Father Junipero Serra
Miguel Jose was born to Margarita and Antonio Serra on November 24, 1713 in Petra on the Spanish island of Majorca. As a youth, Miguel helped his parents on the family farm. At age fourteen he was sent to Palma, Majorca's largest city, to study for the priesthood. In 1730 he took the vows to become a Franciscan priest and at the same time changed his name to Junipero Serra. He taught and studied in Palma for another eighteen years achieving a doctorate at Lullian University. During that period he met and became friends with Francisco Palou, a fellow member of the Franciscan order.
In 1749 the Franciscans assigned Fathers Serra and Palou to Mexico City, New Spain, as missionaries. After an arduous four month trip across the Atlantic they arrived in Vera Cruz where the mules that had been expected to meet them had not yet arrived. Father Serra decided to walk the 250 miles to Mexico City as a demonstration of piety. During this trip he suffered an insect bite on his leg. The leg became infected and badly swollen but he insisted on continuing on foot to Mexico City. (The leg gave him great pain and trouble throughout his life.)
By the middle of the eighteenth century, when Father Serra reached Mexico City, the Spanish had been operating missions in New Spain for some 200 years. Fathers Serra and Palou joined the College of San Fernando where they studied for four months to learn how to organize and run a mission. In May 1750 they were assigned to a Pame Indian village north of Mexico City in the Sierra Gorda Mountains. Father Serra continued to work with the Pame Indians for eight years before being called back to Mexico City in 1758. For the next nine years he travelled widely preaching to Indians and Spanish settlers in and around Mexico City.
In 1767 Father Serra, then 54 years of age, was named President of all of the Spanish Missions in Baja California. (The Franciscan order was in the process of taking over control of those missions from the Jesuit Order.) He took up his duties in 1768. This was a period during which the Spanish monarchy was increasingly concerned about the activities of Russia, England, and France and specifically worried that one or more of them had designs on Alta California. It was decided that Spain must establish a physical presence in what is today the state of California to protect their claim to the region. In 1769 Father Serra was reassigned from the Baja California presidency and asked to establish a series of missions in Alta California. At the same time Don Gaspar de Portola, then Governor of Baja California, was selected to lead the expedition. Planning for the expedition was led by the King's representative in New Spain - Inspector General Jose de Galvez. (Galvez is given credit for conceiving the strategy of colonization of Alta California.)
In the spring of 1769, Portola and Father Serra together with a party of some 50 soldiers and Christianized Indians set out on mules from Santa Maria Mission in Baja California. Three months later after a difficult trip they arrived in Alta California where, on July 16, 1769, Father Serra established the first of his missions - San Diego de Alcala. Three ships with supplies had sailed from La Paz at about the same time that the Portola/Serra party had left by land. Two of the ships (San Antonio and San Carlos) made it to San Diego but their crews were suffering from scurvy and there was great loss of life. The third ship (San Jose) was never heard from again. It was decided that Father Serra would consolidate their position in San Diego and Portola would continue north to find Monterey Bay where the second mission was to be founded. The San Antonio was sent back to La Paz for supplies.
It took Portola six months to complete his search for Monterey Bay and return to San Diego. In the meantime Father Serra and his party had had serious trouble with the local Indians and were starving. There was no sign of the San Antonio. Portola, who believed that he had not found Monterey Bay, decided to abort the effort and return to Mexico. Fathers Serra and Crespi determined to remain in San Diego and convinced Portola to wait until after the Feast of Saint Joseph on March 19 to depart. The San Antonio was sighted on the evening of March 19, 1770 and arrived with the supplies that saved the expedition.
A few weeks later in April 1770 the effort to find Monterey Bay was renewed. Portola led a small party that proceeded north by land and Father Serra traveled on the San Antonio. (It was during these explorations that Portola's party discovered San Francisco Bay.) Portola arrived at Monterey Bay first and Father Serra a week later. On June 3, 1770 Father Serra established the second mission - San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. (The first location chosen for the mission was said to have been under the very oak tree that the Spanish explorer Sebastian Viscaino had held services in 1602.) Shortly thereafter Portola returned to Mexico City in the San Antonio leaving Lieutenant Don Pedro Fages, to replace him as Governor of Alta California.
On July 14, 1771 Father Serra established Mission San Antonio de Padua and on September 8, 1771 Mission San Gabriel Arcangel. Mission San Luis Obispo was established on September 1, 1772. Each of the missions had a small contingent of soldiers attached to it to provide protection from hostile Indians. There were numerous incidents of improper behavior toward the Indians on the part of the soldiers. Father Serrra, as President of the Alta California Missions, did not get along with Governor Fages, and felt that he did not maintain proper military discipline. In October 1772 Father Serra traveled to Mexico City where he met with Viceroy Antonio Bucarelli. The viceroy agreed to replace Governor Fages and to provide increased support to the missions.
In 1775, as part of the new effort in Alta California, Lieutenant Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza led a party of 240 souls on a six month journey 1,600 miles overland to San Francisco Bay. On October 9, 1776 Father Palou established Mission San Francisco de Asis. (In the process of founding this mission the San Carlos became the first ship to sail into San Francisco Bay.) Later that year on November 1 Mission San Juan Capistrano was established and on January 1, 1777 Mission Santa Clara de Asis was founded. The last mission that was established under Father Serra's presidency was San Buenaventura on March 31, 1782. Father Serra's favorite Mission was San Carlos Barromeo de Carmelo and it was there that he made his headquarters.
During Father Serra's tenure as President nine missions were established and the ground work was laid for the expansion of the chain from San Diego in the south to Sonoma in the north. He died in Carmel on August 28, 1784, and is buried in the mission there. He was 70 years old. Father Serra is a candidate for sainthood. (Immediately upon his death Father Serra's old friend Father Palou served as de facto Acting President of the Alta California Missions to be followed soon after by Father Fermin Lausen, another long time associate of Father Serra.)