The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Summer 1983, Volume 29, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor
TRAVELS IN MEXICO
OCCUPATION OF SAN DIEGO
PLANTING THE CROSS
SERRA AS FATHER-PRESIDENT
MOVING THE MISSION
SERRA’S FINAL DAYS
THE YEARS FOLLOWING
THE SERRA MUSEUM TODAY
At dawn on November 24, 1713, the crisp sunlight of late autumn shone brightly on the thick stone walls of a modest Mallorcan home. Antonio Serra proudly announced the birth of a son by hanging a laurel branch on the front door. His wife, Margarita Rosa Ferrer, rejoiced that her child was perfectly formed. Later that day the Serra family and friends gathered at St. Peter’s church in Petra for the baptismal ceremony. They named the boy Miquel Joseph.
As he grew into adolescence, young Serra attended a primary school conducted by the Franciscans (Order of Friars Minor) in his native town of Petra. He was bright and attentive although frail and suffering from bouts of ill health. When Serra reached the age of fifteen, his parents took him to Palma, capital of Mallorca, to study theology at the cathedral there. This awesome Gothic structure built at the edge of the bay commanded a position of respect on the small island. As Serra excelled in his studies and experienced greatly improved health, the future course of his life became clear. On September 14, 1730 he joined the Convent of Jesus outside of Palma as a novice and made his profession in the Franciscan Order on September 15 of the following year. He chose the name Junipero to honor a brother companion of St. Francis, founder of the order. From 1731 to 1737 Serra studied philosophy and theology at the Convent of San Francisco and entered the priesthood in 1738.
Father Junipero Serra spent much of his time in Palma teaching philosophy at the Franciscan convent. He is described as being about five feet two inches in height (of medium stature for the times) with swarthy skin, dark hair and eyes, and a forceful, sonorous voice. Those in his company knew him to be optimistic, zealous, and dynamic – a man of action. His students, most of whom were young men studying for the priesthood, found his lectures inspiring. Among his most eager listeners were Francisco Palou and Juan Crespi, later to be his fellow missionaries in California.
Serra, always dedicated to his faith, continued his own studies while teaching and received a doctorate in theology from Palma’s Lullian University in 1742. He remained there as a professor until 1749. In that year, several of his former students convinced their mentor that he should follow his own teachings and join them as missionaries among the Indians in America. Consequently on April 13, 1749, accompanied by Father Palou, Serra left his successful career in Palma for the port of Cadiz in southern Spain, He would never see his family or Mallorcan homeland again. The journey to Veracruz, Mexico, began in late August and lasted a difficult ninety-nine days. It was a tired but enthusiastic group of Franciscans that trekked on foot the 250 miles overland to Mexico City. They spent the evening of December 31, 1749, at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, beginning on the next day a new year and a new venture in Spain’s magnificent viceregal capital.