Student Workers took time to reflect on Mission life in California
Remembrance of Fray Junípero Serra and The California Missions
by, Melissa Damien
Student workers made their way out to San Diego County in late January to visit the San Juan Capistrano Mission, and learn a bit about the spiritual father of California or the, “Priest Among The People,” as Fray Junípero Serra was called.
Students enrolled at College of the Desert, had a history project they were working on for class, and decided to take some friends out to the Mission at San Juan Capistrano to take pictures of the site, learn about the California saint, and have a bit of fun along the way.
The ship Villasota, also known as Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, departed from Cadiz at the end of August, 1749. Aboard was Fray Junipero Serra and nineteen other Franciscans bound for the missions.
After a fairly peaceful journey at sea, the ship arrived at San Juan, Puerto Rico, on the feast of Saint Luke. Serra’s first hours in the New World were spent at the hermitage of the Immaculate Conception, near the walls of the city.
Puerto Rico was not to be a vacation land for the friars. Junípero and the others were full of zeal and their first hours on American soil demonstrated their selfless industry. The friars utilized their time by conducting a mission for the islanders. It proved to be the first outlet for Serra’s apostolic work in America. The cathedral there was jammed to capacity. It had been nine years since a similar religious service had been held in San Juan, and the local populous anxiously responded to the opportunity of renewing their spiritual lives.
The Villasota left San Juan on November 1st. For another month the ship sailed through the islands and reefs of the Caribbean. There were many hardships during that sojourn, the worst of which was the shortage of drinking water. Serra is recorded as having noted to a companion that “ the best way of saving one’s saliva is to eat little and talk still less.”
The Archives at San Juan Capistrano noted that, Serra “was always even tempered and smiling, that he never uttered the slightest complaint, that his patience was the wonder and admiration of everyone.” Anchor was cast in the historic harbor of Vera Cruz, where Mexican history began, on December 6th.
On the following day, Serra stepped on the continental soil of North America for the first time at “the most desired end of a long and tedious voyage.” From that American counterpart of the Spanish Cadiz, Serra and his companions would spread across the great vice-royalty of New Spain.