I am saddened by political division, and so I avoid it as much as possible, but even I am aware that there is some controversy between the world and the Church on this matter of Father Junipero Serra’s sanctity.
My nutshell response: Isn’t there always? Jesus predicted it in his incomparable discourse at the Last Supper: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before you.” (John 15:18)
The English Catholic convert Robert Hugh Benson, in his book The Mystical Body and Its Head, uses this verse of Our Lord’s, this fact of our similarity to Him in the world’s hatred of us, as an argument for the truth of the Catholic Faith. So as Jesus also said, “Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
It is nothing new for the world to ignore, suppress or purposely re-write history as the world would have it (if you don’t accept human nature—an incontrovertible fact of the present—why should you accept factual evidence from the past?), but for those who seek the truth, it is not hard to find.
If you need help finding the truth in this matter of Father Serra, follow the paper trail of Monsignor Francis J. Weber, archivist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. His books, articles, and bibliographies are a feast of facts abounding in human interest, sympathy, and literary style, and they are eminently reliable. Oh, and widespread, for Monsignor Weber has been vastly prolific, thanks be to God. His writings aren’t hard to find, and neither is he—if you want a glimpse of him today, look for him standing beside Pope Francis in Washington, D.C., witnessing first-hand a moment of great joy in what tomorrow will be history.
Meanwhile, to do my part in healing division, I offer the following passage, a taste of truth for this great feast in honor of Father Serra (which comes, incidentally, on the proper day of St. Padre Pio, who modestly steps back to allow his fellow Franciscan center stage).
Of special note: “Palou,” mentioned below, is Fray Francisco Palou, Fray Junipero’s friend and first biographer, author of Relación Histórica de la Vida y Apostólicas Tareas del Venerable Padre Fray Junipero Serra, a monumental work upon which nearly all subsequent biographies have been based.
“Death, the Deliverer”
from the biography Junipero Serra (© 1933) by the Dean of American Essayists, Agnes Repplier
Serra was medieval. He had the qualities of those emotional, penitential and migratory years, when endurance was the keynote of existence, and when the love of life was balanced by the honor paid to death. His harsh asceticism, the boards on which he slept, his meager diet, the cruel mortifying of his flesh, all savored of the Middle Ages; and so, too, did his habit of putting his mind and soul into his work. The great cathedrals are not the only indications of this habit of men who dwelt in the centuries we call dark. Europe is full of small things—the lock of an old chest, the hinges on an old door, a stone piscine sunk in a sacristy wall—that are beautiful for all time because medieval artisans conceived of work as a thing to be well done.
Serra was unfitted physically for his laborious life. A puny and delicate boy, he was so undersized that, as a novice, he could not read at the choristers’ desk, and was employed in serving Mass. Later he gained height, but was always frail in appearance and in reality. Like Joubert he had a sound mind in an unsound body; and his mind so dominated his body that it responded obediently to every demand and lasted seventy years. He did not preserve vitality by suppressing all extremes, which is the wisdom of the moderns. Being medieval, he dealt habitually in extremes, and made them serve his turn. Even when death had laid its chilling hand upon him, he drew strength from an unknown source. Palou had come to San Carlos to be with his old friend to the end; and when he saw him walking in a procession, and heard him singing “Pange, lingua, gloriosi,” he said to one of the soldiers from the presidio: “The presidente is, thank God, much stronger than I thought to find him.” To which the man answered with deep conviction: “He is always strong when he sings or when he prays. Nevertheless, he is dying.”
