nueva. At the capital of Mexico, by order of Viceroy Bucareli, he painted up Representación in 32 articles. Bucareli ruled in Serra's favor on 30 of the 32 charges brought against Fages, and removed him from office in 1774, after which time Serra returned to California. In 1778, Serra was given dispensation to administer the sacrament of confirmation for the faithful in California. After he had exercised his privilege for a year, governor Felipe de Neve directed him to suspend administering the sacrament until he could present the papal brief. For nearly two years Serra refrained, and then Viceroy Majorga gave instructions to the effect that Father Serra was within his rights. During the remaining three years of his life he once more visited the missions from San Diego to San Francisco, travelling 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 persons, who, with but few exceptions, were Indians {"neophytes") converted during the 14 years from 1770.

Los Angeles, California, was founded as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula (The Village of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels of Porziuncola) by 44 Spanish settlers on September 4, 1781. The settlers consisted of 11 men, 11 women, and 22 children. The spot was founded by Fra Junípero Serra and Fra Juan Crespí.

More on Fra Serra, here...
More on the Franciscans, here...

Note: As far as I can tell the only original, unpaved, existant part of the road travelled by Fra Serra, el Camino Real is on the Camp Pendelton, Marine Corps Base, just east of the Naval hospital, the portion between the missions San Diego de Acala and San Luis Rey.

Matthew 11:-29 Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.

Blessed Fra Junipero Serra pary for us.

Dieu Le Roy!
de Brantigny

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