Junipero Serra


Miguel Jose Serra was born on the island of Majorca in 1713, but changed his name to Junipero when he became a Franciscan monk at age sixteen. He studied philosophy and theology, and was recognized as an exceptional student and lecturer. He taught philosophy at the University of Palma until he decided to become a missionary at the age of 35. He traveled to Mexico and spent over nine years as a missionary in the Sierra Madre mountains. He then returned to Mexico city in about 1760 and gained a great reputation as a preacher at the College of San Fernando.

junipero serra
Seven years later, the Jesuit order was forcibly suppressed in all of the dominions of Spain, and their property fell to the Franciscans. At the time, the Jesuits had founded a number of missions in Northern Mexico and California. Immediately upon the expulsion of the Jesuits Junipero Serra was appointed as head of the Missions of Lower California. Soon afterward, the Spanish government determined that it was desirable to colonize California in order to establish a Spanish claim to the region. Juniper Serra therefore teamed up with Gaspar Portola, the military governor of the region. Working together, they established settlements from San Diego to Montery in the period of 1770 to 1772. At each site, Serra founded a mission and Portola established a Presidio, or a military fort, that would protect the region and handle trade.

In 1772 however, Portola retired and was replaced by a governor less friendly towards the friars. Junipero was forced to travel all the way to Mexico City in order to register complaints about the new governor, and although the offending governor was replace the next governor was little better. In short, the military governors opposed expanding the missions and desired to take aggressive measures to keep the natives in line. They worried about having enough resources to protect and provision additional missions. The Franciscans desired to continue to increase the missions even at the expense of safety and comfort. Serra, in particular had little thought of material well-being for himself, so focused was he on saving souls.

After a considerable delay, and much politicking, Serra was allowed to resume the establishment of Missions. The famous explorer Captain De Anza had done much to prepare the groundwork for missions in the San Francisco region, and the Spanish crown supported the idea of colonizing the region. It was mainly at the local level of military government that the Franciscans had encourntered resistance, since the onus was theirs to actually provide the necessary resources. Between 1775 and 1777, therefore, three northern missions were established at San Juan Capistrano, San Francisco, and Santa Clara.

Father Serra was entirely single-minded in his devotion to his missions, his priests, and to the native people under his care. No scandal, intemperence, or selfishness can be found in his conduct, but rather relentless self-sacrifice. There are those to whom such selflessness appears disordered, and there are those who consider Western Civilization and Christianity in particular as harmful influences, but it is difficult to find an ulterior motivation, other than love of God and of his fellow-man, that animated him. He was unfailingly kind to the Indians under his charge and treated them as well as possible, according to his lights. By 1780 his health began to fail, yet he continued working to the last, traveling over 600 miles by foot in his last two years of life. He died in Carmel in 1784, at the age of 70, and was replaced by his biographer, and life-long friend, Francisco Palou.

Key events during the life of Junipero Serra:

Junipero Serra born in Majorca, Spain.
Entered the Franciscan Order.
Joined the a Missionary college in Mexico after studying philosophy and theology.
Spent nine years at the Sierra Gorda Indian Missions.
Returned to Mexico city to preach and encourage the founding of Missions.
Jesuit order is suppressed. Administration of Jesuit properties falls to the Franciscans.
Appointed the head of the formerly Jesuit missions of Baja California.
Established the San Fernando Rey mission in Baja California.
Founded the Mission of San Diego de Alcala.
Founded the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo at Monterey.
Founded the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
Founded the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel
Traveled to Mexico City to resolve problem with Captain Fages.
Founded the Mission San Juan Capistrano
Founded the Mission San Fransisco de Assisi
Founded the Mission Santa Clara de Assisi
Founded the Mission Santa Barbara
Died from complications of a snake bite in Carmel

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Early Times in California  in  Story of the Great Republic  by  H. A. Guerber

Book Links
Junipero Serra—the Man and his Work  by  A. H. Fitch

Image Links

Fatther Serra stocking the mission at Santa Barbara

Short Biography
Gaspar de Portola Explorer and governor of Lower California who founded Presidios in San Diego and Monterey.
Pedro Fages Spanish governor of California who opposed Junipero Serra's plans for additional settlements.
Francisco Palou Franciscan friar, biographer, and life-long friend of Junipero Serra.
Juan Bautista de Anza Spanish explorer of Arizona and California who strongly supported the founding of San Francisco.
Captain Rivera Governor of California who followed Portola and Fages.