Father Serra

Father Junípero Serra
Father Junípero Serra
Miguel Serra y Aloran was born on 24th. November 1713 in Petra in the Island of Mallorca. The house where he was born has been carefully restored and may be visited. When he was sixteen, he entered the Franciscan Order and took the name of Junípero. Short in stature, he could hardly see over the lectern when he read the lesson or sang in the choir.

Years of study followed during which he was known as a clever, articulate scholar and a moving preacher. He was ordained in 1738, and in 1744 he became Professor of Philosophy at the Lul.liana University on the Island. However, he did not remain an academic for long. In 1749 he responded to the call for missionaries in the New World and was sent to New Spain - present day Mexico.

He was an inspired evangelist and took with him several specifically Mallorcan Christian traditions - the setting up of Nativity Scenes at Christmas and the procession of the "Encontrada" or "Encounter" when the risen Christ meets his Mother on the Sunday of the Resurrection. He remained in New Spain until 1767 when he was assigned to Baja California and two years later to Alta California, now the State of California, where he founded the first mission in San Diego. One year later he founded the Mission at Carmel which was to act as his headquarters.

In his fifteen years there he founded nine missions and planned a further twelve, each separated by a one day walk (approx. 30 miles) along a dirt track known as the Camino Real. It is estimated that Father Serra walked some 24,000 miles in California during those years - some of the time with an ulcerated leg. His motto was always go forward, never turn back. At the same time, he also laid the foundations of modern California's agriculture and stock-raising. The great coastal cities in the State grew up around the missions he established.

His life must have been a hard and lonely one. His spirit of sacrifice was already in evidence on the three-month voyage to America. The other passengers were suffering from the lack of drinking water but Father Serra seemed unaware of it. When asked why he did not appear to be suffering, he replied that he had found the secret of not feeling thirsty which was to eat little and talk less so that he did not waste saliva. He died on 28th. August 1784 in Monterrey and is buried in the Mission Church of St Charles Borromeo. His feast day is celebrated on 1st July.

The Father Serra Chapel, in San Juan de Capistrano, is the oldest building in California and the only remaining church where he said mass. Built of adobe it was constructed in 1776. It became world famous in 1939 when Leon Rene, composer and musician, wrote the song When the swallows come back to Capistrano based on the fact that the swallows return every year on 19th. March, St. Joseph's Day.

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