by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR
The upcoming canonization of Junípero Serra is causing controversy as his supporters view him as the Franciscan who brought Christianity to California Indians, while his opponents see him as a co-conspirator with the oppression of the Indians by the Spanish empire. Pope Francis will canonize him at a Sept. 23 Mass in Washington, D.C.
Who was Serra? What should we think of him?
For answers, I went to Robert Senkewicz, professor of history at Santa Clara University and an expert on early California history. He is the author of a number of books on early California, including the just-published Junípero Serra: California, Indians, and the Transformation of a Missionary, which he wrote with his wife Rose Marie Beebe.
NCR: Who was Junípero Serra?
Robert Senkewicz: Junípero Serra was an 18th-century Franciscan who was a very successful philosophy teacher on the island of Mallorca. In the middle of his life, he volunteered to go to the missions of the New World, where Franciscans had been working since the early 1500s. Serra arrived in Mexico City on Jan. 1, 1750….