One indication Serra gave that he had abandoned all thought of life: He let the doctors have their will with him. Unhappily for his remaining days, a transport, summoned, it is said, by Palou, arrived from San Francisco, and the ship’s surgeon hastened to the sick man’s side. He found him employed in cutting out garments for the children, and asked leave to cauterize the ulcerated chest. This time he was not repulsed. Serra had made his fight as long as there was work to be done. Now it was merely a question of undergoing needless pain before he died, and to this he submitted, remembering perhaps that there is nothing the body suffers that the soul may not profit by. The cauterization, says Palou, was of no benefit to the patient, but left him weak and weary…
It was an inestimable comfort to Serra that Palou who, although much younger, had been his close and dear friend, had come hurriedly from San Francisco to bear him company in the last weeks of his life… Palou told Serra that he would not remain in California, but was going back to San Fernando to write the Relación Histórica and the Noticias for which he had been sedulously collecting material. The two friends knew that, in Fray Fermín Francisco Lasuén, Serra would have a worthy successor…
Serra’s preparations for death were as simple as had been his manner of living. He made a general confession to Palou, he asked to be buried by the side of Crespi, and he expressed a desire to receive the viaticum in the church instead of in his cell. The officer in charge of the presidio came with his soldiers to San Carlos to attend this ceremony. They saw the sick man kneeling at the foot of the altar, they heard him intone the Tantum ergo Sacramentum, and they marveled, knowing that the end was at hand. Afterwards a cup of broth was brought him which he drank quietly. It had been his custom since he came to California to eat and drink a portion of whatever was attainable, making no parade of austerity, and expressing no preference or distaste.
The last night brought little sleep to the sufferer; but at dawn there came to his bedside two old friends, Captain José Canizares, who commanded a frigate that had just anchored at Monterey, and the ship’s chaplain, Don Cristóbal Díaz. They had heard of his illness, and had hurried over the five miles to see him before he died. Serra received them with courtesy, ordered the bells to be rung in their honor, and bade them tell him of Peru, from which country they had recently returned. This they endeavored to do (though why talk of Peru to a man about to leave the earth?), and when they had finished and were taking their leave, he said to them: “I thank God for sending you to me, and I thank you for bearing me in mind, and for coming so far to throw a little earth upon my grave.”
After the leave-taking of these kind and well-mannered gentlemen, Palou remained alone with Serra, who lay quiet for a long time. Then suddenly he said in a troubled voice: “I have come under the shadow of fear. Read the Recommendation.” Palou knelt by his side, and read the solemn words with which the Church Militant bids farewell to the departing soul, and recommends it to the care of the Church Triumphant. As the familiar invocations fell upon Serra’s ears, fear faded away. “In the name of the Angels and Archangels…In the name of the Powers and Principalities…In the name of the Cherubim and Seraphim…In the name of the holy Martyrs and Confessors…In the name of the holy Monks and Hermits…” How many old friends had sped before him on the path that he was taking? How many new friends awaited his coming? “Now I shall rest,” he said, and Palou left him to see that the visitors were properly entertained. When he returned, Serra was sleeping his last sleep, his worn old face relaxed and peaceful. Clasped in his arms was the wooden cross he had brought with him from the Lullian University at Parma, and from which he had never been parted.
When the San Carlos bells tolled the death of the presidente, Indians and Mexicans left their work and swarmed to the adobe hut, bewailing their loss, and clamoring for relics of the man whom they deemed to be a saint. The body was placed on a bier in the church, covered with the well-loved rosas de Castilla, and guarded day and night to protect it from the relic hunters, who nevertheless contrived to carry away many snippets from the habit, and even a few locks of the white hair which still fringed the tonsure. Palou had constituted himself executor, in view of the fact that there was no estate to be administered, and no personal property except some necessary clothing, a few devotional books, and the wooden cross. Yet the office was not the sinecure it seemed. No rich man’s heirs were ever greedier for gold than were Serra’s friends and neophytes for anything that he had worn or used. The soldiers and sailors were especially clamorous; “because,” says Palou, “of their larger knowledge.”
