The following comes from an October 29 Catholic World Report article by Dale Ahlquist:
For most of the last two hundred plus years, newly canonized Father Junipero Serra had a good reputation among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Considered “The Man Who Founded California”, the state honored him with a statue in the U.S. Capitol. He founded the first nine of twenty-one Franciscan missions in California, including the ones that eventually became the cities of San Diego and San Francisco. He started the first library in California. The many Serra Clubs across the country are named for him.
But then if you don’t like history, one of the simplest solutions is to revise it. Political agendas replaced the historical record, and Father Serra’s great accomplishments were given a coat of tarnish. Without the benefit of facts, he has been condemned as a racist and a slaver, utterly false accusations. At best, what was once high praise has been replaced with the suggestive word, “controversial.”
In the meantime, the Catholic Church made him a saint.
And perhaps the tide is turning back toward the truth. A brand new biography, Junípero Serra: California, Indians, and the Transformation of a Missionary by Robert Senkewicz, tries to correct the most recent misinformation. Senkewicz, a history professor at the University of Santa Cruz, says it is not accurate to paint the Church as a vehicle of European oppression. The European settlement of the Americas was inevitable, and what the Church did was try to influence the process for the good.
Senkewicz, who insists that he is a historian and not a theologian, says there is a pretty good case for Serra’s sanctity.
The good that the missions did in California is beyond measure. Not only did they care for the hungry and the sick, but they created self-sufficient communities, establishing agriculture and advanced skill-sets such as carpentry and black-smithing.
And they brought Christ.
That is the real problem for some people who look back and want to see a different picture of the past. They don’t like it that a saint founded California. This was demonstrated by one very sad fact that also was relatively ignored in the news. Just after the canonization, the Mission in Carmel was vandalized. The historic wooden doors on the front of the church were spray-painted, as were many of the statues in the courtyard.
Jesus promised this would happen. That is why many saints have died as martyrs. Some continued to persecuted even in death. “If the world hates you, know that it hated me.”