(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.