Fray Junípero Serra

Spanish Franciscan priest, explorer and colonizer of California where he was the founder of the missions of California. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in September 1988.

Fray Junípero Serra is known today as the "Apostle of California". His birthday is a public holiday in California, and grade school history texts detail his adventures and contributions to California history. A statue of his likeness stands in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. He is patron and inspiration for 15,000 Catholic laymen who call themselves Serra International. And he is currently a candidate for canonization.

Junípero Serra was born Miguel Serra y Abram on November 24, 1713 in Petra, a farming village in Mallorca's central plain. At the age of sixteen, Miguel entered the Franciscan friary and took the name Junípero, after St. Francis' close, extroverted friend.

Years of formation and study followed, and in 1744 he was named Professor of Philosophy at the monastery of San Francisco and at Lullian University. Serra was known as a bright, articulate scholar --apparently a moving speaker and a clear, precise writer -- but he did not remain long in academic life. In 1749 he responded to the call for Franciscan missionaries to the New World.

Nearly 200 years before, Spain had established a colony called New Spain, the area now known as Mexico. The sucess of colonization was due largely to the collaboration of the Spanish imperial staff and the Catholic Church. By acting as partners in exploration and settlement efforts, both their purposes were achieved: Spain claimed new territory and the Catholic Church claimed new members.

By the middle of the 18th century, Spanish cultural and religious influence was already evident in New Spain's great cathedrals, schools, hospitals, and seaports. However, this sophisticated civilization was restricted to urban centers such as Mexico City. The outlying areas were still uncharted and wild, and the Indians were still quite hostile towards the Spanish intruders. The unexplored areas were considered missionary territory.

Serra's first assignment was to be rugged, mountainous region of Sierra Gorda. Here he remained for nine years, preaching to the Indians and strengthening the two missions already established in the area. Serra's second assignment was to journey out from Mexico City into coastal villages and mining camps. In those eight years, despite a leg chronically infected and ulcerated after an insect bite, he walked over 6,000 miles on foot, preaching retreats and administering the sacraments.

In 1767 when the King of Spain banished the Jesuit Society from his dominions, the thirteen Jesuit missions in Baja California were suddenly left unstaffed. Junipero Serra was assigned the new Superior of Baja California, and within several years he was given orders to move into Alta California, or what today is known as the state of California. In 1769 Serra was appointed padre president of California.

Serra joined the expedition of Don Gaspar de Pórtola, ordered by the Spanish king to explore and occupy new territory. He reached San Diego on June 27, 1769 and founded there the first mission. From San Diego the party journeyed northward and in April, 1770 Serra founded San Carlos Borromeo at Carmel, the second mission. In his fifteen years as padre president, he established nine of his 21 missions, (among them Santa Barbara, San Luis Rey and San Francisco de Asis, popularly known as Dolores) each a one-day walk apart (about 30 miles), and linked by a dirt road called "El Camino Real."

Junípero Serra personally oversaw the planning, construction, and stuffing of each mission from his headquarters at Carmel. From Carmel he travelled on foot to the other missions along the California coast, to supervise mission work and to confer the sacrament of Confirmation. Biographers estimate that, still bothered by the infected leg, Serra walked more than 24,000 miles in California alone --more than the journeys of Marco Polo and Lewis and Clark combined. He kept with determination to his watchword, "Always to go forward and never to turn back."

The missions Serra founded had two purposes: to convert Indians to Catholicism, and to civilize these Indians by teaching them to farm and build. It was this two-fold purpose which caused Serra's impact to be felt both religiously and historically. And it was his unusual ability to accomplish these purposes peacefully, thet set him apart from other explorers.

Each mission centered on a church structure, usually a wood frame topped with a thatched roof. However, when the church at San Luis Obispo burned after being showered by Indians' flaming arrows, all churches were rebuilt of adobe and stone. Indians fashioned rounded roof tiles by molding wet clay around their shins.

Surrounding the church itself would be housing, areas for education of women and children, land cultivated for farming, and cattle-grazing areas.

Junípero Serra did not die a martyr as he had hoped. Instead he died a quiet, natural death at Carmel on August 28, 1784. Today, 200 years later, he is a candidate for canonization. The Executive Director's Report

The Serra Club International was formed in 1935 in Seattle, Washington, USA. Then as now, the two great needs of the Church were for informed Catholic lay leaders who understand and live their own Christian vocations to service, and for dedicated priests and religious. The founding Serrans chose as the organization's patron Father Junípero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan missionary to Mexico and California who was so influential in creating missions there. His commitment to the Church was exemplary, to the degree that he is currently a candidate for canonization.
Today there are 608 Serra clubs in 30 countries, with a total membership of 20,303 lay men, women and permanent deacons. Each individual Serra club is a member of Serra International. Serra International, with an office located in Chicago, links Serra clubs around the world.

Serra International Board of Trustees

President: Eric R. H. SelleySerra Club of London, England
President-Elect: John McLaughlinSerra Club of Metro Atlanta, GA, USA
Vicepresidents: Lino CazzadoriSerra Club of Imperia, Italy
Alonso R. CredesSerra Club of Caracas, Venezuela
Raymond F. Mohrman Serra Club of St. Louis, MO, USA
John WoodwardSerra Club of Toowoomba, Australia
Secretary: Tom J. HalloranSerra Club of Metro Dallas, TX, USA
Treasurer: Michael J. HallSerra Club of Stockton, CA, USA
Past President: James F. MertesSerra Club of Southwest Houston, TX, USA
One Year term: Ed KurdzielSerra Club of Milwaukee, WI, USA
José Pereira RamosSerra Club of Belem, Brazil
William P. WheelanSerra Club of Vancouver, Canada
Two Year Terms:Thomas J. FoleySerra Club of South Bay, CA, USA
Charles GrahamSerra Club of Dayton, OH, USA
Dr. Giovanni GiordanoSerra Club of Matera, Italy
Affonso José IannoneSerra Club of Sâo Paulo, Brazil
Guillermo L. LaureanoSerra Club of Cotabato, Philippines
Lic. Jorge H. Lemus C.Serra Club of Guadalajara, México
Richard J. RuthSerra Club of Philadelphia, PA, USA
Dr. Manuel Vicuña, B.Serra Club of Veracruz, México
Nominating Committee
Sue Cicherski, Chair
Louis D. Bonnani, USAFrancis J. McKeon, Jr., USADr. Dahul T. Pelizaro, Brasil
James Carpenter, USADr. Giovanni Novelli, ItalyFrancisco José Tse, Macau
Luis Jiménez Franco, MéxicoFernando Roche Paris, Venezuela

The is an organization of Catholic Laypersons Affirming Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life. Those interested in this group's work should contact:
J. Kevin Mueller at 410/377-2190, or
Frederick C. Byrnes, President, at 410/255-3425
Or you can email to:
The curator of this page is Steve Zabicki member of the Baltimore Serra Club.
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