The dead friar was buried in his one comparatively sound habit; but there was an old and ragged one which had been kept for the laudable purpose of patching its successor; and this was cut into squares like scapulars and distributed. His handkerchiefs were disposed of in the same fashion, save that one whole one was given to the surgeon, Don Juan Garcia, who vowed that it would be a more efficacious cure than any of his remedies—which might easily have been the case. The commanding officer of the Monterey presidio, who had shown to Serra the respect and devotion of a son, begged for a pair of worn-out sandals, and received them. A little store of medals which had been kept for distribution to neophytes was given away. Also the books, save only the breviary, which Palou kept for himself—sole memento of an enduring friendship. The wooden cross was laid under the dead man’s hands in his coffin, and buried with him.
And a further detail about one of these coveted relics. They have not disappeared; historical facts are not so easily dismissed…
Viltis Jatulis, faithful Lithuanian librarian of St. Bernardine Library at Thomas Aquinas College, once received a donation of books that had belonged to a great Catholic lady (she and her husband, and then their son and his wife, all generous benefactors). Upon perusal, Viltis found that one of the books was an old diary. A really old diary. A really old diary of Father Junipero Serra. Viltis, a less grasping and a holier hunter-of-relics than I, contacted the donor and arranged for the diary to go where it belonged—to one of Father Serra’s beloved missions and home of the archivist Monsignor Weber, the San Fernando Mission.
For those of us who wish we had a relic of Father, let us not forget that we have the largest relics of all—the California missions. And for those who live too far to visit, a yet more valuable gift is available upon request—his friendship. Thanks to God’s mercy, this day Junipero Serra is enrolled in the canon of the Saints; there is no distance between Heaven and earth, only a thin veil, and today that veil is lifted. Behold Father Serra in Heaven, but he is looking down kindly, desiring more than ever to show God’s great love to us. So ask him today—ask for the desires of your heart, and let one of those desires be for the conversion of a relative, a friend, our country and its leaders. Surely Father Serra—Saint Junipero Serra—who traveled so many miles to bring the Good News to America, will gladly present these many petitions to Jesus, his best Friend and Savior, and ours.
Tagged as:California, Junípero Serra, Missions
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By Suzie Andres
Suzie Andres, a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the University of Notre Dame, lives and writes in sunny Southern California. She is the editor of Selected Sermons of Thomas Aquinas McGovern, S.J., and author of Homeschooling with Gentleness,A Little Way of Homeschooling, and the Catholic romantic comedy The Paradise Project. You can find her blog, “Miss Marcel’s Musings” at suzieandres.com, where you’ll also find links to her books, online articles, and book lists for all ages.
William Hannon had a special dedication to one of California’s founding fathers-Franciscan Friar Junípero Serra, the founder of California’s Missions.
William’s fascination with early California history and real estate led to his admiration for Father Serra. He often said, “Father Serra was the first developer of California. If you buy real estate, buy within a twenty mile radius of a Mission. California’s twenty-one Missions are all near fertile soil and water.”
To promote the spirit and contributions of Father Serra, the William H. Hannon Foundation commissioned an artist to design a life life size bronze statue of Father Serra. From this single mold, the Foundation had almost one hundred more statues cast and placed at the California Missions and at various Catholic schools and universities. The William H. Hannon Foundation has placed statues from Santa Clara University in Northern California to the University of San Diego in Southern California.
One can find the statues of Father Serra in the playground areas of many of Los Angeles' Catholic elementary schools. William and other Foundation Directors would travel to the schools personally to inspect where Father Serra would stand, and they later would attend the dedication ceremonies for the statues. William called Father Serra, “the drinking fountain father,” since he wanted the statue placed close to a school’s drinking fountains so that children could see Father Serra every day. At dedication ceremonies, where a school’s student body often was assembled, William would encourage the children to rub Father Serra’s toe for good luck. He would tell the children, “After all, he walked all across California, so those toes are lucky; maybe rubbing his toe will help on your next big test.”
A devout Catholic, William wanted to renew an interest in Father Serra and eventually have Father Serra declared a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Today, the Catholic Church is going through the lengthy process of establishing Sainthood for Father Junípero Serra.
