Father Junipero Serra (1713-1874)

The priest who is credited with creating California’s missions was born Miguel Jose Serra, on the island of Majorca off the coast of Spain.  Entering the Franciscan Order at sixteen when he took the baptismal name of Junipero, he was soon recognized as a preacher of uncommon power and eloquence and considered brilliant by his peers.  Deciding to be a missionary in the New World, he crossed the Atlantic to Mexico at age 36.  Serra’s religion was his lifetime devotion.  His close friend and companion of 40 years, Father Francisco Palou, described him as even-tempered, kindly, honest, earnest, and quiet.  Junipero Serra served as Father President of the missions in Alta California from 1769, when he founded the first mission in San Diego, until his death two years after founding the ninth mission, in modern Ventura.  Father Serra died in 1784, aged 71, at Mission San Carlos Borromeo (Carmel), where he is buried southeast of the alter.  Many cities in California have streets, trails, and other features named after him.  When Interstate 280 was built in the 1960s, it was named the Junipero Serra Freeway.  The chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano has the distinction of being the only remaining church in which Father Serra is known to have celebrated the rites of the Catholic Church.  A statue of him sculpted by Ettore Cadorin is in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol.

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