Class with St. Junípero Serra: Inspiration from the patron saint of vocations

Note to reader: The following article was in the Fall 2018 issue of Today’s Catholic Teacher (1967-2020).

Governor Jerry Brown (CA-D) called Junípero Serra “one of the innovators and pioneers” in California history. Bishop Robert McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego referred to Serra as a “foundational figure” of the Golden State. Not everyone admires Serra, though. In certain circles Junípero Serra symbolizes the negative outcomes of Spanish colonialism, though the historical record proves otherwise (the Church collected 2420 documents—7500 pages total—of Serra’s writings and 5000 pages of materials written about him from those who knew him, and testimony of people inspired by his life). Pope Francis succinctly presented Serra’s relevance to disciples today in the homily at Junípero Serra’s canonization on September 23, 2015 in Washington, D.C., “Today, like him [Saint Junípero Serra], may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!” In other words, his life can inspire us to proclaim the Gospel with joyful hearts, amid the many challenges. 

A Brief History

Marco Polo traveled an estimated 15,000 miles to see what existed beyond his known world. The Lewis and Clark Expedition, 7,000 miles, to see what the fledgling United States had acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. Saint Junípero Serra traversed an estimated 24,000 miles to share the Gospel message.

Saint Junípero Serra (1713-1784) came from humble beginnings. Born and raised in Petra, Mallorca, Spain, he responded to God’s call and was ordained a priest in the Franciscan order in 1737. From 1740-1749 he lived a comfortable life as a university professor. But he discerned that it was not the life God was calling him to and in 1749 he traveled to Mexico City. For the next twenty years he served the Christian Indians north of Mexico City. In 1769, he finally was given the chance to do what he had wanted to do for so long, be a missionary priest. The government of Spain wanted to keep Russia and Britain out of the lands they claimed, so they organized an expedition, intent on occupying what is now the state of California.

The Sacred Expedition had five detachments –three by sea and two by land. The one
with the military and spiritual leaders, Captain Gaspar Portolá and Father Junípero Serra, left Loreto, Baja California, by land on March 28 and reached San Diego Bay on July 1, 1769. The Sacred Expedition had 238 men, seventy-eight of whom were soldiers.

In 1776, two-hundred-forty settlers traveled from Mexico to colonize San Francisco. Priest, soldier, and colonist were surrounded by an estimated 300,000 Indians. The Spaniard never came into contact with the vast majority of the Indians who lived outside the Spanish sphere of influence. In 1790, just over two decades after Serra founded the first mission in present-day California at San Diego, eleven missions and four presidios had been constructed, occupied by an estimated 30 priests and 211 soldiers. By the time the last mission closed its doors in 1836, due to the Secularization Law passed in 1834 by the Mexican Congress, 142 Franciscan priests had ministered in Alta California. Two of these priests were killed at the hands of natives. A tragic unintended consequence of the cultural exchange was the majority of California Indians who did convert died due to diseases for which they had no immunity. James A. Sandos, author of Converting California, wrote, “Spanish authorities and Franciscan missionaries . . . sought to bring Indians into a new Spanish society . . . and were distressed to see the very objects of their religious and political desire die in droves.”

Professional Growth Plan

I created my professional growth plan at Serra High School on our school’s namesake. I had a brief conversation with a colleague about the vandalism of statues of Saint Junípero Serra occurring in California. I explained how sad it was and he agreed and said, “We know better [about the holiness of our school’s namesake]” Another time a different colleague asked me how I share my passion for Junípero Serra with my students. A few days later, I was teaching my students about how the monasteries of the Middle Ages were known for their hospitality. A student asked, “Serra was a monk. Didn’t he kill a whole bunch of Indians?” The following day, a student said a teacher had once told him that Serra had enslaved the Indians. I think Saint Junípero Serra was trying to tell me something. Possibly because we are a diocesan school, we seem to struggle to find a specific charism based on our school’s namesake. It all led me to think how ideal it would be to present to the community a Serran Spirituality. Therefore, I decided to incorporate my knowledge of and passion for Saint Junípero Serra directly into my classroom teaching. But how?

My outcome became, “Specifically, as a result of this plan, students will know the school’s namesake more intimately, deepening their understanding of the school’s core values [Faith, Wisdom, Service, Community. Leadership] and what it means to be a part of the Serra brotherhood [a bond based on the values of respect, integrity, inclusion, and compassion]” and “Be encouraged to turn to St. Junípero Serra to intercede on their behalf (Doctrinal Elements of a Curriculum Framework for the Development of Catechetical Materials for Young People of High School Age, III. B. 6.).”

