‘The Spirit Within Saint Junípero’
Author(s): Photographs by Craig Alan Huber and Essays by Robert M. Senkewicz
Veritas Editions, LLC
Length: 128 pages
Release Date: Oct. 24, 2015
Available at: Kino Library
Everybody seems to have their own favorite saint; whole professions and vocations have their patron saints, and even some countries have a patron saint that stands out in their history. In the Southwest, we have Junípero Serra, OFM, who founded a total of 10 missions from Baja California to San Francisco.
A fabulously-produced, coffee table book, The Spirit Within Saint Junípero, with photographs by Craig Alan Huber and essays by Robert M. Senkewicz, brings the story of Fr. Serra to life in a most artistic manner and examines his life with a sense of place, i.e. the places that he lived and worked and affected so many people. The book was recently recognized in three categories for the 2017 Catholic Press Association Awards, placing second for best coffee table book, third for best design and production and an honorable mention for first time authors.
The story of Junípero Serra begins in Mallorca, a small Mediterranean island off the east coast of Spain. Born Nov. 24, 1713, in the little village of Petra, he was baptized immediately because those around him thought him too frail and doubted that he would survive. But, he did and at a young age he worked the fields with his father and learned about the natural environment, which would later serve him in his mission. One of the other things he learned was the religious culture of the region and its devotion to the Virgin Mary. The region around Petra had suffered a long drought and a shrine to Mary was built on a hilltop nearby.
From his school in the church in Petra, which was staffed by Franciscans, he chose to enter the Order at 15, and at 16 he professed his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
He did well in the Franciscan Order, finally being elevated to professor of theology, for which he was well respected.
He often spoke of the sweetness of God, that even an affliction with which the Lord punished us has the sweetness of His love associated with it because it always served to make us better. It was this same sense of sweetness, along with the uncomfortableness of our charge in life as Christians, which finally caused Junípero to feel that his academic career was not as satisfying as it might be. He sensed that he was created for a greater call by God.
Serra began to think of people who had never heard the Word of God and never experienced His sweetness, and thus he eventually volunteered for the missions in America. He was accepted and set out for the New World.
We jump immediately to the photography of that first place in Junípero’s life with a photograph of the Cathedral of Mallorca in Palma, Spain.
A word first about the art of photography, especially as opposed to snapshots the rest of us take. We use cameras to preserve our memories: that time at the beach, the time we annoyed a sea lion who chased us back to our hotel or the time the baby lost his diaper and the Hazmat unit was called. The art of photography, however, is a visionary process involving the play of light and shadow or the evoking of emotion through the use of color and composition.
The high arches of the cathedral and the other churches where Junípero worshiped, the subtle play of light, often candlelight, create a powerful testament to the sacred places that informed his passions.
In Mexico, Junípero spent most of his time establishing missions — including rebuilding one north of San Antonio, Texas. He preached, but found that the natives there didn’t really have the same reactions as his own people did. This bothered him but he always pushed on and tried to improve.
In 1769, he reached San Diego and established Mission de Alcalá. The photographs here are of places many of us are very familiar with: Mission de Alcalá, San Juan Capistrano — where I see a beautiful photo of the arches in the courtyard exactly like one I took myself — Mission San Juan Bautista, and all the rest.
All of the missions from Mission de Alcalá up the California coast to Mission San Francisco Solano are all accessible to us, and our visiting them allows us to understand and experience the passion and the places of Junípero Serra.
This is a fantastic coffee table book, filled with the stories and photographs of our great Southwestern saint.