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
Serra’s Final Days
At Carmel, although weakened and exhausted, Serra continued his duties as Father-President of nine flourishing missions. His authority to confirm expired on July 16, so he lessened his activities. Believing death to be imminent, he wrote to all his missionaries, advising them of the arrival of a supply ship from San Blas and bidding them farewell. Toward the end of August, 1784, the venerable Fray Junipero, then past seventy, suffered his final illness. He sent for Father Palou at San Francisco to administer the last rites, and shortly after taking communion on August 28, quietly passed away. He was buried the next day beside the grave of his fellow Mallorcan Father Crespi at his beloved Mission San Carlos Borromeo on the Carmel River.
The Father Superior at the College of San Fernando in Mexico relayed the news of Serra’s death to the Franciscan order at Palma de Mallorca, commenting that “such was the kindness that [Serra] always showed the poor Indians that he amazed not only people in general but also persons of high standing, all saying that he was a saint and that his ways were those of an apostle . . .” Three years after Serra’s death, Governor Pedro Fages, who once considered the Father President despotic and opposed to the rightful role of the military, wrote that “the rapid, agreeable, and interesting progress [of California] is the glorious effect of the apostolic zeal, activity, and indefatigable efforts” of Father Serra and his missionaries.
Father Maynard Geiger, in his biography of Serra, summarized the dual nature of the priest’s character. “Idealism and realism lived as twins in his soul. He always insisted on the best thing obtainable but was realistic enough to be satisfied with second-best attainment if nothing else could be done. . . . The dreamer and the worker intermingled in him…. Militant, aggressive, dynamic, visionary, detailed in administration, Serra at all times was in his forward thrust, but he was patient, forgiving, forbearing, and hopeful when his full ideals could not be realized.” One of Father Serra’s last statements was typical of the philosophy he held throughout his life: let what we are doing be done well.”