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Rick Kennedy

Saint Junípero Serra

The mission to California.

Pope Francis announced early in 2015 that, in September, he will elevate to sainthood Junípero Serra, the 18th-century missionary who is "California's Founding Father." The pope plans to bypass the normal requirement of two miracles verifiably attributed to the intercession of a prospective saint—Serra only has one—because he wants to encourage global evangelism, and Fr. Serra was "the evangelizer of the West in the United States."[1]

For the California residents this is big news. It is a right of passage for every fourth grader in California to learn about Fr. Serra and his mission system. In many public schools throughout the state, boys and girls are required to pick a mission, write a report about it, and make a model to display to the class. When I was a kid we made our models out of shoe boxes and clay, but now companies sell pre-fabricated kits over the Internet. Our state officially represents itself in National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C., with two statues, one of Junípero Serra and the other of Ronald Reagan. The highest peak of the coastal Santa Lucia Mountains is named after Junipero Serra, as is a freeway leading into San Francisco, not to mention hundreds of local schools, streets, and parks throughout the state. The San Diego baseball team, whose mascot is a Franciscan friar, is named after our founding Spanish missionaries. Junípero Serra is big business in California. US Senator Barbara Boxer has long promoted the use of federal money to help renovate the Roman Catholic missions—this even though she is normally against mixing federal money with faith-based organizations. "California's missions," she has declared, "impart valuable lessons about our state's early days and also provide many communities with valuable tourist dollars as more than 5.5 million visitors from around the world are drawn to the 21 missions in the system."[2]

Pope Francis knows ...

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