Miguel Joseph Serra, now known only by his adopted name of Junipero, which he took out of reverence for the chosen companion of St. Francis, was a native of the Island of Majorca, where he was born, of humble folk, in 1713. According to the testimony of his intimate friend and biographer, Father Francesco Palou, his desires, even during boyhood, were turned towards the religious life. Before he was seventeen he entered the Franciscan Order, a regular member of which he became a year or so later. His favorite reading during his novitiate, Palou tells us, was in the Lives of the Saints, over which he would pore day after day with passionate and ever-growing enthusiasm; and from these devout studies sprang an intense ambition to “imitate the holy and venerable men” who had given themselves up to the grand work of carrying the Gospel among gentiles and savages. The missionary idea thus implanted became the dominant purpose of his life, and neither the astonishing success of his sermons, nor the applause with which his lectures were received when he was made professor of theology, sufficed to dampen his apostolic zeal. Whatever work was given him to do, he did with all his heart, and with all his might, for such was the man’s nature; but everywhere and always he looked forward to the mission field as his ultimate career. He was destined, however, to wait many years before his chance came. At length, in 1749, after making many vain petitions to be set apart for foreign service, he and Palou were offered places in a body of priests who, at the urgent request of the College of San Fernando, in Mexico, were then being sent out as recruits to various parts of the New World. The hour had come; and in a spirit of gratitude and joy too deep for words, Junipero Serra set his face towards the far lands which were henceforth to be his home.
The voyage out was long and trying. In the first stage of it — from Majorca to Malaga — the dangers and difficulties of seafaring were varied, if not relieved by strange experiences, of which Palou has left us a quaint and graphic account. Their vessel was a small English coaster, in command of a stubborn cross-patch of a captain, who combined navigation with theology, and whose violent protestations and fondness for doctrinal dispute allowed his Catholic passengers, during the fifteen days of their passage, scarcely a minute’s peace. His habit was to declaim chosen texts out of his “greasy old” English Bible, putting his own interpretation upon them; then, if when challenged by Father Junipero, who “was well trained in dogmatic theology,” he could find no verse to fit his argument, he would roundly declare that the leaf he wanted happened to be torn. Such methods are hardly praiseworthy. But this was not the worst. Sometimes the heat of argument would prove too much for him, and then, I grieve to say, he would even threaten to pitch his antagonists overboard, and shape his course for London. However, despite this unlooked-for danger, Junipero