979: Junipero Serra by Steven Hackel

by Gerard


979.402092: Hackel, Steven W. Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father. 243 pp. ISBN 978-0-8090-9531-5.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 900: History and Geography
  • 970: History of North American
  • 979: Great Basin and Pacific Slope regions of the United States
  • 979.4: California
  • 979.402: Spanish period, 1769-1822
  • +092: Biography

If you ask long-time Californians about the important people in the history of the state, you will invariably come across Junipero Serra. Interestingly, I had never heard of him before reading this book, but now it’s hard to imagine what the state of California would be if not for the efforts of this interesting Mallorcan Franciscan. Born in 1713, he eventually came to found missions at San Diego, San Francisco, and many more around California. He even collected donations to aid General Washington’s revolutionary cause. Steven Hackel’s Junipero Serra chronicles his life is a way that is both scholarly and readily accessible to the public.

Born Miquel Joseph Serra in Petra, Mallorca, he was the namesake of a brother who died in infancy. His family was too poor to survive as it was, so young Miquel was shipped off to a Franciscan monastery so that his sister would have a better chance at a bigger dowry. Once there, he took the name Junipero in honor of Saint Juniper, a companion of St. Francis of Assisi. He quickly rose to great heights, mastering theology, Latin, and philosophy. In 1749, he sailed to Mexico City to teach the catechism to the local Native American tribes. This begins his long and storied history in the early United States. Serra was a man of great faith to wanted to share his beliefs with all those he encountered, oftentimes walking hundreds of miles to confirm the newly-baptized. Interestingly enough, the Mission San Juan Capistrano is the currently both the oldest standing building in California and the last extant building where Serra performed church rites.

While the life of Serra is certainly engaging, this book covers other areas as well. There is a decent history of the island of Mallorca, the Franciscans in Spanish territories, and the Native American’s reaction of European proselytizing. Hackel dutifully bridges the gap between a solid history text and an interesting biography. While some historians may not like Serra’s interactions with the native peoples of North America (preaching to Native Americans forcibly captured by Spanish soldiers), they happened and the they give us insight into the motivations and actions our ancestors. If you’re at all interested in the history early California, do not pass this one up. An intriguing and well-researched history.