Faithful Friday: Junipero Serra

By T.K. Wilson (Rated G)

If you’ve ever heard the Ink Spots’ 1940 hit “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano”, you have St. Junipero Serra to thank. 

Junipero was born Miquel Serra on Majorca, an island off the coast of Spain. He joined the Franciscan monks, taking the name of St. Francis’s companion Brother Juniper, famous as a simple, very literal man who would give to others at the drop of a hat. It was this same childlike attitude of service that would define Junipero’s later life. 

At the monastery, he was a student of theology, and later a professor. But then the call to missions pulled him away from his books and into the battlefield, where he went to “war” for the lives and souls of the Native Americans of Baja and Alta California. He landed at what is now Vera Cruz, and made his way to Mexico City, where the last conquistador, Jose de Galvez convinced him to make the journey to Alta California. De Galvez’s motivations were political, but he gave Junipero just what he wanted: passage to the Native peoples he wished to convert. 

Junipero would go on to found nine missions: San Diego, Monterey, San Antonio, San Gabriel, San Luis Obispo, San Francisco, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Clara, and San Buenaventura. At the end of this long work, Junipero was called to Mexico City to negotiate with the military for the rights and care of the Native Americans he loved and served. This was to be his final trip, for he died upon securing what he sought. 

Today, St. Junipero is a controversial figure: Some see him as complicit in the ill-treatment of Native Americans by the Spanish, some see him as a great man who did what he could in the face of people who were less than sympathetic to the Native peoples. Today St. Junipero is honored with a feast day on July 1 and as the patron of California. 

May we, like St. Junipero, be so zealous to win souls for God that we are ready to brave any obstacle we are called to encounter. 

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