July 1st is the feast day of Saint Junípero Serra (1713-1784), the Mallorcan-born, 5’2” Franciscan priest who brought Catholic Christianity to the present-day state of California. It was on this day in 1769 that he entered San Diego and fifteen days later would found a mission, San Diego de Alcalá, the first of nine founded during his tenure. That’s right, he was the ripe old age of 57 when he made it his single-purpose to bring the gospel to the gentiles in what was then referred to as Nueve California.
On January 7, 1780, reflecting on his ministry, Serra wrote to Governor Felipe de Neve: “. . . when we [Fathers] came here, we did not find even a single Christian, that we have engendered them [Indians] all in Christ, that we, everyone of us, came here for the single purpose of doing them good and for their eternal salvation; and I feel sure that everyone knows that we love them.”
Saint Junípero Serra is known today by many monikers — Patron of Vocations, Father of the California Missions, Apostle of California, Evangelizer of the West, a Founding Father of the United States, and the first Hispanic saint of the United States. However, it seems that some historians are politicizing their craft again, with the California missions and its first father-president in their crosshairs. A move is on to dump fourth grade public school children learning early California history by building models of the missions (read here) in the way that generations before them have.
I remember building a model of a mission when I was in the fourth grade in the early 1980s. Being one of seven children, it was memorable for the simple fact that I was getting alone time with my dad. It was not until four years later that I actually visited a mission, Santa Cruz, with a friend and his family. It was when I became a high school teacher in 2000 that I really became interested in California’s mission history. In a few years I drove to all twenty-one missions and fell in love with them. Now I am walking to them. Statistics to date: in 27 days I have covered 446 miles in approximately 168 hours and visited 15 missions of the 21 missions (read my blog here). My relationship with Saint Junípero Serra and those who lived and worked in the missions is deepened with every step. I pray my knowledge and passion is passed onto my son, whose mission project last year was of Misión de San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo.
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