Junípero Serra: California’s Founding Father

Steven Hackel, Author
Steven W. Hackel. Hill and Wang, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-80909-531-5
Reviewed on: 07/08/2013
Release date: 09/03/2013
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In this meticulously researched tome, Hackel (Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis), an associate professor of history at the University of California, Riverside, fleshes out the life of Junípero Serra, a Franciscan priest and explorer, one of the founding fathers of California, and an instrumental player in the creation of the state’s numerous Roman Catholic missions. Born Miquel Joséph Serre in Mallorca, Spain, in 1713, the deeply pious, shrewd, and occasionally self-serving priest changed his name to honor Brother Juniper (a contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi). The book follows Serra from his time in academia (specifically theology and philosophy) in Spain and on to Mexico, where he served as an agent of the Inquisition. From there, Serra headed northwest into the Spanish colony of Alta California, where the priest and his men set about building missions—stretching from San Diego to just north of San Francisco—and converting Native Americans to Catholicism. Today, Serra is widely regarded as “the most important individual in [California’s] history,” and he is one of only two Californians to be memorialized in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. In 1988, Pope John Paul II beatified him. This is a must-read for anyone interested in Serra, California, or the history of colonialism in the Americas. 16 pages of b&w illus. and 4 maps. (Sept.)
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