A proposal to remove St. Junípero Serra from Ventura County’s official seal is unwarranted, and elected officials need to know Serra’s true story, according to the priest who heads the final mission the sainted Spanish missionary founded in California.
“Should the County of Ventura redesign its emblem, some representation of Junípero Serra is critical to the history of the county and its economic prosperity that we all enjoy today,” Fr. Tom Elewaut, pastor of the Old Mission Basilica of San Buenaventura, told Catholic News Agency July 21.
“Historic fact supports the good Serra brought to the indigenous people of Alta California, his spiritual children,” he said, stating that indigenous Californians suffered the most after the mission period had ended. “Do your homework, read the historical facts, and learn who really abused the indigenous peoples. Not Serra himself and not the intent of the Mission Era.”
Elewaut is the 30th successor of St. Junípero Serra at the San Buenaventura mission….
“The letters and actions of Serra evidence his love and care of the indigenous persons. Academics of indigenous descent uphold this,” said Elewaut, who referred to the work of Dr. Ruben Mendoza, an archaeologist and professor at California State University Monterey Bay.
Serra was often at odds with Spanish colonial authorities over their mistreatment of native Californians, and these indigenous people showed an outpouring of grief at his death in 1784.
Despite Serra’s record of defending the rights of indigenous peoples, statues of the 18th century Spanish-born saint have become focal points for protests and demonstrations across California in recent weeks, with images of the saint being torn down or vandalized.
The Ventura County seal’s left side is dominated by an image of Serra, with a mission church in the background. The right side of the seal shows industries of Ventura County.
But Ventura County CEO Mike Powers, who oversees county operations, announced a planned redesign of the seal at a June 23 meeting of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.
“Throughout the state and locally there has been a lot of discussion about removal of images and monuments of Father Serra due to the treatment of Native Americans,” he said. “Similarly, our county seal here does include an image of Father Serra.”
The county seal, adopted in 1964, is present on city buildings, vehicles and other locations.
Referring to actions of the city council of Ventura, which unanimously voted to remove two statues of the saint from city hall grounds, Powers said “it is a good time to begin that dialogue with your board.”
The Ventura County Star on July 20 quoted four of the five elected officials on the county’s Board of Supervisors, none of whom defended the presence of Serra on the seal.
“Where would the County of Ventura be today without Junípero Serra? The establishment of the missions and presidios—and the subsequent expansion of colonial settlements—created new and dynamic relations and communities within and between colonists and native people across California,” Elewaut said….
The priest welcomed support from county residents and those outside the county “to pray and to speak in defense of St. Serra,” he said….
“As Catholics and Christians and all people of faith, we need to honor the dignity of everyone while speaking our thoughts….”
Supervisor Linda Parks, however, backed removing the Catholic saint’s image “because it is well understood that it was an oppressive time when the Spaniards came and abused Native Americans,” she said.
“I know that Father Serra is certainly objectionable to many people,” said Parks, who was also critical of “obsolete” images on the seal referring to atomic energy and oil drilling.
Supervisor Kelly Long said she would “entertain” the decision to remove Serra if the county’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, “feels that it’s an important step.”
“It’s appropriate to have a community process to redesign the logo to recognize the new sensitivity that the majority of our society is feeling towards respecting our diversity,” said Long.
County spokeswoman Ashley Bautista said the redesign could incorporate community opinion. She said the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which has some 22 members, would provide an update on the planned redesign of the seal at the July 21 board of supervisors meeting. However, the seal was not listed on the board agenda for that day.
Some members of the Chumash people are among the objectors to Serra. In conversation with these critics, Elewaut reached an agreement to move the statue of Serra from the grounds of Ventura City Hall. He did this, he said, “in part to seek reconciliation among the descendants of the Chumash First Peoples and to a greater degree to keep the statue from being destroyed.
At the same time, the priest said indigenous people are not uniformly critical of Serra.
“Not all the opinions among the Chumash people in the greater Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties have been voiced,” Elewaut said. “There is substantial evidence that among the Chumash St. Junipero Serra is revered and respected for his contributions to our county. Their voices have not been heard or respected. Their voices should have equal weight and import….”
The above comes from a July 21 story in Angelus News.