Name: Junípero Serra
Feast day: July 1
“Always forward, never back!” St. Junípero’s motto reflects a missioner’s spirit, regardless of setbacks. In the 18th century, St. Junípero was one of the Franciscans who had come among Spanish colonists to introduce Christianity to Native peoples of modern-day Mexico. Serra, a brilliant theology professor in Majorca, Spain, arrived and walked 250 miles inland to Mexico City. He taught school in the established missions, but felt called further. He went to nearby missions to preach.
He saw his opportunity when, in 1769, Spanish conquistadors were heading north to modern California. The missions he founded roll easily off of modern tongues: St. Francis (San Francisco), Our Lady of the Angels (Los Angeles), St. John (San Diego), Santa Barbara and others. He founded nine of California’s 21 Spanish missions. Along the way, 4,600 Native Americans became Christian. He walked thousands of miles during his missionary years.
A topic of modern controversy, Serra sought not to suppress, but rather to help improve lives, protecting Native Americans from soldiers’ excesses. He worked to found farming villages that would, he thought, ensure the people’s survival. He was often scorned by conquistadors.
St. Junípero, our most recent American saint, was canonized in 2015 by Pope Francis.
St. Junípero, your life is an example of courage and persistence in advocating for the needs of God’s people, as you brought them the fullness of Christianity. Help us to venture beyond the familiar as we bring the Gospel to those arounds. Inspire us to move “always forward.”