The goal is to present to the school’s principal and president quotes and reflections pertaining to our school’s namesake for use on the school calendar. This would help the school meet a growth area of the Western Catholic Education Association Self-Study Report, that states, “The school has identified a need to develop a recognition of the qualities and traits of St. Junípero Serra and incorporate this into the school calendar and traditions.” 

So, in essence, the students would present what was most important to them and help others to reflect and pray in the future, thus creating a charism at the grassroots level through a focus group.

Class with Saint Junípero Serra Lesson Plan

We began with the Prayer for the Intercession of  Junípero Serra. For Prayers for Vocations, visit the USCCB website.

My research on the life of Saint Junípero Serra led me to fourteen direct quotes (tinyurl.com/yal27wng). I numbered them and split the students into pairs to begin our class with Saint Junípero Serra. 

I set up the context and objective by reading the following to the class,

Saint Junípero Serra was a complex man living in complex times. He once told the territory’s governor that if the natives should kill him, that they should be forgiven and pardoned. He penned what would go down in history as the native bill of rights. Yet he was also a man of his time, using self-flagellation as a form of penance and upholding corporal punishment, actions peculiar to us today.


Foremost, Saint Junípero Serra identified himself as a spiritual father. However, his spirituality can be challenging for one to discern due to the bulk of his extant writings pertaining to his role as an administrator. It is hard to incorporate one’s deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in a letter that deals with requesting plates from a government official. The following are provided to help one get to know his beliefs and how they affected the depths of his soul. 

In pairs, one member read the quote aloud and then both made a quick note (tinyurl.com/y8z2xkxv). The plan was created for a 40-minute class. Students spent around two minutes with each quote. The lesson was created for 11th-grade boys, but it can be adapted for any grade level. I recommended they note one of the following after reading each quote . . .

  • something interesting.
  • something surprising.
  • a question.
  • an important term.
  • the key point.
  • a three (3) word summary.

Pair-Share Samples

A student remarked for the September 1741 entry: “Serra was a true scholar.”

A student wrote for the August 20, 1749: “Serra is just like everyone else; he relies on other people to motivate him and encourage him to do good things.”

A student noted for May 15, 1769: “I thought it was interesting that Serra saw the Indians as Adam and Eve before the apple, which showed that he felt they weren’t evil.”

A student noted for the July 3, 1769 entry: “Sacrifice, salvation, hardships”

A student wrote for the February 10, 1770 entry: “The Indians revolted, yet Serra continued to preach the name of God.”

A student commented for June 18,1771: “The Indians are learning a lot from Serra and he learned a lot from them.”

A student asserted for the May 21, 1773 entry, “Indians are kind, even without Jesus.” For the same date, a student asked, “Did the Indians of the tribe convert to Catholicism?”

A student noted for August 22, 1775: “It is important to remember that Serra was on a hard journey and he needed help from God.”

A student remarked on March 1, 1777: “Key point: No matter what people believe they can show compassion for others.”

A student commented on the January 7, 1780 entry: “Religion does not serve as a blockade to love.”

The above samples are from students who identify as Agnostic, Atheist, Baptist, Buddhist, Catholics, a convert, a Hindu, a Mormon, and a Sikh, proof positive that the lives of the saints stirs the human spirit.

With approximately ten minutes left in class, I asked the students to individually reflect on the exercise.

Reflection


Select the quote that was most memorable to you. They are attached (Discerning the Spirit) for your reference.

1. Note the number and date
# _____ Date ______________

2. Select one (1) to respond to.

a. How did it help you deepen your understanding of the School Prayer, School’s Core Values, OR School’s definition of Brotherhood? Find them at tinyurl.com/ybqotklc.
b. How does what Saint Junípero Serra wrote relate to the world?

Reflection Samples

2. a. In the quote from May 15, 1769, Serra explains his beliefs that everyone, even Gentiles, were loved by God . . . . I believe that this relates to the line from the Junípero Serra School Prayer, “Help us face the reality of working together as a community.” Through this quote, Serra helped strengthen my understanding in the Padre Brotherhood and that we should love everyone, help anyone in need, and treat everyone equally. We shouldn’t hold grudges or biases based on others beliefs or past actions. Instead we should follow Jesus’ and Serra’s lives of always helping each other out and always expressing God’s love. 

2. a. The quote from September 1741 has helped me understand the meaning of the school’s values. One of the values mentioned is wisdom. In his quote, Saint Junípero Serra explains how one should look towards God in seeking wisdom. This directly aligns with the core values of the school, which state we should be challenged to rigorous study in pursuit of the truth. Saint Junípero Serra also mentions the pursuit of truth, saying that by following God’s light we may be guided toward the truth.