The Hannon Foundation continues its founder’s interest in Father Junípero Serra. Each year, it conducts an essay contest for over forty Catholic elementary schools. Fourth grade students visit the Missions, conduct research and write essays about the life of Father Serra. Two outstanding essays are selected from each school, and the winning students are each awarded William H. Hannon Scholarships toward their fifth grade tuition. In addition, each school receives a grant for tuition aid or computers.
The following is information on Fr. Serra taken from the online edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia (2002) by Kevin Knight:
Born at Petra, Island of Majorca, 24 November, 1713; died at Monterey, California, 28 August, 1784. On 14 September, 1730, he entered the Franciscan Order. For his proficiency in studies he was appointed lector of philosophy before his ordination to the priesthood.
Later he received the degree of Doctor of Theology from the Lullian University at Palma, where he also occupied the Duns Scotus chair of philosophy until he joined the missionary college of San Fernando, Mexico (1749). While traveling on foot from Vera Cruz to the capital, he injured his leg in such a way that he suffered from it throughout his life, though he continued to make his journeys on foot whenever possible. At his own request he was assigned to the Sierra Gorda Indian Missions some thirty leagues north of Queretaro. He served there for nine years, part of the time as superior, learned the language of the Pame Indians, and translated the catechism into their language. Recalled to Mexico, he became famous as a most fervent and effective preacher of missions.
His zeal frequently led him to employ extraordinary means in order to move the people to penance. He would pound his breast with a stone while in the pulpit, scourge himself, or apply a lighted torch to his bare chest.
He was appointed superior of a band of fifteen Franciscans for the Indian Missions of Lower California. Early in 1769 he accompanied Portolá's land expedition to Upper California. On the way (14 May) he established the Mission San Fernando de Velicatá, Lower California. He arrived at San Diego on 1 July, and on 16 July founded the first of the twenty-one California missions which accomplished the conversions of all the natives on the coast as far as Sonoma in the north. Those established by Father Serra or during his administration were San Carlos (3 June, 1770); San Antonio (14 July, 1771); San Gabriel (8 September, 1771); San Luis Obispo (1 September, 1772); San Francisco de Asis (8 October, 1776); San Juan Capistrano (1 Nov. 1776); Santa Clara (12 January, 1777); San Buenaventura (31 March, 1782).
He was also present at the founding of the presidio of Santa Barbara (21 April, 1782), and was prevented from locating the mission there at the time only through the animosity of Governor Philipe de Neve. Difficulties with Pedro Fages, the military commander, compelled Father Serra in 1773 to lay the case before Viceroy Bucareli. At the capital of Mexico, by order of the viceroy, he drew up his "Representación" in thirty-two articles. Everything save two minor points was decided in his favor; he then returned to California, late in 1774.
In 1778 he received the faculty to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. After he had exercised his privilege for a year, Governor Neve directed him to suspend administering the sacrament until he could present the papal Brief. For nearly two years Father Serra refrained, and then Viceroy Majorga gave instructions to the effect that Father Serra was within his rights.
During the remaining three years of his life he once more visited the missions from San Diego to San Francisco, six hundred miles, in order to confirm all who had been baptized. He suffered intensely from his crippled leg and from his chest, yet he would use no remedies. He confirmed 5309 persons, who, with but few exceptions, were Indians converted during the fourteen years from 1770.
Besides extraordinary fortitude, his most conspicuous virtues were insatiable zeal, love of mortification, self-denial, and absolute confidence in God. His executive abilities have been especially noted by non-Catholic writers. The esteem in which his memory is held by all classes in California may be gathered from the fact that Mrs. Stanford, not a Catholic, had a granite monument erected to him at Monterey. A bronze statute of heroic size represents him as the apostolic preacher in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. In 1884 the Legislature of California passed a concurrent resolution making 29 August of that year, the centennial of Father Serra's burial, a legal holiday. Of his writings many letters and other documentation are extant. The principal ones are his "Diario" of the journey from Loreto to San Diego, which was published in "Out West" (March to June, 1902), and the "Representación" before mentioned.