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Academy of American Franciscan History


Junipero Serra was the subject of the first published book written in Alta California. In September 1784, a week or so after he had celebrated Serra's funeral Mass, Francisco Palóu, Serra's former student and closest friend, returned to his post at Mission San Francisco de Asis. He spent the next months writing Serra's biography which he entitled Historical Account of the Life and Apostolic Labors of the Venerable Father Fray Junipero Serra. Palóu took this manuscript with him when he returned to Mexico City in the summer of 1785. He circulated it among a number of his companions at the Colegio de San Fernando. At their suggestion he added a final chapter that dealt with Serra's virtues. The completed book was published by the Mexico City publishing house of Don Felipe de Zuniga y Ontiveros in 1787.1

Palóu had a number of purposes in writing this biography. One was personal. Junipero Serra had been his teacher, mentor, and friend. Palóu's preservation of his memory in this volume was an act of personal homage, what the ancient Romans might have called "pietas." The relationship between Palóu and Serra had been extremely close. At the beginning of the final chapter Palóu spoke of "the intimate friendship and love I owed him" from the time they first met in Mallorca almost half a century before. Palóu was the first person to whom Serra had confided his desire to go to America as a missionary. They worked together in the Sierra Gorda for eight years. They were slated to go to Texas together but the destruction of Mission San Saba in 1758 by a Wichita, Comanche, and Caddo force thwarted that assignment. They both worked out of the Colegio de San Fernando for the next eight years. They spent a year close to each other in Baja California before Serra left for Alta California in 1769. When the Franciscans transferred the Baja California missions to the Dominicans in 1773, Serra begged Palóu, then in Baja California, not to go back to Mexico City. He hoped, he wrote, that Palóu would go to Alta California so that "we should live and die there together." They spent considerable time together at Mission San Carlos before Palóu founded Mission San Francisco in 1776. When the two were at Santa Clara a few months before Serra's death, Palóu wrote that Serra "shed many tears; nor did I shed any fewer tears, for I feared this would be the last time we would see each other." For Palóu, writing Serra's biography was an act of devotion to his closest companion. He presented Serra as a dedicated and selfless priest, impelled only by love for all of God's children, to spread the message of salvation and civilization to the farthest corners of the globe.2

Chapter of

To Toil in That Vineyard of the Lord: Contemporary Scholarship on Junípero Serra


Rose Marie Beebe
Robert M. Senkewicz


Copyright © 2010 Academy of American Franciscan History. Reprinted with permission.

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