2. a. The quote from March 1, 1777, helped me deepen the definition of brotherhood because it gave me a sense of spreading the love through kindness to one another. The brotherhood is helping other brothers out and not leaving anyone behind, wanting to help them keep up and strive for greatness. This goes with what the school believes a Padre is, “a man of respect, treating others with love and kindness.”

2. b. Serra wrote on February 10, 1770, that he had to teach the Indians how to speak Spanish, but they also had to teach him how to speak their language.  This relates to the world because people need to be able to learn how to communicate effectively. If people can’t do that then the world will be a nasty place.  When people are able to communicate well people work out problems, get stuff done and will be able to not only learn from the experience but be able to show others as well.  This helps people to live peacefully. 

To conclude, I hope that you will spread the good news about Saint Junípero Serra with your students. You will not be disappointed. His life will surely inspire them to be living gospels. Saint Junípero Serra, pray for us!

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Christian Clifford is a veteran Catholic school teacher and author of books about Catholic Church history in Spanish-Mexican California. Clifford’s writings have appeared in California Teacher, Catholic San Francisco, Catholic Standard, Today’s Catholic Teacher and on Aleteia, Catholic Exchange, Crux, Patheos, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and son. For more information, visit www.Missions1769.com.

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Happy Holidays 2022!

Dear Friend,

Soon after Pope Francis announced in early 2015 that Junípero Serra would be canonized, I began a journey of discovery. My research has led to my writing four books (two of which received Catholic Media Association Book Awards this year), writing articles, presenting to groups, and walking the 800-mile California Missions Trail. I have met so many interesting people along the way. I hope that I have been able to help you to speak the truth about St. Junipero Serra and the purpose of the California missions.

In addition to receiving CMA Book Awards, other highlights in 2022 included the release of the Knights of Columbus video about me for Season 3 of “Everyday Heroes” and having an article about Pablo Tac published in Boletín, the award-winning journal of The California Missions Foundation.

Thank you for your continued support. Special thanks to my family; His Eminence Robert Cardinal McElroy, Bishop of San Diego (pictured below); Catalina Font Gomila, President of the Friends of Junípero Serra Association in Petra, Spain; Greg Schwietz, President of Serra International; and Knights of Columbus California State Council SD Rene Trevino.

I hope that you continue calling on St. Junipero Serra and Pablo Tac. I will never tire of sharing their stories. Here is a recap of how I did so in 2022.

  • I was interviewed by . . .

California State Parks
Meaningful Journeys Podcast
North Coast Catholic (p. 15)

  • Articles by me appeared in . . .

California Catholic Daily on May 23 and October 10
ICN (Independent Catholic News)

  • I was a guest speaker . . .

Camino Serra Pilgrimage Group at Mission Santa Clara
Benedict XVI Institute
4th graders at Holy Angels School in Colma

  • The petition to nominate Pablo Tac for the cause of canonization is nearing 600 signatures!

Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad! عيد ميلاد سعيد!Maligayang Pasko! Bon Nadal! Feliz Natal! Fröhliche Weihnachten!Felicem natalem Christi!

Happy New Year! ¡Feliz año nuevo! สวัสดีปีใหม่! Maligayang bagong taon! Bon any nou! Felice anno nuovo! Bonne année!

Saint Junípero Serra and Pablo Tac, pray for us!

¡Siempre adelante y nunca para atrás! #GoGoStJunipero #PabloTacPray4Us!

____

Christian Clifford
www.Missions1769.com

Author/ Educator/ Freelance Writer / Speaker
PABLO TAC PETITION / FB / Twitter / IG / TikTok /
Linkedin / Goodreads / Amazon / flickr / Quoura /YouTube

In September, my family was honored to visit with His Eminence Robert Cardinal McElroy, Bishop of San Diego! In 2016, he was kind enough to write the foreword to my award-winning book Who Was Saint Junipero Serra? Also pictured are my wife and son, to whom the book is dedicated.

Where Does the Statue Controversy End?

(originally published Oct. 26, 2017  in Catholic San Francisco)

The San Francisco Arts Commission voted unanimously on October 2 to recommend to the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission the possible removal of the “Early Days” sculpture of the Pioneer Monument”. One of the three figures on the sculpture is a Franciscan priest. The timing of the push to remove the “Early Days” statue of the Pioneer Monument in San Francisco coincided with the removal of Confederate statues in the South, anti-Columbus Day news, when many were celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month, and the recent vandalism of memorials of the 18th century Franciscan, Saint Junípero Serra, who brought Catholic Christianity to California. Are those demanding removal of “Early Days” barking up the wrong tree?

