Established: August 15, 1987Location: 42121 60th Street West, LancasterSan Fernando Region: Deanery 8The “exemplary model of the selfless evangelizer” is the church’s description of the Franciscan priest who brought Christianity to California, initiated the King’s Highway (El Camino Real) and founded nine of the 21 famous Missions: Blessed Junípero Serra. The intrepid missionary was 56 years old and in poor physical health when, in 1769, he raised and “blessed a cross” establishing the first mission in upper Las Californias — Mission San Diego de Alcala. By then, he had served as a missionary in Mexico for more than 20 years after leaving his home in Petra, Spain. In a farewell letter to his parents, he recognized their great sorrow on his departure, but also acknowledged that “they would urge me to go ahead and never turn back.” Thus was “Siempre Adelante” (“always forward”) his mantra during 15 years of missionary work — baptizing and confirming the native Indians as well as introducing agriculture, roads and the Spanish language — in today’s California.Father Serra baptized more than 6,000 and confirmed at least 5,000 as he established the first nine missions while painfully traveling the 600 miles between San Diego and San Francisco. He died in 1784 at age 70 and is buried at the second mission he founded, San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel. Pope John Paul II beatified Father Serra on Sept. 25, 1988; his feast day is July 1. As further evidence of Blessed Serra’s spiritual and missionary predilection for the present-day archdiocese are the two parishes named in his honor, in Lancaster and Camarillo.The Lancaster parish, in the Quartz Hill district west of Highway 14, started a year before Serra’s beatification without an official name (though some dubbed it “St. Basketball” in deference to the Paraclete High School gym in which Mass was celebrated). Josephite Father Mariano Biasio, founding pastor, named the parish for Father Serra, a suggestion from Archbishop Roger Mahony.It was the first pastorate for Father Biasio, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph. Born in Italy, Father Biasio served for 24 years in the Antelope Valley as a high school teacher and coach besides ministry at Casa Nazareth in L.A. and at St. Elizabeth Mission in the Angeles National Forest west of Lancaster. The new parish’s 300-plus founding families, he said upon the parish’s founding, “are willing to help build the community by committing themselves in time, talent and resources. The only thing we don’t have is a building.” Within five years, the growing community (having quadrupled to 1,300 families) celebrated a new multipurpose facility at the corner of 60th Street West and West Avenue L-12 in the west Antelope Valley. (The valley was named for the pronghorns, similar to antelopes, who once roamed the area in great numbers). The multipurpose complex would later become the parish hall.For 12 years Father Biasio shepherded the parish, then remained as associate pastor until 2002 when he died at age 77. His successor, Josephite Father Ernest Candelaria, warmly credited Father Biasio at the dedication of the new church in December 2002. “I am tremendously grateful for the work that Father Biasio did for this parish,” he said, “for in ways this church is one of his footprints that he has left for us.” The new Spanish-style church was a dream come true for its 2,700-plus families. “There is a sacredness in this place,” Cardinal Mahony said at the dedication, “but we must never forget how much more sacred are we ourselves to God.” Father Candelaria, a native of Albuquerque, taught at Paraclete High School before his assignment in 1999 at Blessed Junipero Serra. Since 2008 he has resided at the parish as parochial vicar, assisting the third Josephite pastor, Father Leo Dechant, born in Elyria, Ohio, ordained in 1980 from St. Mary’s Seminary, Cleveland, and a former Paraclete High teacher. There are more than 3,000 families in the growing community, 15-20 percent of them Latino and about a third from Guam. “It’s very different,” notes Father Dechant who also speaks German and Italian. In September, a special gala and dinner will launch the celebration of the 25th anniversary of this parish which opened on the feast of the Assumption — a fitting link to Blessed Serra whose footprints are clearly set in California, and in the Archdiocese. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0824/serraside/{/gallery}