Alcantarine Franciscan


JUNIPERO SERRA, St. (1713-1784) Born at Petra, Island of Majorca, 24 November, 1713; died at Monterey, California, 28 August, 1784. On 14 September, 1730, he entered the Discalced Franciscans of Spain, known as Alcantarines, who formed a distinct branch of the Franciscan Order prior to 1897.

For his proficiency in studies he was appointed lector of philosophy before his ordination to the priesthood. Later he received the degree of Doctor of Theology from the Lullian University at Palma, where he also occupied the Duns Scotus chair of philosophy until he joined the missionary college of San Fernando, Mexico (1749).

While traveling on foot 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. At his own request he was assigned to the Sierra Gorda Indian Missions some thirty leagues north of Querétaro. He served there for nine years, part of the time as superior, learned the language of the Pame Indians, and [assisted in the translation of] the catechism into their language.

Recalled to Mexico, 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 lighted torch to his bare chest.

In 1767 he was appointed superior of a band of fifteen Franciscans for the Indian Missions of Lower California. Early in 1769 he accompanied Portolá's land expedition to Upper California. On the way (14 May) he established the Mission San Fernando de Velicatá, Lower California. He arrived at San Diego on 1 July, and on 16 July founded the first of the twenty-one California missions which accomplished the conversions of all the natives on the coast as far as Sonoma in the north.

Those established by Father Serra or during his administration were

San Carlos (3 June, 1770);

San Antonio (14 July, 1771);

San Gabriel (8 September, 1771);

San Luis Obispo (1 September, 1772);

San Francisco de Asis (8 October, 1776);

San Juan Capistrano (1 Nov. 1776);

Santa Clara (12 January, 1777);

San Buenaventura (31 March, 1782).

He was also present at the founding of the presidio of Santa Barbara (21 April, 1782), and was prevented from locating the mission there at the time only through the animosity of Governor Philipe de Neve.

Difficulties with Pedro Fages, the military commander, compelled Father Serra in 1773 to lay the case before Viceroy Bucareli. At the capital of Mexico, by order of the viceroy, he drew up his "Representación" in thirty-two articles. Everything save two minor points was decided in his favour; he then returned to California, late in 1774. In 1778 he received the faculty to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. After he had exercised his privilege for a year, Governor Neve directed him to suspend administering the sacrament until he could present the papal Brief. For nearly two years Father 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, six hundred miles, 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 5309 persons, who, with but few exceptions, were Indians converted during the fourteen years from 1770.

Besides extraordinary fortitude, his most conspicuous virtues were insatiable zeal, love of mortification, self-denial, and absolute confidence in God. His executive abilities has been especially noted by non-Catholic writers. The esteem in which his memory is held by all classes in California may be gathered from the fact that Mrs. Stanford, not a Catholic, had a granite monument erected to him at Monterey. A bronze statue of heroic size represents him as the apostolic preacher in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. In 1884 the Legislature of California passed a concurrent resolution making 29 August of that year, the centennial of Father Serra's burial, a legal holiday. Of his writings many letters and other documentation are extant. The principal ones are his "Diario" of the journey from Loreto to San Diego, which was published in "Out West" (March to June, 1902), and the "Representación" before mentioned.


Lower California. Indian hostility long rendered California unattractive to the Spaniards. Though missionaries accompanied Viscaino’s explorations in 1596 and 1602, no lasting mission was established. This became the work of the Jesuits, aided by a subscribed “Pious Fund” (1697) . In 1697 Father Juan de Salvatierra, with whom Father Kino cooperated, opened the mission of Loreto. He and his successors, among whom Father Juan de Ugarte is prominent, founded more than sixteen [p. 100] stations before their expulsion in 1768. Then Franciscans, headed by Fray Junipero Serra, were assigned to take over the Jesuit missions.

Upper California, however, became the chief scene of Padre Serra’s labors when Spain decided to avert Russian expansion by occupying the region to the north (1769-86) . Father Serra went with Don Portola on his first expedition, and on July 16, 1769, inaugurated the famous California mission system by his foundation at San Diego. Before his death in 1784, Father Serra founded eight other mission stations: San Carlos (1770) ; San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771) ; San Luis Obispo (1772) ; San Juan Capistrano and San Francisco (1776) ; Santa Clara (1777) and San Buenaventura (1782). Though the Santa Barbara mission had been planned by Father Serra, it could not be set up until the administration of his successor, Father Lasuen (1784-1803), who saw the establishment of Santa Barbara (1786), La Purissima (1787), Santa Cruz (1791) , Soledad (1791), San Jose, San Juan Bautista, San Miguel, San Fernando (1797), and San Luis Rey (1798) . Missions subsequently founded were Santa Inez (1804), San Rafael (1817), and San Francisco de Solano (1823) . Of these, only the Santa Barbara Mission has been continuously in Franciscan hands.

The Indian missions in California were a triumph of grace and zeal over native inertia, rated by anthropologists as exceedingly primitive. There are records of the baptism of over fifty thousand of these Indians and of their incorporation into the life of the missions. Not only were they instructed in faith and morals, but also taught how to cultivate the soil and support themselves by local products. The converts were kept comparatively isolated from the colonists under missionary supervision; if there were defections from the ideal, they usually arose from the clash of ecclesiastical and secular jurisdiction.The Franciscans were not allowed sufficient time to work out their civilizing function and after their removal the life went out of the missions and the Indians were dispersed.

Transition began with the Bonapartist invasion of Spain, which cut off supplies, and the Mexican Revolution, which brought anticlericalism into power. The Mexican Government sequestered the Pious Fund and took the California missions from Franciscan control under pretext of confiding them to the secular clergy. Actually few clerical replacements were provided and much property was taken by the secular authorities. Government of California by religious under the discipline of their Order had minimized the disadvantages of its subjection to the distant see of Sonora. To remedy this in part, Friar Garcia Diego Moreno was named bishop of both Californias in 1840. His administration was one of retrenchment, overshadowed by the approach of war with the [p. 101] United States. The bishop died in 1846, and his see remained vacant until after American annexation when Bishop Alemany, O.P., inaugurated a new era.



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