Junípero Serra

The founder of California's mission system was Junípero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan missionary priest. Born on the island of Majorca on November 24, 1713, Serra began his career as a professor of theology in Palma. He resigned his professorship in 1749 to become a missionary to the Indians of the Americas.

For twenty years, Serra served as a missionary in New Spain, founding missions in the Sierra Gorda and elsewhere.

(DETAIL)- Rev. Padre Fr. Francisco Palóu (ca. 1722-1789). "Noticias de la Nueva California," San Francisco: Imprenta de Edouardo Bosqui y Cia, 1874. Copy 1 of 100. Gift of Donohoe Estate. California Historical Society, North Baker Research Library collection, FN-30517.

In 1768 he assumed the presidency of the former Jesuit missions on the Baja California peninsula. The next year he joined the Sacred Expedition to extend the mission system northward into Alta California. Between 1769 and 1784, Serra founded the following nine missions: San Diego (1769), San Carlos Borromeo (1770), San Antonio (1771), San Gabriel (1771), San Luis Obispo (1772), San Francisco (1776), San Juan Capistrano (1776), Santa Clara (1777), and San Buenaventura (1782). He served as father-president of the system from its headquarters at Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel, and it was there that he died at the age of seventy on August 28, 1784.

Serra was small in stature, just five feet two inches in height, but was a giant in determination. His friend and colleague Francisco Palóu paid Serra this tribute in 1787: "His memory shall not fail, because the works he performed when alive shall be impressed in the minds of the dwellers of this New California; despite the ravages of time, they shall not be forgotten."

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