Class with St. Junípero Serra

Inspiration from the patron saint of vocations

By Christian Clifford

“Today, like [St. Junípero Serra], may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!” — Pope Francis, at Junípero Serra’s canonization on September 23, 2015

A Brief History

St. Junípero Serra (1713-1784) came from humble beginnings. Born and raised in Petra, Mallorca, Spain, he responded to God’s call and was ordained a priest in the Franciscan order in 1737. From 1740-1749 he lived a comfortable life as a university professor. But in 1749 he traveled to Mexico, and for the next 20 years he served the Christian Indians north of Mexico City.

In 1769, he finally was given the chance to do what he had wanted to do for so long: be a missionary priest. In March 1769 Captain Gaspar Portolá and Father Junípero Serra left Baja California, and reached San Diego Bay on July 1, 1769, where they were surrounded by an estimated 300,000 Indians.

By 1790, 11 missions and four presidios had been constructed, occupied by an estimated 30 priests and 211 soldiers. By the time the last mission closed its doors in 1836, due to the Secularization Law passed in 1834 by the Mexican Congress, 142 Franciscan priests had ministered in Alta California. Two of these priests were killed at the hands of natives. A tragic unintended consequence of the cultural exchange was that the majority of California Indians who did convert died due to diseases for which they had no immunity.

Lessons from St. Junípero Serra

In order to clear up misconceptions about our school’s namesake, I decided to present a Serran spirituality to the community. As a result, students learn the qualities and traits of St. Junípero Serra and turn to him to intercede on their behalf. In essence, the students present what is most important to them and help others to reflect and pray in the future, thus creating a charism at the grassroots level through a focus group. I initially created the lesson for a high-school class, but it can be adapted for middle-school students.

Class with St. Junípero Serra Lesson Plan

Begin with the Prayer for the Intercession of Junípero Serra.

Divide the students into pairs, giving each pair a copy of the printable quotes.

Set up the context and objective by reading this introduction to the class:

St. Junípero Serra was a complex man living in complex times. He once told the territory’s governor that if the natives should kill him, they should be forgiven and pardoned. He penned what would go down in history as the native bill of rights. Yet he was also a man of his time, using harsh forms of personal penance and upholding corporal punishment, actions peculiar to us today.

St. Junípero Serra identified himself as a spiritual father. However, his spirituality can be challenging for one to discern due to the bulk of his extant writings pertaining to his role as an administrator. It is hard to incorporate one’s deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in a letter that deals with requesting plates from a government official. These quotes are provided to help one get to know his beliefs and how they affected his ministry.

In pairs, one student reads a quote aloud, then both will make a quick note about each quote:

  • something interesting
  • something surprising
  • a question
  • an important term
  • the key point
  • a three-word summary

With approximately 10 minutes left in class, give the students time to individually reflect, in writing, on the exercise.


Select the quote that was most memorable to you and respond to one of these questions:
How does what St. Junípero Serra wrote inspire you to bring others to Christ?
How does what St. Junípero Serra wrote relate to the world?

Spread the good news about St. Junípero Serra with your students. His life will surely inspire them to be living Gospels. St. Junípero Serra, pray for us!

Governor Jerry Brown (CA-D) called Junípero Serra “one of the innovators and pioneers” in California history. Bishop Robert McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego referred to Serra as a “foundational figure” of the Golden State. Not everyone admires Serra, however. In certain circles Junípero Serra symbolizes the negative outcomes of Spanish colonialism, though the historical record proves otherwise (the Church collected 2,420 documents — 7,500 pages total — of Serra’s writings and 5,000 pages of materials written about him from those who knew him, and testimony of people inspired by his life).

Image credit: Shutterstock 479690998

Christian Clifford is a veteran Catholic-school teacher and author of three books about Catholic Church history in Spanish-Mexican California. Clifford’s writings have appeared in California Teacher, Catholic San Francisco, Catholic Standard, and Today’s Catholic Teacher, and on Aleteia, Catholic Exchange, Crux, Patheos, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and son. For more information, visit

Image credit: Shutterstock 479690998

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