Celebrating Father Junípero Serra’s 300th Birthday

This year, California is celebrating the 300th anniversary of Father Serra’s birth on November 24, 1713.

Every fourth grader in California knows the name Junípero Serra, the priest who was born in Majorca, an island off the coast of Spain,  who joined the Franciscan Order when he was sixteen years old.  Serra served as a missionary in Mexico before being sent to Alta California. Beginning with Mission San Diego de Alcalá in 1769, Father Serra was the guiding force behind the establishment of nine missions and the inspiration for a chain of missions spanning coastal California that eventually numbered twenty-one.

In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year the gray-robed Franciscan priest founded his sixth and seventh missions: San Francisco de Asís and San Juan Capistrano. While a continent away, Thomas Jefferson was penning the Declaration of Independence.

Did you know that during the American Revolution, Father Serra took up a collection from his mission parishes throughout California? The total money collected amounted to roughly $137, but that money was sent to General George Washington to support the colonials’ efforts.

This year, special events are being held on Father Serra’s birthday in a number of locations throughout the state: From Carmel, where Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo (http://www.carmelmission.org), Father Serra’s favorite, will host “A Special Day Honoring a Missions Legend” to San Diego, where the History Center (www.sandiegohistory.org/calendar/serra300) has planned a “Father Serra 300th Birthday Party!”  And in between — as an on-going tribute, the Huntington Library (www.huntington.org) in San Marino is featuring a special exhibit, “Missions, Myths, and Memories: The Life and Legacies of Junípero Serra” through January 6, 2014. The Huntington goes beyond the textbook to paint a more complete and complex portrait of Serra and his missionary work among Indians through a display of rare documents, maps, artifacts, and works of art.

Check with missions, historical societies, and Catholic churches in your area for events to celebrate this special occasion. Celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of one of California’s most important historical figures, one known for his zeal and a spirit that came from his deep prayer and dauntless will.

Adele Lancaster
State Historian

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