A Spaniard and friar of the Order of Saint Francis, he was granted a doctorate, held the Duns Scotus chair of philosophy at the Lullian University, and was a popular preacher. But at age 36 he decided to go to the Americas on mission, and spent years in the Sierra Madre and Mexico City.
In 1768 the Jesuit Order was forcibly suppressed, and Fr. Serra was temporarily put in charge of their missions in Baja (lower) California. In 1769 he commenced to found the famous series of missions in Alta (upper) California, which contains the region of the modern State of California.
Serra lived his life according the charism of the Founder of the Franciscans, living a life of poverty, holiness, and constant preaching of the Gospel.
Blessed Junipero found himself often at odds with the Spanish government and military, where new ideas were taking hold. The idea that the Indians could or ought to live together peacefully, looking out after themselves and each other in little ordered communities soon became unthinkable. The world now sees these Indians as being either inferior races or oppressed classes, while Serra knew them to be fallible human beings made in the image and likeness of God with an immortal soul that needs saving, no different than anyone else. The secularist revolutions in Mexico suppressed the missions, and the surviving Indians were eventually reduced to the equivalent of slave labor.
A century later, the United States was in control of the region, and the rapid expansion of the population westward put Americans in contact with the remains of Serra's missions. These captured the imagination of the new Californians, who soon restored and venerated these shrines. The subsequent blending of Spanish and American culture is quite remarkable, and is apparent in the ‘California Mission’ style of architecture which continues to this day.
California is holy ground. Names of Saints fill its map, and the sacred history of the state is beloved by many.
I spent my college years in California in the County of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels — Los Angeles — but sadly seeing the missions was never my priority. Many years later I did manage to visit a number of these missions, but only managed to take a few, poor photographs.
Mission San Rafael Arcangel, in San Rafael, California.