Saint Junipero Serra

Saint Junipero Serra

by Rita Goldner

As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, my posting day, the first of every month, All Saintsgives me the opportunity to comment on some interesting holidays and traditions. Now that we’re finished with the partying, candy and costuming of last night, we are presented with a more serious celebration, All Saints Day.

I’ve noticed on some signs in front of churches, and in my own church bulletin, that they are having kids’ parties where the kids dress up in costume like their favorite saint. These churches are dodging the specter (literally) of hosting parties on Halloween, replete with devils, witches, zombies, and other unholy apparitions. To me, the kinder, gentler, saint party doesn’t have the fertile ground for costume creativity, since all the saints look pretty much alike. (Except for St. John the Baptist, with his head on a plate, and even I would find that tasteless.)

For many years (decades, actually), I owned a costume business. I ran a rental shop in Phoenix, where individuals and hotels would rent costumes for theme parties. Of course the biggest share of the business was Halloween costumes, but we also kept in stock costumes of revered historical figures for All Saints Day and Purim, or reenactment characters like George Washington. I’ll confess that I took a lot of artistic license on the accuracy.

This All Saints Day, we have a new figure in our costume parades, Father Junipero Serra. On the pope’s recent trip, he canonized Father Serra, who’s now an official saint, the first canonization to take place on American soil. As is the case with any history, my research unearthed both praise and condemnation. From 1769 until his death in 1784, Junipero Serra established a string of missions along the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco.

Historians who praise his accomplishments say he thought he was helping Indians by teaching them a new religion, and baptizing them Catholic. His writings say he was also trying to protect them from abuses by Spanish soldiers who were establishing forts along the same strip of coast. He also said he fed starving native people at the missions.

Detractors point out the fact that he brought the soldiers, with their nonindigenous plants and animals that ruined the food crops and caused the starvation. The white people also unwittingly introduced diseases for which they had developed immunities, and thousands of Indians died. Junipero Serra, and the members of the encroaching civilization he brought with him, shared a belief most conquering forces hold: that they are bringing a “better way to live” than the culture of the conquered people.

Robert Senkewicz, a history professor at Santa Clara University and coauthor of a book about Father Serra, says “History is always a kind of a dialogue between the past and the present, and from the point of view of Serra in his own time, what he genuinely thought he was providing the native populations with a kind of protection. His writings are filled with indications about what he thought he was doing.”

We’ll hear a lot more pros and cons in the near future because of Junipero Serra’s new status as a saint.

Rita Goldner is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Rita Goldner2Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series. For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book, visit To view additional illustrations and other books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook.

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2 Responses to Saint Junipero Serra

  1. Thank you, Rita, for this interesting history lesson and update on an individual who is well known to those of us who have lived in California for any length of time. I was particularly struck by your comment, “Junipero Serra, and the members of the encroaching civilization he brought with him, shared a belief most conquering forces hold: that they are bringing a “better way to live” than the culture of the conquered people.” I think the U.S.A. could have followed this advice in the Middle East and avoided a lot of the problems we’re experiencing today. (But that’s just my opinion.)


  2. Christian says:

    Saint Junipero Serra, pray for us!


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