Saint Junípero Serra, the founder of the California missions knew history and wanted to distance himself from the conquistadors and encomienda system. He wanted to change hearts and minds with the Gospel, not the sword. His heroics were recognized by the monument’s benefactors in 1894 with a portrait medallion near the “Early Days” statue. Dr. George Yagi, Jr., professor of history at San Joaquin Delta College, is not the first to argue how Junípero Serra defended the California Mission Indians against Spanish military abuse.  Like any institution, the California missions had its saints and sinners and all types in-between. The greatest tragedy was an unintended consequence of the cultural exchange—the majority of the Mission Indians died due to diseases to which they had no immunity. 

The plaque “California Native Americans” added in 1994 to the Pioneer Monument rightly notes that pre-contact with Europeans, the California Indian population was estimated to be 300,000. Historian James A. Sandos argued in Converting California that the overall population dropped 21 percent by 1830, just before Mexico took possession of California. Regarding the Indians in the area of mission influence, he notes from 1770-1830, the population declined from 65,000 to 17,000, a loss of 74 percent. Scholar Barry Pritzer estimates by the end of the 19th century there were 15,000 California Indians.  Therefore, the near annihilation of the California Indians came during the Gold Rush from the 49ers and with the blessing of the government of California. The native got in the way of so-called progress and genocide ensued. 

Accusation does not mean guilt. California Mission history is complex and generalizations, when looking at any history, should be avoided. It would be crazy to believe that all Pueblo Indians were bad because of Popé, the religious leader who headed the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 that killed 400 Spanish and relocated 2,000 settlers. Yet Popé has been honored with a statue in Washington, D.C.

If city officials are really set on righting a wrong of history, maybe they should demand that the San Francisco 49ers change its name. If they are really serious about removing offensive monuments, then they should consider the Monument to the Lincoln Brigade. The Republican forces (the side they fought for) in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) murdered 6,844 Catholic clerics and religious.

Yale University historian David Blight, an expert on slavery, and other historians presented a very sensible criteria when judging historical monuments: 

“ . . . discussions [should] weigh many factors, among them: the history behind when and why the monument was built. Where it’s placed. The subject’s contribution to society weighed against the alleged wrongdoing. And the artistic value of the monument itself.”

Maybe this will help the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission avoid politicization when it comes to the fate of the “Early Days” statue of the Pioneer Monument.

PC: Joshua Sabatini, San Francisco Examiner, Mar 5, 2018.
 

_____
Christian Clifford is a veteran Catholic school teacher and author of three books about Catholic Church History in Spanish and Mexican California. Clifford’s writings have appeared in Aleteia, California Teacher, Catholic San Francisco, Catholic Standard, Crux, Patheos, and Today’s Catholic Teacher. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and son. For more information, visit www.Missions1769.com.

En el Espíritu de San Junípero Serra

By CHRISTIAN CLIFFORD

(publicado originalmente junio de 2018 en NUESTRA PARROQUIA–Una publicación claretiana)

El obispo Robert McElroy de la Diócesis de San Diego una “figura fundamental” del Estado Dorado. Sin embargo, no todos admiran a Serra. Para algunos, Junípero Serra es sinónimo de los resultados negativos del colonialismo español, aunque el registro histórico demuestra lo contrario (la Iglesia recopiló 2420 documentos, 7500 páginas en total, de los escritos de Serra y 5000 páginas de materiales escritos sobre él por quienes lo conocieron, y testimonio de personas inspiradas en su vida). Como compartió el Papa Francisco en la homilía de la canonización de Junípero Serra el 23 de septiembre de 2015 en Washington, D.C., “Hoy, como él [San Junípero Serra], podamos decir: ¡Delantero! ¡Sigamos avanzando!” Su vida puede ayudar a anunciar el Evangelio con corazones alegres, en medio de los muchos desafíos. San Junípero Serra recorrió aproximadamente 24,000 millas para compartir el mensaje del Evangelio, algunas de ellas caminando y con mucho dolor.

San Junípero Serra (1713-1784) provenía de orígenes humildes. Nacido y criado en Petra, Mallorca, España, respondió al llamado de Dios y fue ordenado sacerdote en la orden franciscana en 1737. De 1740 a 1749 vivió una vida cómoda como profesor universitario. Pero discernió, o reconoció, que no era la vida a la que Dios lo estaba llamando y en 1749 emprendió el arduo viaje a la Ciudad de México. Durante los siguientes veinte años sirvió a los indios cristianos al norte de la Ciudad de México. En 1769, finalmente se le dio la oportunidad de hacer lo que había querido hacer durante tanto tiempo, ser un sacerdote misionero para los gentiles.

