Two hundred and forty seven years ago, St. Junípero Serra, OFM, arrived in San Diego, where he founded the first of 21 Franciscan missions in what is now known as California. In all that St. Junípero accomplished during his ministry, he understood the constant voice of God inviting him to continue on his good journey.
Last month, four Holy Name Province friars visited several of the California missions to follow in the footsteps of St. Junípero and to consider what God is calling them to accomplish today.
From May 6 to 13, David Convertino, OFM, Octavio Duran, OFM, Thomas Hartle, OFM, and Basil Valente, OFM, traveled along California’s coastline to gather materials for vocational and development use. They also were able to experience some of the historical and vibrant ministries of St. Barbara Province and connect with the friars there.
“Every friar — from the postulants to the provincial — went out of his way to make sure we were welcomed,” said Basil, HNP director of vocations. “At every place we visited, the friars were tremendously hospitable. To me, that reflected the real spirit and significance of fraternity.”
The Ministries and Missions of California
The Holy Name friars’ journey began at the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu, Calif., the first retreat center to be placed under the spiritual aegis of St. Junípero. Perched on top of Serra Canyon overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the retreat center serves as a place for peace, serenity and reflection, and hosts group and private retreats, as well as workshops.
While visiting the retreat center, the HNP friars reconnected with Fr. Mel Jurisich, OFM, who served as the Province’s General Visitor prior to the Provincial Chapter in 2014.
“The friars at Serra Retreat Center were very welcoming, and they shared with us many engaging stories about Junípero Serra,” said Basil. “The stories always came back to the meaning and significance of one’s vocation, one’s mission: the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
The early friars overcame many challenges as they sought to spread the Gospel message. Basil noted that St. Junípero endured many hardships with patience and with the support of his brothers. He cited a book that was recently published about Junípero called “Junípero Serra: The Story. Always Go Forward and Never Turn Back,” written by Br. Barnabas Hughes, OFM.
“In one letter that Junípero wrote to Fray Francisco Serra (no relation), he spoke of some of the struggles he recently endured. Referring to his parents, the saint remarked ‘surely they would encourage me to go forward and never turn back,'” Basil said. “Br. Barnabas gives a special recognition to Junípero for showing us that by being patient when dealing with hardships, both natural and unnatural, a person can help others in one’s chosen way of life [one’s vocation].”
The friars’ next stop on the pilgrimage was the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. Their tour of the magnificent worship space was led by Br. Hilarion O’Connor, OFM, director of strategic capital projects and builder of the cathedral.
“The architecture of the cathedral is very different,” said David, HNP’s executive director of development. “It mimics the missions in a variety of ways. It serves as a center for a variety of activities — everything from something as mundane as having lunch to the many diverse ministries connected with the cathedral. It was built in a way that’s reminiscent of the missions. For example, the concrete they used to construct the cathedral is a color that’s similar to the adobe brick walls of the California missions. I really appreciated those touches.”
Lining the walls of the cathedral were 25 fresco-like tapestries showing 135 saints and blessed from around the globe facing toward the church’s altar. Among those depicted in the artwork — St. Francis and St. Clare among them — were 12 unnamed children, male and female, representing the many anonymous holy people in our midst, all of whom are part of the communion of saints.
“Those tapestries showcased what it means to be part of the communion of saints and what it means for each of us as we grow in holiness,” said Basil. “It was nothing less than extraordinary for me. The beautiful tapestries are wonderfully communicative because they express much about our own journeys. Every tapestry, every person drew one’s attention to the altar of God — the primary focus of why we attend Mass.”
Old Ministries Made New
The pilgrimage continued to Mission San Luis Rey — the largest of the California missions and known to many as the“King of the Missions” — located in Oceanside, Calif., near San Diego. Established in 1798 by Fr. Fermin de Lasuen, OFM, the mission now serves as a parish church and retreat center.
“The activity at this ministry was incredible,” David said. “San Luis Rey is a huge bustling place with the retreat center, the Franciscan School of Theology, and a busy parish. It was amazing to see how a ministry that old can be reconfigured into something modern in such a beautiful place.”
The next place the friars visited was Mission San Buenaventura, founded by St. Junípero in present-day Ventura, Calif., in 1782. Named after St. Bonaventure, the mission is today cared for by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
“Even though he isn’t a friar, the hospitality of the pastor was absolutely Franciscan in so many different ways,” said David. “He opened the church for us and showed us the rectory, which was built in the early 1990s. It’s one of the oldest churches founded by Serra, but it now hosts a lot of modern ministries.”
Tom noted several similarities between the early missions and the missions of today.
“There was and is a burning zeal to preach the word of God,” said Tom, who served as the pilgrimage’s project coordinator. “There was and is a deep-rooted sense of the dignity of all people. There was and is the reality that we Franciscans are one with the people of God. We don’t stand apart, we don’t stand above — we stand with. We are in solidarity with all. Like St. Junípero, we keep moving forward.”
Understanding the Call to Mission
The friars’ pilgrimage concluded at Mission Santa Barbara, established by Fr. Fermin in 1786. More than 200 years later, this mission remains a cultural and historical landmark in the city of Santa Barbara. It is the only mission to remain in the care of the Franciscans since its founding.
During their visit, the friars toured one of the oldest libraries and repositories of incunabula, or historic printed books, in the country. This included a special viewing of the signed record of baptisms performed in the area, written by St. Junípero himself and dating back to 1782.
“Seeing the sacramental registry that was signed by Serra and all of the people he baptized helped me consider Serra’s understanding of mission and vocation and, just as importantly, helped me continue to understand my own view of mission and journey,” said Basil. “I think how all of us — St. Francis and St. Clare, St. Bernardine of Siena and St. Bonaventure, St. Junípero, you and I — respond to the call to mission is very different, but there is a very central theme of being open to what God might be asking us to do.”
As the four friars returned to Holy Name Province, each felt grateful for the deeper fraternal bond that developed among them during their pilgrimage.
“I returned realizing again how blessed I am to be a part of Holy Name Province,” said Tom. “We shared moments of prayer, sharing and a concern for each other. We were all enriched by our visits to the missions, the St. Barbara friars we met, and by our exposure to the creativity and sensitivity of the friars who served during the early days of the California missions.”
A DVD of the friars’ pilgrimage was filmed and is being edited by Octavio, editor of The Anthonian magazine. It will be sent to patrons of St. Anthony’s Guild as part of the “Franciscan Places” series. Additional photos and reflections from the trip are available on the Vocation Office’s Facebook page.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator of Holy Name Province.
- “Digital Pilgrimage Takes Thousands to Franciscan Italy” — June 24, 2015, HNP Today
- “Junípero Serra Proclaimed a Saint” — Sept. 29, 2015, HNP Today
- “2017 Trips to Historic Religious Sites” — May 26, 2016, HNP Today