Blessed Junipero Serra
Something for the Weekend. After hearing this week that Pope Francis plans to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, the Apostle of California, while he is in this country later this year, the musical score to the heavily fictionalized account of the first missionary journey of Serra, Seven Cities of Gold (1955) seems appropriate.
In 1955 Hollywood told the story of the 1769 expedition to Alta California in the film Seven Cities of Gold. Michael Rennie gave a very good performance as Father Serra and Anthony Quinn gave an equally fine performance as Governor Portolla. Of course Hollywood could not remain completely faithful to history, and a fictional hunt for the Seven Cities of Cibola was given as the reason for the expedition. A love story between an Indian girl and one of the Spanish officers was also grafted on to the story. In spite of the usually Hollywood twisting of history, the film is accurate in its depiction of the goodness and charity of Father Serra and his zeal to spread the Gospel. One scene from the movie has him denouncing the greed of the Spanish soldiers and their desire to exploit the Indians: Continue reading
(Apparently Pope Francis is going to canonize Father Serra during his visit to the US this year. Finally! Time to repost this post that ran in 2011.)
By the 18th Century Spain’s glory days were in her past, and her time as a great power was rapidly coming to an end. It is therefore somewhat unusual that at this period in her history, Spain added to her vast colonial empire. It would never have occurred but for the drive of one Spanish governor and the burning desire of a saint to spread the Gospel of Christ.
Miquel Josep Serra i Ferrer was born on the island of Majorca, the largest of the Balearic islands, off the Mediterranean coast of Spain on November 24, 1713. From his youth he had a desire to join the Franciscans and on September 14, 1730 he entered the Order of Friars Minor, and took the name of Junipero after Saint Junipero, one of the closest companions of Saint Francis. He had a sharp mind, and before his ordination to the priesthood was appointed lector of philosophy. He would go on to earn a doctorate in philosophy from Lullian University and went on to occupy the Duns Scotus chair of philosophy there. A quiet life teaching philosophy was his for the asking. Instead, he went off to be a missionary in the New World in 1749.
His first assignment was to teach in Mexico City, but that was not why he had left the Old World. At his request he was assigned to the Sierra Gorda Indian missions in Central Mexico as a mission priest, a task which occupied him for the next nine years.
In 1768 he was appointed the head of 15 Franciscans in Baja California who were taking over Jesuit missions to the Indians there, following the suppression of the Jesuit Order. It was in Baja California that he met the Governor of that province, Gaspar de Portola.