El gobierno de España quería mantener a Rusia y Gran Bretaña fuera de las tierras que reclamaban, por lo que organizó una expedición con la intención de poblar lo que ahora es el estado de California con ciudadanos españoles. La Expedición Sagrada tuvo cinco destacamentos, tres por mar y dos por tierra. El de los jefes militares y espirituales, el Capitán Gaspar Portolá y el Padre Junípero Serra, salió por tierra de Loreto, Baja California, el 28 de marzo y llegó a la Bahía de San Diego el 1 de julio de 1769. La Sagrada Expedición contó con 238 hombres, setenta y ocho de ellos. quienes eran soldados.

En 1776, doscientos cuarenta colonos viajaron desde México para colonizar San Francisco. Sacerdotes, soldados y colonos fueron rodeados por unos 300.000 indios. El español nunca entró en contacto con la gran mayoría de los indios independientes que vivían fuera de la esfera de influencia española. En 1790, poco más de dos décadas después de que Serra fundara la primera misión en la actual California en San Diego, se habían construido once misiones y cuatro presidios, con un estimado de 30 sacerdotes y 211 soldados. Cuando la última misión cerró sus puertas en 1836, debido a la Ley de Secularización aprobada en 1834 por el Congreso Mexicano, 142 sacerdotes franciscanos habían ministrado en Alta California. Sólo dos de estos sacerdotes fueron asesinados a manos de los indígenas (Luís Jayme en San Diego en 1775 y Andrés Quintana en Santa Cruz en 1812).¿Cómo te está llamando Dios a compartir su alegría con los demás? Invita a San Junípero Serra a tu camino para discernir cómo puedes ser, como lo expresó el Papa Benedicto XVI en Dios es Amor, “. . . fuentes de agua viva en medio de un mundo sediento.”

Christian Clifford escribe sobre el tema Historia de la Iglesia Católica en la California española y mexicana. Su último libro es Pilgrimage: In Search of the REAL California Missions, ganador del Premio al Libro de la Asociación Católica de Medios de Comunicación, la historia de su caminata de 800 millas por el Camino de las Misiones de California. Se le puede contactar en www.Missions1769.com.

In the Spirit of Saint Junípero Serra

By CHRISTIAN CLIFFORD

(originally published June 2018 in NUESTRA PARROQUIA–A Claretian Publication)

Bishop Robert McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego a “foundational figure” of the Golden State. Not everyone admires Serra, though. To some Junípero Serra is synonymous with the negative outcomes of Spanish colonialism, though the historical record proves otherwise (the Church collected 2420 documents—7500 pages total—of Serra’s writings and 5000 pages of materials written about him from those who knew him, and testimony of people inspired by his life). As Pope Francis shared in the homily at Junípero Serra’s canonization on September 23, 2015 in Washington, D.C., “Today, like him [Saint Junípero Serra], may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!” His life can help one to proclaim the Gospel with joyful hearts, amid the many challenges. Saint Junípero Serra traversed an estimated 24,000 miles to share the Gospel message, some of it walking and in great pain.

Saint Junípero Serra (1713-1784) came from humble beginnings. Born and raised in Petra, Mallorca, Spain, he responded to God’s call and was ordained a priest in the Franciscan order in 1737. From 1740-1749 he lived a comfortable life as a university professor. But he discerned, or recognized, that it was not the life God was calling him to and in 1749 he made the arduous journey to Mexico City. For the next twenty years he served the Christian Indians north of Mexico City. In 1769, he finally was given the chance to do what he had wanted to do for so long, be a missionary priest to the gentile. 

The government of Spain wanted to keep Russia and Britain out of the lands they claimed, so they organized an expedition, intent on populating what is now the state of California with Spanish citizens. The Sacred Expedition had five detachments–three by sea and two by land. The one with the military and spiritual leaders, Captain Gaspar Portolá and Father Junípero Serra, left Loreto, Baja California, by land on March 28 and reached San Diego Bay on July 1, 1769. The Sacred Expedition had 238 men, seventy-eight of whom were soldiers.

In 1776, two-hundred-forty settlers traveled from Mexico to colonize San Francisco. Priest, soldier, and colonist were surrounded by an estimated 300,000 Indians. The Spaniards never came into contact with the vast majority of the independent Indians who lived outside the Spanish sphere of influence. In 1790, just over two decades after Serra founded the first mission in present-day California at San Diego, eleven missions and four presidios had been constructed, with an estimated 30 priests and 211 soldiers. By the time the last mission closed its doors in 1836, due to the Secularization Law passed in 1834 by the Mexican Congress, 142 Franciscan priests had ministered in Alta California. Only two of these priests were killed at the hands of natives (Luís Jayme at San Diego in 1775 and Andrés Quintana at Santa Cruz in 1812).

