Creating California’s Missions

The Catholic priest who is credited with creating California’s coastal missions was born Miguel Jose Serra, on the island of Majorca off the coast of Spain. Entering the Franciscan Order at sixteen, he took the baptismal name of Junipero and was soon recognized as a preacher of uncommon power and eloquence. His peers considered him to be brilliant. His close friend and companion of 40 years, Father Francisco Palou, described him as even-tempered, kindly, honest, earnest, and quiet. Serra’s religion was his lifetime devotion: deciding to be a missionary in Spain’s New World, at age 36 he crossed the Atlantic to Mexico. 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, at Ventura.  Father Serra died in 1784, aged 71, at Mission San Carlos Borromeo (Carmel), where he is buried. Although all 21 missions were secularized beginning in 1834 by Spain’s successor, the Republic of Mexico, Father Serra’s legacy is nevertheless recognized in the many geographic features and modern-day streets in California that are named for him.  Interstate 280, for example, is also known as the Junipero Serra Freeway. A statue of Father Serra, sculpted by Ettore Cadorin, stands in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol.

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