Monday, August 8, 2016

Fray Junipero Serra, getting ready for the Sierra Gorda Missions.

Miquel Joseph Serra (Fray Junipero Serra's baptismal name) was born in 1713  in Mallorca, an island in the Mediterranean, belonging to Spain, famous for its luxurious resort, Palma de Mallorca.
Statue of Fray Junipero Serra, Qeretaro

But Junipero Serra was not born in the cosmopolitan port of Palma, but in the small (less than 500 households) arid mountain village of Petra. Antonio Nadal Serra, Fray Junierpo's father, had a small farm near their home in the village, but also worked some lands that were not outright his property, but were over hour away, and he had to take his mule there to till the land, paying taxes, in good years and in bad. And at the beginning of the 18th Century, there were more bad years than good.

Bad harvest in 1702 and 1703. Grain harvests suffered in 1710 when rains came too late. More bad harvest, back-to-back between 1711 and 1712. Fray Junipero parents, Antonio and Margarita, shared another tragedy: their first and second children died. Then there was the War of Spanish Succession, forcing immigration from Sardinia to Mallorca.  For centuries, the people of Mallorca enjoyed home-rule, but starting with the Bourbon monarchs in Spain, government became more centralized. These were hard times in Mallorca. Antonio, Margarita, and their children, Miquel Joseph and his little sister, Juana Maria were not the poorest, but their lifestyle was without luxuries. This ambience formed Miquel Joseph character and determination. Their home had two bedrooms, one for the parents and Miquel and his sister shared the other. The mule slept indoors on the bottom floor, along with the hay and the cart.

The Serras owned a cart much like this one we
found at the Mission of Santa Barbara

Joseph Miquel started studies early at the Franciscan Convento de San Bernandino in Petra, in sharp contrast of his parents who could neither read nor write. Here the future Fray Junípero became adroit in Catholic Doctrine, Catechism, prayers and Latin, as well as reading and writing in Spanish.

At age 16, in 1730, Joseph Miquel left Petra and the Barracar , as he was invited to the Novitiate of San Francisco de Assisi in Palma thanks to his excellent student track at the Convento de San Bernadino, especially in Latin and Gregorian Chant, and from that point on his life would become more tightly tied with the Franciscans and with the Catholic Church more than with his homeland and with his family.
At the Mission of Santa Iñez that Fray
Junipero founded, we found this
lectern with Gregorian Chant such
as he learned to sing as a student
at the Convento de San Bernadino

Palma was home to one of Spain's largest and most beautiful Cathedrals, built on the ruins an ancient mosque, with 12 lateral chapels. Besides the Cathedral, Palma had 5 major parishes and another 41 churches.

In September 1730, Miquel Joseph entered the Novitiate of the San Francisco, and started on to a life of prayer, silence, study, reflection, prayer and bodily mortification, in an effort to imitate the Passion of Christ.

Role model for Miquel Joseph at this point of  his life, were three Spanish Missionaries: Fray Antonio Llinás, Saint Francis Solano and Padre Antonio Margil de Jesús.

Antonio Llinás was born in Mallorca in 1635, in a village in Mallorca, nor more than 20 miles from Palma, and like Fray Junipero, entered into the Franciscan Order. He was recruited as a Missionary, destined for New Spain in 1664, in different friaries in Querétaro, northwest of Mexico City. Antonio Llinás later returned to Spain, and convinced his superior general to allow him to recruit a group of 27 young Spanish Franciscans, and to establish the Apostolic College of the Santa Cruz, in Querétaro. From here, Antonio Llinás started his missionary activity in the Serra Gorda. Important point here: many believed that Fray Junipero Serra initiated the Sierra Gorda Missions. This is not true. Fray Junipero Serra however became the most successful Missionary leader in the Sierra Gorda Missions.
The bell tower and entrance
to the Templo de la Santa
Cruz de Querétaro, the
formation center of
Franciscans destined to
work at the Sierra Gorda
 Missions, founded by
San Francisco Solano.