How is God calling you to share His joy with others? Invite Saint Junípero Serra on your journey to discern how you can be, as Pope Benedict XVI put it in God is Love, “. . . fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world.”

Christian Clifford writes on the subject of Catholic Church history in Spanish and Mexican California. His latest book is the Catholic Media Association Book Award recipient Pilgrimage: In Search of the REAL California Missions, the story of his 800-mile walk of the California Missions Trail. He can be reached at www.Missions1769.com.

Catholics (and people of good will) should not fear Junípero Serra High School’s name change

The year 2020 was a tough one, even for a Catholic saint. Junípero Serra, the 18th-century Spanish priest who Pope Francis called “the evangelizer of the west in the United States”, has been taking it in the chin lately. Vandalism of public statues of Junípero Serra have taken place by angry mobs and desecrated on Catholic church property. The latest attack was a character assassination of him by the San Francisco (California) Board of Education’s School Renaming Committee calling him a “Colonizer and slaveowner” (see Jan. 28, 2021 Mission Local article here). No evidence was provided. No historians questioned. This begs the question, will 2021 be any better for Serra? Things looked up for friends of Serra when the head of the man who brought revolutionary ideas to this part of the world was taken off the proverbial chopping block by the San Francisco Unified School District. However, the executioners in San Diego were successful in stripping his name from a public high school. Little did they know that they did so almost to the day 248 years after Serra demanded justice for indigenous people (on March 13, 1773, after Serra’s lobbying, Viceroy Antonio María de Bucareli y Ursúa signed into law the Representación). 

There is no denying that cultural exchange came at a cost. Pre-contact with Europeans, the California Indian population was estimated to be 300,000. Historian James A. Sandos argued in Converting California that the overall population dropped 21 percent by 1830, just before Mexico took possession of California. Regarding the Indians in the area of mission influence, he notes from 1770-1830, the population declined from 65,000 to 17,000, a loss of 74 percent. Scholar Barry Pritzer estimates by the end of the 19th century there were 15,000 California Indians.  Therefore, the near annihilation of the California Indians came during the Gold Rush from the 49ers and with the blessing of the government of California. Serra, wrongly, is the poster boy for all of this to some. 

Serra did not want pueblos, because he knew the history of the encomienda system. He wrote to medical authorities asking how to help sick Mission Indians (the vaccine for smallpox was introduced in 1796 by Jenner and the horrid disease was not even eradicated until December 1979). Serra, nearly dying along the way, went to the viceroy in Mexico City to lay out his frustrations regarding the maltreatment of natives by soldiers.  On March 13, 1773, Serra and Viceroy Antonio María de Bucareli y Ursúa signed into law the Representación that included disciplinarian measures for Mission Indians be put in the hands of the priests, not the military. Serra also taught the Mission Indian in Spanish due to the fact that they came from tribelets that spoke different languages. What he wanted for them to believe about each other was what he believed about them, as captured in his February 26, 1777 letter to Father Francisco Pangua, O.F.M., his guardian in Mexico City: “They are in places one cannot visit without walking a long distance and sometimes going on hands and feet, but I put my trust in the Lord, who created them.”

When it comes to Serra, the Catholic Church is confident of his noteworthiness.

His life has been studied and researched with a fine-tooth comb. The ecclesial court proceedings to question Serra’s holiness began on December 12, 1948. The evidence brought forth were 2,420 documents (7,500 pages total) of Serra’s writings, 5,000 pages of materials written about him from those who knew him, and testimony of people inspired by his life. A summary of findings would be collected into the Positio (position paper)—Serra’s position was 1,200 pages. The evidence propelled Pope Francis to canonize Serra on September 23, 2015 in Washington, D.C. 

I propose to those who wanted Serra High School’s name changed rename it after a significant California Indian. Pablo Tac comes to mind. Never heard of him? That is a shame. His story should be taught to every school child in California. His writings are the earliest from a California Indian, written in Rome while a seminarian. The greatest recommendation I can make is to read online (free) the Writings of Junípero Serra to better understand what his vision was, motivations were, as well as his challenges, dreams, and successes.

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Christian Clifford is the author of books about Catholic Church history in Spanish and Mexican California. His latest, Pilgrimage: In Search of the Real California Missions, is about his 800-mile walk of the California Missions Trail. He can be reached at www.Missions1769.com.

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Image: Father Junipero Serra by Paul Whitman, 1933.

