Who was this man?
Chapel in Petra, Majorca where it is believed
Father Serra was baptized.
theologian? He held the John Scotus chair of philosophy at Lullian
University, The Pontifical, Imperial, Royal and Literary University of
Mallorca. He also held the chair of the Subtle Master at the same
A disciplinarian? He was briefly assigned as a
commissioner of the Holy Office, known as The Inquisition. He was also
assigned to the directorship of the Office of Novice Master at the
Apostolic College of San Fernando in Mexico City.
A linguist? He
learned native languages so he could preach to them in a tongue they
understood and tell them of Biblical dramas. He compiled several
dictionaries of those tongues.
Administrator? He was given oversight of missions in the Sierra Gorda of Mexico and all missions in the Californias.
simple parish priest? That was all Miguel Joseph Serra ever wished to
be. He gloried in preaching to congregations and serving those newly
brought to The Word of God. He grew up in Petra, a small inland village
of the island of Mallorca, a Spanish possession in the western
Mediterranean. Born of humble and devout farmers, he slept in a
cubbyhole and tended to the animals very much a part of his family. His
days started at dawn and ended at dusk, the principal light coming from
an open fireplace in which the families meals were prepared in pots hung
José, at his parents urging, visited the Franciscan church and the
Friary of San Bernadine. He studied Latin in the boy's school and began
to respect and admire the friars. At sixteen, his parents took him to
Palma to study for entrance into the priesthood. He was turned down at
first because he was so small and appeared too young. However, when his
real age was learned, he was admitted as a novice.
He later wrote
that "in the novitiate, I was almost always ill and so small of stature
I was unable to reach the lectern, nor could I help my fellow novices
in the necessary chores of the novitiate." But he was undaunted.
took the name Junipero, one of the lay bothers of Saint Francis who was
sometimes known as The Jester of The Lord. One has to see some irony in
this as, throughout his life, Serra was known to be a most serious
individual, rarely if ever showing more than a faint smile.
Junipero was a diligent student, unassuming and simple. He was ordained a
priest of Lullian University at Palma in 1739 and then received a
doctorate in theology in 1742. Father Juniper's intellectual acumen and
enormous willpower secured him a professorship of theology at the age of
twenty-four in 1744 where he served until 1749.
one of his early friends in the Order of Friars Minor, wrote of Father
Serra's preaching a sermon at the most solemn of the university's
feasts, the Feast of Blessed Raymond Lull, a great lay Franciscan. Fray
Lay had been stoned to death trying to convert Moslems in North Africa.
Of that sermon, one of the professors said it was worthy of being
printed in gold.
this was not enough for Miguel José. An honored and respected teacher,
student, and monastery librarian, as so many had before him, Fray
Junipero desired to recapture the fervor felt during his novitiate by
going to the New World to teach the “heathen” - as they were then known.
It was about this time that Father Serra became close with former
students, Fathers Crespí, Palóu, Verger and Vicens. In fact, it was
Palóu who went to Father Serra to broach the subject of going to the new
Father Serra was overjoyed. But then, The Lord tried his
patience. When he applied for permission to go to America, the request
was refused as the quotas from their jurisdiction had been filled. It
was suggested they join one of the colleges in Spain and, as members of
that college go to the Indies. But, of the 33 Franciscan selected to go,
five backed out due to their fear of the sea. That allowed Father Serra
and his four friends to go.
After preaching his last sermon at
the parish church in Petra, where he had been baptized, he said his
farewells, not telling his aged parents where he was going. He begged
forgiveness of the friars, received their blessing and was so touched
his voice failed him. He then went around kissing the feet of all the
friars. He and Father Palóu went to the wharf and embarked on an English
packet boat for Malaga.
Our fervent friar immediately
encountered difficulties as the captain of the boat was an Anglican and
engaged Father Serra in theological arguments. At one point the captain
became so enraged that he threatened to throw he and Father Palóu
overboard. It got so heated that the captain drew his dirk and held the
razor sharp blade to Father Serra's throat.
Was Father Serra
frightened? According to his friend, he was willing to face death at the
hands of the far-away barbarians. So, what fear would he have of the
English captain for defending his faith?
walked from Malaga to the major seaport of Cadiz where Fathers Crespí,
Verger, and Vicens joined them. They sailed in August with 16 other
Franciscans and seven Dominicans. It was a hard voyage in horrible
conditions crossing the Atlantic, taking 99 days with a brief stop in
Cuba, before they reached the port of Veracruz.