St. Junipero Serra was a devout missionary of the Franciscan order. He established several missions in California and converted Native Americans to the catholic faith in the 18th century. He is the first saint to be canonized on American soil, as well as the first American Hispanic saint.
Born in Spain in 1713, St. Junipero’s faith was with him from the very start. He was baptized the very day that he was born and was named Miguel Jose. He attended a franciscan school, and at just 15 years old was placed under the charge of a cathedral canon, where he would assist with philosophy classes.
Serra became a novice two years later, and at age 18 he made his profession. He chose the name Junipero to honor St. Francis’ companion. St. Junipero continued his study of philosophy and was eventually ordained a priest. His studying led him to receive a Doctorate in Theology in 1742 from Lullian University, and was called to be a professor there in 1749. This is what led him to become a missionary.
St. Junipero Serra felt a call to mission work, and so he set sail for America. After arriving on shore, he walked 250 miles from Vera Cruz to Mexico City. After the long journey, he and his companions spent the night praying at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and arrived at San Fernando College the next morning. He quickly began his work, volunteering for the next 8 years in Sierra Gorda. He oversaw the construction of a church that is still in use today! Under his guide, several other churches were built as well.
Serra was passionate about the conversion of Native American people. He spent time learning their language and ways of storytelling in order to teach them about religion in the most effective way. His hard work and commitment to the people paid off! He successfully brought many to the faith and assisted in their education of more modern farming and living techniques. He fought for their rights and worked hard to fulfill his mission.
After working multiple missions and devoting his life to the conversion of others, St. Junipero found himself in the California area, where he would spend the rest of his life evangelizing. He died at age 70 and was buried in the floor of the church he had built in Mission San Carlos. He was physically a small man at just five feet two inches, and yet in his robust zeal for his mission, he was mighty. He was a man of action, which led some to view him as aggressive. He believed in and utilized corporal punishment in his mission, which is controversial to some, but he fought for what he believed in and was successful. His life and mission is still studied and celebrated in California schools and he brought many to the church. He was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015. For an opportunity to celebrate the saints that inspired St. Junipero Sera, check out these Our Lady of Guadalupe products from Sock Religious, which is the Shrine where St. Junipero spent his evening in prayer before the start of his mission work in America. And don’t forget about St. Francis of Assisi, as St. Junipero was a Franciscan Brother!
St. Junipero Serra, pray for us!