Last Mass and the Canonization of Junípero Serra
September 24, 2015 12:58 PM   Subscribe

"In some ways I see it as my personal protest of Father Serra and his anticipated canonization." In light of the recent canonization of Father Fray Junípero Serra by Pope Francis yesterday, (the first canonization ceremony to be held in the United States and Serra being the first native saint of the Balearic Islands), it seems a good time to recommend Last Mass a new book by former Californian, current Georgia, (USA), resident, Jamie Iredell.

From yesterday, here is Mr. Iredell on the canonization, via Facebook:
"Folks, today Pope Francis is scheduled to canonize Father Junipero Serra, the Franciscan priest who, in the 18th century, established the first 9 missions in what later became the state of California. Along the way, from the moment of first contact between the California natives and Europeans, to the date of my birth in that state in 1976, the Native population was decimated by 76%. It is no small act to canonize the man who set that genocide in motion. I wrote a book that was recently published that chronicles Father Serra's life--along with my own experiences while growing up as a Catholic in California. The book is called LAST MASS. In some ways I see it as my personal protest of Father Serra and his anticipated canonization."

Here are a couple of excerpts.

Here's a Rumpus review of the book.

And finally, here's a taste of the book itself from Mr. Iredell, also via Facebook:
"Father Serra’s first baptism in Alta California went horribly awry (non-Spanish speakers, unfamiliarity with Catholic Rite). Eventually, though, natives came to the missions for baptism of their own accord. No going home. Soldados de cuera hunted escaped neophytes and brought them back, ropes around their necks, and at musket-point, or by way of pinched ears. Returned “escapees” were publicly flogged and spent a day in the stocks."
posted by Francis7 (18 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
*Points finger at 280*
posted by humboldt32 at 1:01 PM on September 24, 2015 [13 favorites]

I like to think of him as the Patron Saint of California Freeways (that were built over his original route up the state) and my current address exists because he decided "here's a good place to stop".

the Native population was decimated by 76%
Really? I thought you had to accomplish at least an 80% genocide to be sainted. Maybe the current Pope really is more liberal.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:25 PM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I thought this NPR segment about Fr. Serra, Savior or Villian, including the opinions of two Ohlone-descended men who are curators at Mission Dolores was interesting, and there is a transcript.
posted by puddledork at 1:32 PM on September 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

The latest episode of Backstory discusses Serra and his canonization.
posted by Bartonius at 1:49 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wish they'd give longer excerpts of books in the non-linear fad; since there's no narrative component, it's impossible to get a feel for in terms of the author's technical skill with the form (his prose is tedious and precious) until you're several pages in. And the Serra tie-in just seems opportunistic.

Two mehs down.
posted by resurrexit at 3:36 PM on September 24, 2015

decimated by 76%

posted by The Tensor at 4:05 PM on September 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

I wrote a piece about the canonization for Smithsonian Magazine. I don't think I've ever reported on a story where there were more passionate, conflicted, energetic people on both sides. To my surprise, even the devout Catholics who study Serra for a living were conflicted. I think the issue really hits on a bunch of deep nerves about California, heritage, ancestry and colonialism in a way that actually resonates for people in the West (which is in and of itself unique since much of America's "origin story" is that of the Eastern United States).

The most fascinating person I talked to was one of the men puddledork links to, Andy Galvan. His ancestors were forcibly converted and lived at Mission Dolores, but he now not only curates the museum there but actually served on the committee for Serra's canonization and was at the Mass yesterday. When I heard him talk I could feel all of the contradictions of his faith and his historical background hanging in the air. Both seemed to be coming out in equal measure. He was incredibly passionate and energetic, and his take on it is that it's an opportunity to actually tell the true story about what happened at the missions. I'm not sure if he's right (and as a reporter, I'm not really supposed to be), but he went against my preconceived notions of a "Native Californian response" to the canonization.

Also, I grew up in San Diego on a hilltop called Serra Mesa, so this story was even more fascinating for that reason. I'm really grateful for this post, Francis7.
posted by mynameisluka at 4:10 PM on September 24, 2015 [25 favorites]

Hopefully as balance, Bartolomé de las Casas will be canonized during Francis' reign. But maybe not, for de las Casas was a Dominican.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:46 PM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

*Points finger at 280*

I still clearly remember the answer my dad gave me, when as a child we we driving by that statue, and I asked who that man was, and why was he pointing so forcefully?

He said, "That's Junipero Serra. He founded the Catholic missions in California a long time ago to convert people. And he's pointing to where he thought the Indians should go if they didn't like it."

The statue is basically pointing out to sea.

I miss my dad.
posted by zeypher at 6:27 PM on September 24, 2015 [12 favorites]

I think the issue really hits on a bunch of deep nerves about California, heritage, ancestry and colonialism in a way that actually resonates for people in the West (which is in and of itself unique since much of America's "origin story" is that of the Eastern United States).

Definitely agree. I also grew up in San Diego: missions and ranchos are to this day a fairly significant part of our history. It's a part of US history that 90% of the US doesn't know--and Fr. Serra played a huge role in it.

There are so many remnants of that era in California. I remember learning how to make adobe bricks (straw and mud, yo) in 4th grade at our local rancho the same year that we toured Mission San Luis Rey and put together our missions project for class. I'm a Padres fan who is highly dedicated to indigenous rights, a librarian who grew up in the Serra Cooperative Library System, and a one-time casino worker for the Rincon Band of Mission Indians.

Really hard to reconcile how I feel about Junipero Serra.
posted by librarylis at 8:50 PM on September 24, 2015 [11 favorites]

The Vatican has been on a canonization spree since the papacy of John Paul II. Pope Francis, who has already canonized 17 saints, fast-tracked Junípero Serra. He announced Serra's admission to the club of saints weeks after apologizing in Bolivia for the “grave sins … committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God.” According to Elías Castillo's "A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California's Indians by the Spanish Missions", Junípero Serra was one of the sinners Pope Francis denounced in Bolivia. I wonder what Bergoglio's Promoter of the Faith (the so-called Devil's advocate)had to say about this papal farce?
posted by abakua at 2:47 AM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yep, Serra (or place names stamped with him, or missions part of the system founded by him, or place names based on those missions, etc., etc.) is pretty much everywhere you turn in California, or at least the coastal part. Strange that a Pope who is canonizing Serra didn't come to California to do it; or perhaps not, given the intensity of feeling on the matter there. Most people outside of California don't know or care who Serra was.
posted by blucevalo at 6:02 AM on September 25, 2015

I have no mixed feelings whatsoever. Fuck Junipero Serra sideways.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:46 AM on September 25, 2015

Anytime your mission(s) involves mass graves I don't see how there can be be debate about the morality of your actions.
posted by rdr at 4:32 PM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

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