When Miquel Joseph was 13 and still studying at the Convento de San Bernadino, he was deeply impressed by the Canonization of Saint Francis Solano. Francisco Solano was born in Spain in 1549. but after a life full of success, at 40 he parted for Peru, where he dedicated himself to converting en masse thousands of Peruvian Indians. Fray Diego de Córdova Salinas wrote that the life of San Francisco Solano "from the time God called him to religion, was a continuous martyrdom of penance, self-mortification, fasts and afflictions against his body".

Padre Antonio Margil was born in Valencia in 1657, and became one of those Franciscan Missionaries that Saint Francis Solano had recruited for his missionary work in Querétaro and in the Sierra Gorda. But Padre Antonio Margil had done "misiones" or popular retreats in Mallorca a generation before Miquel Joseph and many of his teachers probably had some type of contact with Padre Margil. Padre Margil eventually became a missionary legend, covering areas from Texas to Louisiana, and from Querétaro to Costa Rica. Likewise, Padre Antonio Margil brutally mistreated his  body with hair shirts and an iron "disciplina", to insure his purity and to ward off temptation.

After finishing up his year of novitiate, Miquel Joseph picked a name for himself for his profession of vows: Junípero, one of Saint Francis Assisi first disciples, a fun-loving friar, known as well for his pranks. Yet few Franciscans ever understood the mystic of simplicity better than Fray Junipero. In December, 1737, at 24, Fray Junipero Serra was ordained a priest.

Over the next 12 years, Fray Junípero Serra would spend most of his time as an outstanding professor of Philosophy and Theology. Yet at times, he would also work on giving "misiones" or something similar to a "revival" in different parts of the island of Mallorca. As Fray Junípero matured, this life became too comfortable.

In 1749 he went back to Petra to bid farewell to his parents and to his sister, Juana Maria, who at this point was married and with several children. Shortly after this last trip home, Fray Junípero took a ship to Cadiz, where he spent sometime waiting for a ship to take him off to Puerto Rico.

This first leg of his voyage to America was not completely uneventful. Much of the sea traffic in the mid 18th Century between Mallorca and Cadiz was carried out on English vessels, and Fray Junípero's trip was not an exception, but almost an abortion. The captain of the vessel was Protestant, and deeply devoted to the study of scriptures, and highly skeptical  of Catholics. Fray Junípero had never had direct personal contact with a protestant, and was highly argumentive during the entire voyage, and at certain moments, very disrespectful of the captain's authority. This encounter might have seemed comical at moments, especially with all the arguments through a translator, but Fray Junípero was close to being lowered from the vessel before arriving to Cadiz.

In Cadiz, as was the case of all the Spanish Missionaries awaiting a ship to take them to New Spain, Fray Junípero had to wait several weeks. The night before his ship left, he wrote a letter to be sent back to his sister and to his parents, telling them that he was leaving for New Spain, and that he would probably never see them again in this life.

After a long stormy crossing, Fray Junipero's ship finally landed in Puerto Rico. However, just as in Cadiz, a long stopover was waiting for him here also. He used this period to become involved in local "misiones" on the island. His rhetoric was well structured and elegant, and full of syllogisms, typical of a university professor of philosophy. However, he realized that this line of discourse only bored his audience in Puerto Rico. But Fray Junipero learned a lesson from this failure, and changed his style of preaching, a lesson that would help him enormously later on in the Sierra Gorda.

On the final leg of his trip, the Guadalupe was taking in water as it neared the Mexican port of Veracruz. Then a storm blew the Guadalupe out to sea. The entire group of Franciscans on board each wrote on a slip of paper the name of their favorite saint, whom they asked to help save the Guadalupe. Fray Junipero invoked San Francisco Solano. But it was Santa Barbara, on her feast day in early December, that saved the Guadalupe.

The old fort at the Port of Veracruz
From Veracruz to Mexico City, Fray Junipero Serra was bitten by an insect that left a lasting sore on his leg, that would plague him during his journeys for the rest of his life.
Fray Junipero Serra arrived
to the Villa de Guadalupe
on December 31st, 1749
On January 1st, 1750, early in the
morning, before sunrise, Fray
Junipero arrived at his first
residence in New Spain,
 the College of San Fernando

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