Catholicism in American History
(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.
In 1884 John Joseph Montgomery made the first manned, controlled, heavier than air flight in a glider he built. Born in 1858, he became intrigued with flight when as a boy in 1869 he witnessed the historic flight of the steam driven proto blimp Aviator Hermes, Jr. built by Frederick Marriott. In 1883 Montgomery built a wing flapping glider that of course failed as a glider. In 1884 he made aviation history by building a monoplane glider with curved wings. He flew a considerable distance at Otay Mesa near San Diego, California. In 1884-1885 he built a monoplane glider with flat wings, with hinged surfaces at the backs of the wings to maintain lateral balance, the first step towards ailerons. He also used cables to control the tale of his glider.
In 1885 or 1886 he built a water tank and experimented hundreds of times with moving water over surfaces to understand the movement of air over wings.
A Catholic, Montgomery earned his BA and MA from Saint Ignatius College in 1879 and 1880. He went on to earn a doctorate in physics from the Jesuit College, Santa Clara, where he was a professor from 1898 until his death. The Jesuits were quite enthusiastic about the aviation work of Montgomery and extended facilities at the college for him to conduct his experiments and build his gliders, one of which was named Santa Clara. Continue reading
My latest article for Inside Catholic is a condensed version of a number of posts I wrote here at TAC regarding Catholicism and American history.
I mention my membership in TAC as part of the reason why I came to change my views on America’s past; Don, Paul Z. and others have made a number of enlightening historical posts/comments over the months that prompted me to investigate further.
Here’s hoping that my plug gets us a few more readers, and that IC and TAC continue to keep one another in mind.