Print Version    Email to Friend
Patron of Serra Clubs to be canonised

Pope Francis quoted from the Acts of the Apostles in describing the Spanish Friar Junipero Serra saying, “I have made you a light to the nations, so that my salvation may reach the remotest parts of the earth” (Acts 13:47).

Also known as the Missionary of California, Friar Serra is set to be canonised on September 23 in Washington DC, during the pope’s visit to the United States of America (US).

Born Miguel José Serra in Petra, a small village on the island of Mallorca, Spain, on 24 November 1713, he entered the Convent of San Francisco on 14 September 1730 to begin studies in philosophy.

He was ordained a priest in 1737, at which time he took the religious name Junipero, in honour of the lowly and most humble of the first followers of St. Francis of Assisi.

After ordination, he served as a professor of theology at the Lullian University in Palma for 11 years. But his real wish was always to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis Solano (1549 to 1610), who had gone to Peru, Chile and Argentina as a missionary.

Originally told that there was no room for him and his companions, Father Serra was the beneficiary of an unexpected set of circumstances, as several of the brothers set to go to the Americas decided at the last minute that they did not want to brave the ocean-spanning trip.

In 1749, he embarked for Mexico with a band of Franciscan missionaries and landed at Veracruz on 7 December 1749—the eve of the feast of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception.

Father Serra requested authorisation to make a journey of 440 kilometres to Mexico City by foot. He and his group arrived there on 1 January 1750, staying at the Convent of St. Ferdinand.

But during the trip that he was stung on the leg by a scorpion and wound became infected. As a result he remained partly crippled for the rest of his life. But in spite of this handicap, he was to travel over 38,625 kilometres in the course of his work during the following 35 years.

His motto in life was, Siempre adelante, nunca atras (always go forward, never look back).

Wherever he went, Father Serra learned the local dialect and lived among the local population, teaching farming and weaving. He also stood against the excesses of the Spanish armed forces against the native people.

He was much loved and respected and converted many people to the Catholic faith. A picture showing two arms (one European and one native) was used to represent Father Serra.

When the king of Spain, Charles III, banished the Jesuits from his dominions, the Franciscans were ordered to take over the missions in the Americas.

In 1769, Father Serra was put in charge of a group of Franciscans, travelling 1,207 kilometres on saddle horses and pack mules to Port of San Blas on Mexico’s west coast.

But around this time, the Russian Army was expanding its influence from Alaska down the southern coast of the US, threatening Spanish California. Spain sent two expeditionary armed forces by sea and by land to protect its colony.

Father Serra and his Franciscan companions travelled with these Spanish troops and established nine missions along the El Camino Real (the King’s Highway) in Southern California.


San Diego (de Alcala) on 16 July 1769

San Carlos Borromeo (de Carmelo) on 3 June 1770

San Antonio (de Padua) on 14 July 1771

San Luis Obispo (de Tolosa) on 1 September 1772

San Gabriel (Arcangel) on 8 September 1772

San Francisco (de Asis) on 26 June 1776

San Juan Capistrano on 1 November 1776

Santa Clara (de Asis) on 12 January 1777

San Buenaventura on 31 March 1782


All these were started by Father Serra or under his supervision, each 80 kilometres apart (a day’s ride on horseback), each with its own church, mission bell, instruction room, farm—where the Indian people were taught to till the land and raise cattle, and the women were shown how to weave, cook and sew.

Often, the soldiers misbehaved and robbed, raped and killed the local Indian people. When Father Serra intervened on behalf of the native populations, he was labelled proud, obstinate and a trouble-maker, but also ignored.

He finally travelled to Mexico City and reported these atrocities to the Spanish viceroys, who changed the commanding officers and re-established discipline among the armed forces.

In 1784, Father Serra had completed a visitation round of all the mission stations that he had set up, despite leg and chest pains (from asthma).

At the San Carlos mission he conducted vespers on the day before he died and spent most of the night praying on his knees in his cell. On 28 August 1784, he walked to his bed, which consisted of two rough planks, a blanket and a pillow, placed his large wooden crucifix in his arms and closed his eyes to the world.

His last words were, “Now I must take some rest.” He quietly passed away after 32 years on mission and 53 years as a Franciscan.

Following Father Serra’s death in 1784, another 12 new missions were added and all up, 21 were founded along the coast of California.

In 1927, he was honoured by the then-US president, Calvin Coolidge, as one of California’s greatest heroes and a seven-foot bronze statue was placed in the Statuary Hall in the House of Representatives in Washington, honouring this Missionary of California.

On 16 October 1963, an Act of Congress was signed by the then-president, John F. Kennedy, (six days before his assassination) to strike the Padre Junipero Serra National Medal.

On 9 May 1985, Pietro Cardinal Palazzi presented a petition to Pope John Paul II to have Father Serra declared venerable. He was subsequently beatified on 25 September 1988 by Pope John Paul.

His canonisation in September is a sign that “the veneration of St. Junipero Serra will enable all Americans to re-discover their personal respect and increase their belonging to Christ and His Church”

In 1935, four Catholic businessmen in Seattle made Catholic history under the guidance of Bishop Gerald Shaughnessy. Leo Shankey, Harold Haberle, Richard Ward and Daniel Rooney wanted to add a spiritual dimension to their luncheon meetings and formed the Serra Club of Seattle to promote priestly and religious vocations.

This small gathering grew into the worldwide Serra International and today Serra Clubs exist in all parts of the world. Father Serra was chosen as the patron.

The Serra Club of Hong Kong was formed in 1963 and was the first in Asia. Bishop Francis Hsu was the first chaplain.