A comprehensive biography of California’s sovereign settler.
Hackel (History/Univ. of California, Riverside; Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850, 2005, etc.) chronicles the life and work of Junípero Serra (1713–1784), a Spanish Franciscan Friar missionary who founded missions throughout California. He was christened Miquel Joseph Serre in the village of Petra, Spain, a spiritually devout locale the author paints lushly and in great detail as a “breeding ground for Catholic missionaries.” While little is known of Serra’s childhood, Hackel postulates that he was likely raised “at the edge of poverty” by a strict father and matured swiftly and with increasing piety. This spiritual dedication would manifest throughout the remainder of Serra’s life. Just before he turned 17, he joined the Franciscan Order, adopting the name Junípero to honor the sanctity of Brother Juniper, a follower of St. Francis. Hackel tracks Serra’s next moves with great dexterity as Serra sacrificed a decade of devoted effort as a theology professor and priest for the calling of New World missionary. In Mexico, Serra embarked wholeheartedly on converting Indians to Catholicism and became a “field agent” for the Spanish Inquisition. Recognized for his “lively, logical, and focused mind,” he successfully expanded the Franciscan order across California, establishing missions from San Diego to Monterey amid widespread Spanish colonization and periods of resistance. Hackel’s impeccably honed facts, while delivered in the straightforward prose of a textbook, incorporate a celebratory aura for a major figure in history who changed the landscape and the culture of California. Serra’s legacy was given due honor, as he was one of two Californians commemorated in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, and he was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1988.
A consummate archivist of California history, Hackel has produced a definitive Golden State biography indispensable for academic historians, Californians and classroom study.