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Franciscan Footprints - California Sites that Bear Fr. Serra's Name

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September 14, 2015

From 1769 to 1784, Franciscan missionary Father Junípero Serra traveled up and down California, founding the first nine of California’s 21 missions. Through the many points of interest that now bear his name, Father Serra’s historic footsteps have made lasting impressions.

Steven Hackel, University of California Riverside professor and author of the book, “Junípero Serra: California’s Founding Father,” attributes Father Serra’s imprint on California to accomplishments he made through agriculture, as well as introducing Christianity and more. He added that Father Serra made a lasting impression through the mission style of architecture found throughout California today.

“Many points in California are named after Father Serra in recognition of contributions he made and the belief he helped build the infrastructure of the state,” Hackel said.

Father Serra founded the first mission in San Diego in 1769. Here, the mission-style Junípero Serra Museum is one of the homes of the San Diego History Center. The building is one of San Diego’s most familiar landmarks and a symbol of the city.

“The San Diego History Center was chartered to collect artifacts of San Diego and preserve them,” said Matthew Schiff, Marketing Director for the Junípero Serra Museum.

He added that it was only natural to name the museum after Father Serra, as it is located about 300 yards from the site of the first Spanish presidio.

In San Diego’s Mission Trails Regional Park runs Father Junípero Serra Trail. This two-mile path is near the old mission dam, built to store water for Mission San Diego de Alcála.

Shortly after Father Serra founded the last of his missions—Mission Santa Buenaventura in 1782 - a large wooden cross was erected overlooking the Mission church. Although the original cross was replaced, it continues to preside over the mission as a gathering spot in Ventura’s Serra Cross Park.

Towering above Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, the second of the missions and the site of Father Serra’s death in 1784 is Junípero Serra Peak. A symbol of Father Serra’s legacy, it stands at the highest point in Monterey County.

Father Serra’s impact continues through the Junípero Serra State Office Building in the historic downtown area of Los Angeles, encompassing 350,000 square feet of office space and hosting more than one-thousand employees.

Other cities across the state are also home to elementary and high schools, both private and public, bearing Father Serra’s name.

Junípero Serra High School in San Mateo opened its doors in 1944.

“Like our patron Blessed Junípero Serra, we seek to find Christ in and bring Christ to the people with whom we live, work and serve,” reads the school’s Philosophy Statement.

Father Serra has impacted California’s roadways, as well. Loosely following the path that Father Serra traveled, the El Camino Real is a series of state highways, city streets and county roads extending from the Mexican border north to Sonoma. It is noticeable to travelers by its mission bell markers, mounted on 15-foot tall posts along the route.

Roadways in San Juan Capistrano, where Father Serra founded the seventh of California’s missions in1776, and in Santa Barbara, site of California’s tenth mission, are also named after the Franciscan.

In addition, an Interstate as well as several roadways bearing Father Serra’s name can be found across the San Francisco Bay Area.

Regarding Father Serra’s impact on California, Hackel stated, “Once you look for it, you see his name everywhere.”