Saint Junípero Serra and cancel culture

Re: Hannah Holzer, “San Francisco’s Toppled Statues”, SF Weekly (July 4, 2020)

It amazes how a story that is about frustration over partial narratives does not include those of a Catholic Church historian when it comes to Junípero Serra. Aside from that, I believe the author did a good job capturing the situation where we are in regard to the vandalism of public statues of Junípero Serra (lest we forget those statues of Saint Junípero Serra desecrated four times on Catholic church property—Mission Carmel, Old Mission Santa Barbara, and at Mission San Gabriel. The front wooden doors and a side wall at Mission Santa Cruz were spray-painted in red with the message “Serra St. of Genocide”).

To me, what exactly did the author capture when it comes to Junípero Serra? Those that believe they are right taking matters into their own hands are in the process of becoming what they hate most—intolerant bullies. They have a misinformed perception of the California missions full of tyrants living in an “us versus them” world. To them, there is no gray area and they use only fear tactics and spout outright lies and half-truths. What we have seems to me reminiscent of Tolstoy’s “The Grand Inquisitor”.

The questioner in the 18th-century tale puts a man in a chair and makes inquiries into the miracles he performed. It is the ideas in the inquisitor’s mind that he cannot let go of and with each question the man being interrogated remains silent. At the heart of it is that the man asking the questions knows human freedom and that Jesus died for so many who cannot handle that gift and that the Catholic Church knows better. The man the interrogator questions is Jesus himself who returned to earth. The reader knows this but the Grand Inquisitor does not. Those who are tearing down statues of Junípero Serra are the Grand Inquisitor of today and have falsely put Serra on trial. 

The Catholic Church is confident about Serra.  The ecclesial court proceedings to question Serra’s holiness began on December 12, 1948. The evidence brought forth were 2,420 documents (7,500 pages total) of Serra’s writings, 5,000 pages of materials written about him from those who knew him, and testimony of people inspired by his life. A summary of findings would be collected into the Positio (position paper)—Serra’s position was 1,200 pages. The evidence propelled Pope Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, to share in the homily at Serra’s canonization on September 23, 2015 in Washington, D.C.,  “Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.”

The Catholic Church is also open. Just before the canonization, the California bishops and Franciscans promised to reappraise what people learn at the California missions. Michele Jurich wrote in her Oakland Voice article that the study would focus on  “. . . the way the natives are depicted in exhibits and displays at the 19 California missions that are active Catholic parishes, and in the ways Catholic schoolchildren learn about Indians in third grade and missions in fourth grade.” The public schools already have a new framework in place that address such concerns.

The Catholic Church is also repentant for the challenges brought by colonization. Pope John Paul II begged for forgiveness on September 14, 1987, retired Bishop Francis A. Quinn of Sacramento on December 15, 2007, Pope Francis on July 9, 2015, and Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark of Los Angeles on July 21, 2016. The most beautiful act of reconciliation, in my opinion, was that Vincent Medina, who had been outspoken against Serra, recited the first reading at the September 23, 2015 canonization Mass, in the Chochenyo Native American language.

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Christian Clifford is the author of books and articles about Catholic Church History in Spanish and Mexican California. For more information, visit www.Missions1769.com.

Resources: St. Junípero Serra & California mission history

I hope the resources on my website will help you learn about and teach this chapter in California history. It is by an educator who learned a lot by writing four books and articles about colonial California.

Included on my Resources page:

  • 10 Facts about Saint Junípero Serra
  • Discerning the Spirit of Saint Junípero Serra
  • Native Catholic Voices
  • Missions Timeline
  • Further Reading
  • Petition4PabloTac: Mission Indian, seminarian, scholar
  • Virtually visit the California missions on Missions1769 Flickr page.

¡Siempre adelante y nunca para atrás!

#GoGoStJunipero #PabloTacPray4Us #Forwardinmission

Pablo Tac on CNA Newsroom

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: missions1769(at)gmail(dot)com

Website: www.Missions1769.com

Story of California mission Indian Pablo Tac shared on award-winning podcast CNA Newsroom

San Mateo, CA — Christian Clifford, veteran Catholic school educator, has been on a quest to get the word out about Pablo Tac (1822-1841). He recently did just that while a guest on CNA Newsroom, an award-winning podcast of EWTN News, part of the largest religious media network in the world.

Pablo Tac was Luiseño Indian. He was born and raised at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, located in present-day Oceanside, California. At the age of ten, he left the Mission with Fr. Antonio Peyrí and another Luiseño boy, Agapito Amamix. Their destination was Rome. On September 23, 1834, Pablo and Agapito enrolled at the Urban College. There they learned how to be missionary priests, hoping to one day return home to minister to their fellow Luiseño. 

Clifford, author of the only popular biography about the Mission Indian youth, Meet Pablo Tac, hopes that bringing attention to Pablo Tac will lead to more research being done. He believes there must be more to discover about him beyond what we know. 

