Thursday, February 1, 2018

Book Review: The Life and Times of Fray Junipero Serra by Msgr. Francis J. Weber

The Life and Times of Fray Junipero Serra by Msgr. Francis J. Weber

For the two-hundreth anniversary of the death of Fray Junipero Serra, Msgr. Francis J. Weber wrote a long series of articles for California diocesan newspapers about the life and times of the California missionary. He based these essays mostly on a two-volume scholarly biography of Serra published in 1959 by Meynard Geiger. This book collects those articles along with one final article written in 1988 when Serra was beatified in Rome. He has since been canonized by Pope Francis in 2015.

This book moves quickly through Serra's early life in 1700s Mallorca (a Mediterranean island governed by Spain). After teaching and preaching several years, he felt the call to be a missionary and left for Mexico (then a Spanish colony) in 1748. He taught and managed missions in Baja California until he was given permission to establish missions along the Alta California coast. He intended to convert the indigenous populations; the Spanish government intended to strengthen their claim on the lands. In addition to being a holy man, Serra was a competent administrator and forthright leader. He occasionally came into conflict with the government over issues. His humility, honesty, and integrity often won the day and he founded nine of the twenty-one missions that make up El Camino Real, the royal highway from San Diego to Sonoma. This part of his life is covered in more detail. He died in 1784. The final few essays document his impact on California and the many memorials there and in other parts of the world.

The book is a quick read. Each chapter is two pages long--the articles seem to be exactly reproduced and the book is only 106 pages. Occasionally the transitions are choppy. An article comparing Serra to George Washington reads like it was written for the Fourth of July week during newspaper run. The book could use some editing to smooth things out. An update with the canonization would be nice too.

This book is a good introduction to Father Junipero Serra and well worth the quick reading time.

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