St. Junípero Serra
Feast Day: July 1
Born at Petra, Majorca, Spain, Nov. 24, 1713, Junípero Serra was baptized on the same day at St. Peter’s Church and was given the name Miguel José. Serra was admitted as a novice at the Convento de Jesús outside the walls of Palma in 1730 and was ordained in 1738. He chose the name Junípero in memory of the brother companion of St. Francis. After obtaining a doctorate in theology, he taught for seven years before going to America to become a missionary in 1749.
Although horses were supplied for the friars, Serra elected to walk the 250 miles between Vera Cruz and Mexico City. In less than six months, an urgent call came for volunteers for the Sierra Gorda missions. Serra was among the volunteers. During his apostolate in Sierra Gorda with the Pame Indians between 1750 and 1758, Serra not only oversaw construction of a church, which is still in use, but developed his mission in both religious and economic directions.
In 1767, he was appointed president of the ex-Jesuit missions of Baja California. Serra enthusiastically volunteered in 1768 to join expeditions to Upper California. Serra arrived at current-day San Diego on July 1, 1769. En route, he founded his first mission at San Fernando de Velicatá on May 14. Serra kept a diary of his journey during which he suffered greatly from an infirmity in his legs and feet and had to be carried on a stretcher.
Serra devoted the next 15 years of his life to evangelical work in Upper California. During that period, he founded nine missions: San Diego, San Carlos, Monterey-Carmel, San Antonio, San Gabriel, San Luis Obispo, San Francisco, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Clara and San Buenaventura. He was present at the founding of Presidio Santa Barbara in 1782.
“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,” Bishop Olmsted told The Catholic Sun prior to St. Serra’s canonization. “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.”
Serra died at Mission San Carlos Aug. 28, 1784, at the age of 70 and is buried in the floor of the sanctuary of the church he had built. St. John Paul II beatified him in 1988. His was the first canonization to take place on U.S. soil by Pope Francis in 2015. A statue of St. Junípero represents California in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. His feast day marks the anniversary of when he first arrived in San Diego to establish the California missions.
Impact on the Diocese of Phoenix
While never reaching Arizona, his efforts at evangelization served as a catalyst for the entire Southwestern United States. Franciscans from his order continue to serve in the Diocese of Phoenix at St. Mary’s Basilica, the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Guadalupe. Known for his phrase “Siempre adelante, nunca atrás (always forward, never backward),” he is a patron of the diocese’s “Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante” campaign.