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Junipero Serra: California's Founding…

Junipero Serra: California's Founding Father

by Steven W. Hackel

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I grew up in San Diego and attended mass at Mission San Diego de Acala. The book did a good job of exploring the character of Serra and especially his homeland of Majorca. I really wish there had been a map of Mexico and California of the period! I also wished there had been more of discussion of the lives of the native peoples. I had never heard of most of the indigenous groups mentioned in the book. I'll definitely read Hackel's other book that sounds like it deals with this aspect in more depth. It is a great book if you have an interest in California history, Catholic history and also the missionary spirit. When Serra left home, he really had no expectation that he would ever be able to return. It is hard not to be in awe that his sense of firmness of conviction and fearlessness. ( )
  theageofsilt | Feb 4, 2014 |
Since I'm not from California and I'm not Catholic, I first heard of Junípero Serra when I visited the mission he founded in San Diego. I've been curious about him ever since, so I jumped at the chance to read this biography. Father Serra was already well into middle age by the time he arrived in what is now California and began the work for which he is remembered. The first half of the book covers unfamiliar ground for those who are familiar with Serra only as the founder of California's missions: his early life in Majorca and his years of mission work in New Spain (now Mexico) in the Sierra Gorda and Baja California.

The tour guide and the tourist brochures at the mission in San Diego highlighted only Serra's achievements and positive character traits. Hackel's biography presents a more complicated picture of Serra's work and character. He was a devout, disciplined Catholic who heard a divine call and never lost sight of his goal. However, he seemed to be a difficult person for others to get along with since he appeared to want to control others as tightly as he controlled himself. He was in a decades-long struggle with secular government and military officials for control of the missions and their converts among indigenous people groups. Neither side seems very heroic. Both the Franciscans and the secular officials were motivated by their religious beliefs, but these beliefs compelled them to exert control over every aspect of the lives of their Native American converts, forcing them to adopt an agricultural lifestyle within the mission settlements.

The primary market for this book is probably Californians who want to learn more about their state's history. However, it will also appeal to readers with an interest in Majorca's history, Mexico's history, Catholic history, the history of missions, and missionary biography. Recommended.

This review is based on an electronic advanced reading copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley. Illustrations and index not seen. ( )
  cbl_tn | Oct 19, 2013 |
If you ask long-time Californians about the important people in the history of the state, you will invariably come across Junipero Serra. Interestingly, I had never heard of him before reading this book, but now it’s hard to imagine what the state of California would be if not for the efforts of this interesting Mallorcan Franciscan. Born in 1713, he eventually came to found missions at San Diego, San Francisco, and many more around California. He even collected donations to aid General Washington’s revolutionary cause. Steven Hackel’s Junipero Serra chronicles his life is a way that is both scholarly and readily accessible to the public.

Born Miquel Joseph Serra in Petra, Mallorca, he was the namesake of a brother who died in infancy. His family was too poor to survive as it was, so young Miquel was shipped off to a Franciscan monastery so that his sister would have a better chance at a bigger dowry. Once there, he took the name Junipero in honor of Saint Juniper, a companion of St. Francis of Assisi. He quickly rose to great heights, mastering theology, Latin, and philosophy. In 1749, he sailed to Mexico City to teach the catechism to the local Native American tribes. This begins his long and storied history in the early United States. Serra was a man of great faith to wanted to share his beliefs with all those he encountered, oftentimes walking hundreds of miles to confirm the newly-baptized. Interestingly enough, the Mission San Juan Capistrano is the currently both the oldest standing building in California and the last extant building where Serra performed church rites.

While the life of Serra is certainly engaging, this book covers other areas as well. There is a decent history of the island of Mallorca, the Franciscans in Spanish territories, and the Native American’s reaction of European proselytizing. Hackel dutifully bridges the gap between a solid history text and an interesting biography. While some historians may not like Serra’s interactions with the native peoples of North America (preaching to Native Americans forcibly captured by Spanish soldiers), they happened and the they give us insight into the motivations and actions our ancestors. If you’re at all interested in the history early California, do not pass this one up. An intriguing and well-researched history. ( )
3 vote NielsenGW | Aug 5, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0809095319, Hardcover)

A portrait of the priest and colonialist who is one of the most important figures in California’s history

As the founder of the first Catholic missions in California, Father Junípero Serra is regarded as the crucial early apostle of the Golden State. He’s been beatified by the Catholic Church and widely celebrated as a pioneer. And yet his legacy is complicated by his missions’ devastation of much of coastal California’s indigenous population.
     Steven W. Hackel’s groundbreaking biography, Junípero Serra: California’s Founding Father, is the first to remove Serra from the realm of religious polemic and place him within the currents of history. Beginning with Serra’s years in Mallorca as a priest and professor, exploring his time in Mexico working among Native Americans and as an itinerant preacher, and detailing his final years on the California coast as an uncompromising missionary and shrewd administrator, Hackel reveals Serra’s potent blend of Franciscan piety and worldly cunning.
     A man of indomitable will, Serra outmaneuvered a series of royal officials to establish himself as the great mission builder of his time. But for all his success in bringing Spanish customs and Christian beliefs to Native Americans on the Pacific coast, his legacy today is highly contested. On the three hundredth anniversary of Serra’s birth, Hackel’s biography presents a complex, authoritative study of a man whose life continues to be celebrated and denounced.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:24 -0400)

Published to coincide with the 300th anniversary of Junipero Serra's birth, this landmark biography of the founder of the first Catholic missions in California presents an authoritative study of a man whose life continues to be celebrated and denounced.… (more)

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