18th-century friar recognized for ‘missionary zeal’
Celebrate the canonization of St. Junípero Serra
St. Mary’s Basilica, 231 N. 3rd St.
Sunday, Sept. 20 — Unveiling of image of Junípero Serra at all Masses. 4 p.m. ‘Organ music for the New World’ concert with basilica organist Emma Whitten
Monday, Sept. 21 — 6 p.m. Junípero Serra: The Journey Onward. Soup and Study with Jeff Campbell in basilica basement
Tuesday, Sept. 22 — 5:30 p.m. Vespers on eve of canonization of Bl. Junípero Serra
Wednesday, Sept. 23 — Masses at noon and 5:30 p.m. in honor of St. Junípero Serra
[/quote_box_right][dropcap]S[/dropcap]oon-to-be St. Junípero Serra has become the new best friend of artist Renee Bau, who has a 48-by-70-inch portrait of the “Apostle of California” hanging in her studio. St. Mary’s Basilica recently commissioned Bau to paint the saint ahead of local celebrations of his canonization.
Noting how most images of Junípero Serra were stern-looking, she and St. Mary’s pastor Franciscan Father Michael Weldon decided to have her paint a portrait. “I wanted him to be shown in a kind and compassionate way,” she said.
Blessed Junípero Serra, who in the 18th century left a successful academic career in Spain to be a Franciscan missionary in the New World, will be canonized Sept. 23 in Washington, D.C., by Pope Francis during his apostolic visit.
“Trying to get into Serra’s head, his missionary zeal was wrapped up in a love for the cross,” said Fr. Weldon. “His job was to save souls, to go out and collect as many as he could for the glory of God.”
It’s this “missionary zeal” that led him to be adopted as a patron of vocations.
“The heart of praying for vocations is for the salvation of souls,” said diocesan vocations director Fr. Paul Sullivan. “He set up centers of Christian life where sacraments are lived. That’s what religious and priests are called to do in various ways.”
Fr. Sullivan said he draws inspiration from Blessed Junípero Serra’s strength, exemplified in founding the first nine of 21 missions along the California coast a day’s walk from each other.
“If I was tired driving up and down the coast, what kind of strength did he have to walk between those missions?” he asked. “Everywhere we go, he set up places to encounter Jesus. He did that independent of the conquistadors.”
Tom Castellanos, the Arizona district governor for Serra International — an organization of lay Catholics dedicated to promoting vocations and which bears the missionary’s name, said the Serrans of the diocese are “elated that our patron is going to be canonized.” The district includes three clubs in the diocese.
As a layperson, Castellanos also draws inspiration from Blessed Junípero Serra’s persistence. “Junípero Serra is a great help for me in persistence — to be persistent in difficult situations, when there’s a great challenge to follow the will of the Lord.”
It’s also his sacrifice in leaving the comforts of his home that serves as a model for vocations, said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.
“There’s something about Junípero Serra that moves us to think about God calling other people to follow in his footsteps in bringing the Good News of Christ to others,” said Bishop Olmsted. “He left at great sacrifice to himself a very loving home and a very strong church in Mallorca in order to answer a call to bring Christ to a whole different culture. It helps us understand that a vocation always requires a sacrifice of leaving behind those that are dear to us, things that are familiar to us, and preparing yourself to enter into something different.”
Bishop Olmsted first learned about Junípero Serra as a child when he noticed that his relatives in California lived in cities with “Catholic-sounding names” that were named for the missions he founded. As a shepherd, the bishop looks to Blessed Junípero Serra for his courage and holiness.
“He was constantly having to face very difficult circumstances to stand up against what was wrong, when it seemed as if there were very few other voices that would agree with him … and he did it precisely because of his vocation as a priest and as a missionary in Christ,” he said.
See Bishop Olmsted’s column on Junípero Serra
“Seize the Day’s Resolve: St. Junípero Serra“
“He really loved the Indians. He had no doubt in his mind of their equal dignity to every other person. He thought of California as their country. Even if the Spanish Crown claimed it, he felt like those who came, even the missionaries themselves, were the guests of the people who were there. So for me, it’s a great example of how to approach the people I’m sent to serve,” he added.
Although there has been some controversy surrounding his canonization from some groups arguing that Blessed Junípero Serra destroyed Native American culture, the bishop noted that while many in that era took advantage of the Native population, it was Serra who stood up to the military officers and government representatives for the rights of Native Americans. Fr. Weldon also noted that in some interviews of Native Americans in the generations after, many would ask for his intercession and a popular devotion began to develop.
“The question raised to us is him becoming a saint of the Church, meaning someone whose spirituality and love of God was worth imitating,” said Fr. Weldon. “I think clearly pope Francis has seen the passion of a missionary in Serra — incredible heroism, incredible creativity that I think truly points to a man of great sanctity.”
Pope Francis is sending a message to U.S. Catholics with Blessed Junípero Serra’s canonization, Bishop Olmsted said. “For his first visit to the United States to canonize a great, heroic missionary disciple like Junípero Serra is one of the strongest messages he can give to the people of the United States about who Christ is calling us to be today.”
When Bau was researching and painting the portrait that will be unveiled at St. Mary’s Basilica during canonization festivities, her pastor told her to pray for his intercession.
“I had a peace come over me,” she said. “My relationship with him is growing. When you work on a painting as much as I’ve worked on this piece, you grow affection for it. He did come across with kind eyes and a loving look to him. Maybe that was his intercession.”