The American West is dotted with the names of missions founded by St. Junipero — San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, Monterey/Carmel, San Antonio, San Gabriel, San Luís Obispo, Santa Clara, San Buenaventura, San Francisco.
Who would have thought that the boy from the island of Mallorca, Spain, would have done so much abroad? It took him a while, however, to hit the road. He spent the first 35 years of his life as a student or teacher. He had a reputation as a preacher as well.
His travels were not easy. Upon his arrival in Vera Cruz Mexico, he made his way on foot 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way he received an insect bite on his leg that got infected and troubled him for the rest of his life.
For a time, he worked in Central Mexico and Baja California but when the Russians threatened to invade the west coast from Alaska, King Charles III of Spain sent military and religious conquistadors north from Mexico to claim the territory first.
Through many difficult efforts, Junipero succeeded in establishing California’s first “Bill of Rights” for his Native American converts. He and his friars became their legal guardians, as the Spanish did not yet recognize their humanity.
Perhaps in a rush to save them, he forbade his native converts to leave the missions to prevent their corruption in their former ways. Today that does not sound well to our modern sensibilities, no matter how well intentioned the practice may have been.
Nonetheless, Junipero was beloved and when he passed in 1784, there was a great outpouring of grief among the Native Americans.
His remains are entombed at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel. Pope Francis canonized him in 2015.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini from Franciscan Media. (2020). St. Junipero Serra Saint of the Day for July 1. In Franciscan Media www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-junipero-serra/