By Bishop Kevin J. Farrell
Publisher of The Texas Catholic
It has been said that “God writes straight with crooked lines.” It occurred to me this past week that one of God’s crooked lines was behind Fray Junipero Serra becoming the father of the California missions instead of a missionary in Texas. The story is told by Richard F. Pourade in his history of San Diego, Calif.
Fray Junipero was a Franciscan of the missionary Collegio de San Fernando de Mexico, one of the several Franciscan groups in New Spain whose members established and staffed the Texas missions. He was scheduled to be among those priests from San Fernando chosen to establish one of two missions to be built in the heart of the Apache territory in west Texas.
In 1757 the first Apache mission, Santa Cruz de San Saba, was established on the San Saba River in what is now Menard County. A peace treaty had been signed with the Apaches in 1749 and it was hoped that the missions would lead to their giving up their nomadic ways, but no Apaches appeared, except for two sick ones who were left at the mission to be cared for.
It quickly became apparent that the Apaches had no desire to give up their nomadic lifestyle. Three of the missionaries from another collegio became discouraged and left, but three remained. The lack of success caused the Collegio de San Fernando to cancel plans to establish a second mission on the San Saba.
In March 1758 the Santa Cruz de San Saba Mission was surrounded by 2000 hostile Indians of the Comanche, Wichita and Caddo tribes. Eventually they breeched the stockade, two of the missionaries and a number of others were killed but one missionary and one other person inside survived by barricading themselves in the church.
At San Fernando, hearing of the massacre at San Saba, Fray Junipero begged to be sent to replace the martyred priests, but the Spanish authorities refused permission. A few years later Fray Junipero was sent to Alta California, where he established nine missions from San Diego to San Francisco. He labored in California until 1784 when he died at Mission San Carlos Borromeo at Carmel, where he is buried beneath the sanctuary floor.
Last week Fray Junipero became St. Junipero Serra, when he was canonized by Pope Francis at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, in the first canonization to take place in the United States.
God indeed writes with crooked lines and he never closes one door without opening another.