Pablo Tac’s writings are the earliest from a California Indian. While in Rome studying for the Catholic priesthood, Pablo wrote a description of life as a mission Indian (“Conversion of the San Luiseños of Alta California”, c. 1835), gave a public recitation of a poem at the Polyglot Academy (c. January 1836), in Sequoyahesque fashion created a dictionary of the language of his people (“Prima Linguae Californiensis Rudimenta a P. Tak proposita”, c. February 1838), and wrote an account of the native peoples in Southern California (“De Californiensibus”, c. after 1838). 

Clifford realizes that unlike the first North American Indian saint, Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), Pablo is little known. That does not seem to slow him down, though. He was overjoyed when he met Catholic Luiseños in July 2019 at the Tekakwitha Conference in Sharonville, Ohio who are aware of Pablo and follow in his footsteps. Also, a hall at Mission San Luis Rey was named after Pablo in 2012 and in June 2021 it was decided that an Oceanside public elementary school will take his name. He is confident that once people are made aware of his short life that it inspires, as attested by the over 500 Catholics and people of good will who have signed the petition to nominate Pablo Tac for the cause of canonization (an electronic version of the petition can be found at www.change.org/InvokePabloTac). The campaign has not yet received the support of the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians or the Diocese of San Diego.

Clifford, who finished walking the 800-mile California Missions Trail in the summer of 2020, made it a point to pray to and draw inspiration from Pablo Tac. He shares, “Pablo has the power to move hearts and minds.”

Listen to the podcast “Ep. 117: The powerful witness of Native American Catholics” at https://soundcloud.com/cnanewsroom. For more information about Christian Clifford, visit www.Missions1769.com. For a brief video on the life of Pablo Tac, go here.

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Californian Knight recognized as Everyday Hero

Californian Knight recognized as Everyday Hero for his 800-mile pilgrimage to the 21 California Missions 

San Mateo, CA — July 1 is the feast day of Saint Junípero Serra. Learn more about the holy friar, who soon-to-be Cardinal Robert McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego in 2015 called a “foundational figure” in California history, from a man who literally walked in his footsteps.

Christian Clifford, author of books about Spanish-Mexican history in California, was on a quest to visit all twenty-one California missions, on foot! When asked why he did it, he shared, “I visited all 21 missions by car so I thought it would be nice to walk the entire chain. Being a Catholic school teacher for over twenty years, my hope was to get as close to the lives of the amazing people who were the first Catholics in California—indigenous, Spanish, mestizo—with the hope of being a better Catholic and teacher.” He achieved his mission and is featured in the third season of the Knights of Columbus multipart series “Everyday Heroes”. 

The Knights of Columbus, founded in 1882, is a Catholic fraternal benefit society with over 2 million members worldwide. The series “Everyday Heroes”, according to the Knights of Columbus, “focus the spotlight on these remarkable Knights whose courage, faith and commitment to charity embody the mission of the Knights of Columbus.” Christian Clifford is a 3rd degree member of Council 1346, founded in 1908 and one of the first five councils founded in California. They meet at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Belmont.

Clifford began his 800-mile journey in May 2018, the year marking the 184th anniversary of Pablo Tac’s enrollment at the Urban College, Rome, where the Native American youth and scholar attended seminary (learn more about Pablo Tac here). The bulk of his miles were walked in 2019. Clifford teaches theology at Serra High School in San Mateo and 2019 marked the school’s 75th anniversary and the 250th anniversary of the founding of the first California mission at San Diego. Clifford finished his walk to the twenty-one California missions in June 2020 and believes it was appropriate, because 2020 marked the fifth year since the canonization of Junípero Serra. 

Specifics for Clifford’s pilgrimage along the California Missions Trail were approximately 800-miles walked over 45 days, and approximately 298 hours walking. Clifford also raised over $2000 on Facebook and GoFundMe for The Campaign for the Preservation of Mission San Antonio de Padua Foundation. Founded in 1771 by Saint Junípero Serra, the third of the twenty-one California missions is the remotest and for many a favorite because of its authenticity. Clifford believes, “The Mission is a gem. Future generations must know of the roots of modern California and the Spanish missions are those roots.”

Clifford documented his adventure on the California Missions Trail in Pilgrimage: In Search of the REAL California Missions.

To watch the Everyday Heroes “Walking in the Footsteps of St. Junipero Serra” episode about Christian Clifford, visit here.  For more information about Christian Clifford visit www.Missions1769.com.

PRINTED in NORTH COAST CATHOLIC (DIOCESE OF SANTA ROSA), JULY/AUGUST 2022 (16).