Today, July 1, we celebrate the feast day of *St. Junipero Serra* (1713-1784), Franciscan Friar and missionary throughout California and Mexico.
Miguel Jose Serra was born in Majorca, Spain. At the young age of 16, he entered into service to God, joining the Order of Saint Francis, and taking the name Junipero—in honour of Saint Juniper, the saintly friar companion of Saint Francis.
Ordained at age 24, Junipero studied in Parma and taught philosophy and theology at the monastery of San Francisco at Lullian University for over a decade. Serra was known as a bright, articulate scholar — a moving speaker and a clear, precise writer — but he did not remain long in academic life.
In 1749, at the age of 37, Junipero answered the call for missionaries, and left Spain and sailed for Vera Cruz, Mexico. Upon arrival in the New Work, he travelled by foot to Mexico City to dedicate his mission vocation at the shrine of Mexico’s Our Lady of Guadalupe.
He then received his first assignment—the rugged, mountainous region of Mexico known as Sierra Gorda. Friar Junipero embraced his mission work, learning the language of the native Pame Indians and translating the Catechism for them. He remained at Sierra Gorda for nine years, strengthening and building missions.
His next mission was to journey from Mexico City into the coastal villages and mining camps. Again, despite his continuously infected and now ulcerated leg as the result of insect bite which he suffered during his voyage to Mexico, he walked over 6,000 miles over eight years, preaching, converting, baptizing, and establishing missions.
Throughout his mission work, Father Serra sought to protect the native peoples, who were often ill-treated by the Spanish settlers and rulers. He struggled valiantly with military leaders, eventually becoming instrumental in the establishment of the “Regulations”—effectively, the first “bill of rights” for native peoples in the New World. He also spent time with the indigenous of the region, learning their language, teaching European farming techniques, animal husbandry, and arts and crafts.
At the age of 70, Father Junípero Serra died at Mission San Carlos Borromeo and is buried there under the sanctuary floor. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 25, 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015. He is the patron of vocations.
*St. Junipero Serra, pray for us*.