Skip to main content
Updated date:

Saint or Sinner? Known as the Father of California Missions, Father Serra

Author:

The California Missions have a long and controversial history. Did they help or hinder the Native Indians?

Father Junipero Serra

Father Junipero Serra

Map of California Missions

Map of California Missions

Father Serra and the California Missions

Father Junipero Serra was born in poverty in 1713. By the time he was 16, he had joined the Franciscan Order arriving in Mexico City in 1750. Serra was a profoundly pious man wanting to bring Christianity to the people of California. His superiors felt his deep piety would serve them well and sent him to San Diego to build the first mission. Ultimately, there would be 21 missions built in the wilderness all up and down California.

Father Serra was called the Father of California Missions and the Apostle of California. The goal of the missions was to convert the Indians to Christianity and meld them to the Spanish culture. However, because the friars brought horses, sheep, donkeys, and goats with them, native plants and small game were diminished, thus eliminating the Indian's food sources, leading to starvation.

The friars invited them into the missions to help complete the building and offer them housing and food. The only requirement of the Indians was to attend mass and convert them to Christianity. Before long, the Indians realized once in the mission; they could not leave. Critics today believe that the Indians were enslaved and brutally treated. Soldiers that were at the tasks were accused of rape and torture of the Indians. Father Serra was said to complain to his superiors about the soldiers as he opposed the unfair treatment of his Indians.

The California missions have a long and complicated history. Here is a list of occupation periods in California:

1542-1769 European exploration period

1769-1821 Spanish colonial period

1821-1848 Mexican period

1850-present U.S. Statehood


First Mission, San Diego, 1769

First Mission, San Diego, 1769

San Francisco Mission, the Last Mission 1823

San Francisco Mission, the Last Mission 1823

1823m the Last Mission San Francisco

1823m the Last Mission San Francisco

San Francisco Mission

San Francisco Mission

Father Serra Beatified and Canonized

In 1988 Pope Paul II beatified Father Serra for his devotion to bringing Christianity to the Indians. It would take another 25 years of discovery and proof that led to the canonization in 2015 by Pope Francis at a mass in Washington, D.C., naming him St. Serra. Serra would be the first Latino saint to be canonized in the U.S.

But, there are both supporters and critics about Father Serra. The supporters believed that Father Serra served the Indians fairly and with genuine caring. The critics thought that the Indians were suppressed of their culture and treated as slaves.

Father Serra's feast day is celebrated July 1st in the U.S. He died in 1784 and is buried under the sanctuary at Mission San Carlos.


Father Serra Statues Vandalized And Removed

The Black Lives Matter movement has led to reevaluating countless statues representing past leaders. Since 2020, over 100 Confederate statues have been removed or replaced. Where is the line drawn? The list is very long today to remove statues. Some include John Sutter, who enslaved Native Americans, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Stanton, the Suffragists who excluded black women. Is the bust of Martin Luther King to be included for removal because of his adulteries?

A quote by George W. Bush says it best "A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them." Is it best to remove the statues and ignore our past? We can't ignore history as if it never existed.

Many statues have been removed to storage to prevent potential vandalism.

In September 2021, California Governor Newsom replaced a statue of Father with one to honor Native American tribes. Recently, Mayor Eric Garcetti scrubbed the name and image of Father Sierra and renamed the park La Plaza Park.

Statue of Father Serra

Statue of Father Serra

Comments

Doug West from Missouri on October 23, 2021:

Good article. The history of the mixing of native Americans and Europeans hasn't been a pretty one. And the current trend to remove historical statues that some people find offensive is ridiculous.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on October 23, 2021:

Rosina, thanks for visiting and I too agree with Bush's quote.

Rosina S Khan on October 23, 2021:

This is an intriguing account of Father Serra. He carried out a great mission converting native Indians to Christians. Regarding removal of statues, I fully agree with George W Bush's quote. Thank you for sharing, Fran.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 22, 2021:

Another interesting article, Fran. Surprisingly, I had heard of Father Serra before. I hate how the church tried to convert native people all around the world (it happened in Australia as well) even though some of those given the job may have been well-meaning. You always add a little to my knowledge of history.

Kyler J Falk from California on October 22, 2021:

I'm always reading your articles, Fran, I just happened to catch this one in the feed and before it transferred to Discover. Been having issues with my feed, only about 3 out of every 5 articles posted by those I follow actually show up in my feed, and I regularly miss the opportunity to comment. You're one of my go-to authors for my daily interesting tidbits.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on October 22, 2021:

Pamela, thank you for such a kind comment. I do love history and appreciate it when my articles are read. Yours are always informative and very important.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on October 22, 2021:

Peggy, thanks for your visit and your comments. I agree, truer words were never spoken. We are not always told truth about history.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 22, 2021:

We have visited some of those California missions. Your title with the words saint or sinner captured my attention. Hopefully, the stories about him helping the native Americans are the true ones.

We can learn from history if the stories told are true. Sometimes we are only told partial facts...or even outright lies. We have instances of that in our lifetime, and some are being played out even today. There are those who deny the Holocaust ever happened as an example.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 22, 2021:

You find very interesting people to write about, Fran. I like learning about historical figures, and you articles are very well-written. I agree with you about tearing down statues, and the George Bush quote is excellent. I enjoyed reading this article.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on October 22, 2021:

Kyler, what a pleasant surprise to see your comments. I often think of you and your thought-provoking articles. You always seem to provoke messages we should always be aware of. I thank you again for your visit. I wish I had your 'Moxy.'

Kyler J Falk from California on October 22, 2021:

Back when I was attending Christian school (thank invisible sky daddy that ended), we would also go visit the San Juan Capistrano mission. We weren't a catholic school, but it was always cool to see how flamboyant the church there was. Candles everywhere, a gilded holy water container, gilded communion chalices and pitchers, and of course the kneeling cushions on the pews always seemed really exotic. I always wanted to break off a piece of one of the crumbling walls whenever I went just for the heck of having some history, but I always got caught very quickly.

Never understood the catholics and their acceptance of meager humans as some sort of holy/exalted symbol. This confusion of mine is especially compounded when we look at the conflicting actions of the head honcho himself and the holy text that can supposedly be interpreted directly and blatantly away from.

Alas, I ramble, and what I really came here to the comments section to say was that this article was very informative and brought back some not-so-fond but funny-in-hindsight memories. If you're a history buff, San Juan Capistrano is a somewhat nice place to visit so long as you stay out of the bad neighborhoods and strictly within the tourist attractions.

Related Articles