A Franciscan priest, Junípero Serra, b. Nov. 24, 1713, d. Aug. 28, 1784, earned the title Apostle of California for his missionary efforts in the New World. Born Miguel José Serra at Petra on the island of Majorca, he entered the Franciscan order in 1730 and took the name of Junípero. His great intellectual ability was recognized at once, and he was already lecturing in one of the order's schools before he was ordained in 1738. Upon receiving his doctorate in theology, he remained (1743-49) at Lullian University as professor of theology and then volunteered for missionary service in Mexico.
Father Serra spent his first nine years of missionary work in the Sierra Gorda region of Mexico, working among the Pames Indians. For nine years thereafter (1758-67) he served as administrator of Apostolic College of San Fernando, supervising missionary efforts and gaining a devoted following due to his intellectual attainments and impressive oratorical skill. After the Jesuit order was forced to leave Mexico in 1767, Serra went to Baja California and kept up the missions originally planted by the Society of Jesus.
The period of his greatest effort began in 1769, when he accompanied a military expedition into Upper California, where the government of New Spain was establishing colonial settlements to prevent Russians from moving down the Pacific seacoast. Serra founded nine mission stations along the coast from San Diego to San Francisco. Eventually 21 missions were established.
Father Serra was a dedicated, energetic supervisor of missions, keeping discipline and zeal alive by constant visitations throughout the mission system. He felt particularly close to the Penutian-speaking Indians, defending them against abusive and interfering colonists, personally baptizing over 6,000 of them, and confirming almost as many. In 1988 he was beatified by Pope John Paul II despite protests from certain American Indians and their supporters who identify him with the colonial effort. The church's position is that Father Serra protected the Indians.
Henry Warner Bowden
Bibliography: Geiger, Maynard J., The Life and Times of Fray Junípero Serra (1959); Morgado, M. J., Junipero Serra's Legacy (1987); Scott, Bernice, Junípero Serra (1985); Serra, Junípero, Writings of Junípero Serra, ed. by Antonine Tibesar, 4 vols. (1955-66); Wise, Winifred E., Junípero Serra and the California Conquest (1967).