The great literary writer, Carl Sandberg, once observed: “Show me the way that America esteems its pioneers and I will show you the persons most widely remembered for their lives and accomplishments on behalf of the commonwealth.”
The Atlantic seaboard has its Plymouth Rock with its memory of the founding fathers; Californians speak more frequently of Presidio Hill and the Franciscan friars. That hill recalls early vicissitudes and triumphs for there the friars raised the first cross and there Christianity and civilization were born in the west.
The buildings, institutions, societies and persons named for Serra, are especially worthy of reflection. The first is the Junípero Serra Museum in San Diego. Prominently rising on the top of Presidio Hill, the museum, with its churchlike tower, its monastic cloisters and its Spanish details is the first object greeting those approaching San Diego from the north. It contains a wide variety of interesting relics of old California as well as a unique library of Western Americana. An inscription on a bronze plaque reads “Dedicated to the memory of the Founder of the California Missions. On this hill, July 16, 1769, Fray Junípero Serra and the soldiers of Spain set the royal standard, raised the cross, and dedicated San Diego de Alcala Mission."
Far away, in Petra de Mallorca, the original Serra home, located at No. 6 Barraca Street, near the southwest corner of the town about two blocks distant from the Franciscan Church of San Bernardino, was formally dedicated in April, 1932 with the Honorable Alacalá Zamora, president of the Spanish Republic, in attendance. In May of the same year, the house was donated to the City of San Francisco. It was Fray Junípero Serra who made Mallorca famous.
Other buildings named for California's eminent missionary are Serra Retreat (Pacific Palisades), Junípero Serra Public School (San Francisco), the Junípero Serra unit for boys at St. Boniface Indian School (Banning), Junípero Serra Hall (Santa Barbara) the Junípero Serra Catholic Boys' Club (Los Angeles), Junípero Serra Hall (San Diego), Serra Crespí Library (Santa Barbara) and Serra Catholic High School (Hollister). Monterey even has a Serra Hotel. Numerous Catholic churches in the state have Serra stained glass windows including Immaculate Conception (San Diego), St. Mary MagÙdalen's (Camarillo) and St. Mary's (San Francisco). Holy Name College (Washington, D.C.) contains a bust of Serra on its ornate facade.
Serra's name is not confined to buildings alone. The Santa Fe Railroad named one of its stations, south of Capistrano, in honor of Junípero. Serra Camp in the Angeles National Forest, likewise bears the Franciscan friar’s name. In 1942 a Liberty Ship was launched bearing the name Junípero Serra and, in 1907, the highest peak in the Santa Lucia Mountains (off the coast range, between Monterey and Mission San Antonio) was officially labeled Mt. Junípero Serra.
California has been generous in naming streets after the founder of its mission’s along El Camino Real. San Clemente has Avenida Junípero, San Gabriel its Junípero Street, Ventura, Serra Street (Santa Barbara), Alameda Padre Serra, Junípero Street and Junípero Plaza; Atascadero has its Serra Drive (Carmel), its Junípero Avenue. Junípero Serra Boulevard beginning in San Francisco, runs through many miles of neighboring San Mateo County. Finally, there is a Serra Street in the state's capital (Sacramento).
Nor have societies overlooked Serra. Serra's name has been applied to the Serra Clubs, generally called Serra International, an institute extending its influence beyond the borders of the United States. Their chief form of endeavor is to foster vocations and to support students for the Catholic priesthood. The first Serra Club was formed in Seattle in 1935. Serra International is now in thirty seven countries.
Other societies likewise carry on under Serra’s name and inspiration: There is the Junípero Serra Council (Beverly Hills), the Serra Unit of the Catholic Students' Mission Crusade (Santa Barbara), the Serra Council of Catholic Foresters (Santa Barbara), the Serra Scouts (Santa Barbara), the Junípero Serra Parlor No. 114 of the Native Daughters of the Golden West (Monterey), the Serra Institute of the Young Ladies Institute (San Francisco) and the Court of Junípero Serra, Catholic Daughters of America (San Mateo). There are the Junípero Serra Clubs in MonÙterey and Orchestra.
This overview of Serra nomenclature and memorials to California’s religious founder is far from complete. A special march was composed in Mallorca in 1913 and Richard Keys Biggs and Arthur Bienbar composed Masses dedicated to Serra. The former actor-singer, Jose Mojica, composed "Padre de California." Numerous drama, pageants, poems and articles center their attention on the Padre of California. Greatest of all these is the Mission Play written by California's poet-laureate, John Steven McGroarty, which has been the inspiration for many lesser dramatic attempts. This play, shown for years within the shadow of Mission San Gabriel, revealed to hundreds of thousands from all over the world the sublimity of Serra's character and the fruitfulness of his apostolate.
Other places throughout the world associated with Serra are the Parish Church of St. Peter (Petra) the Franciscan Church of St. Bernardine (Petra) the Novitiate of Jesus (Palma), the Convento of St. Francis (Palma), the Lullian University (Palma), San Fernando College (Mexico City) Mission of Santiago de Jalpan (Sierra Gorda) Loreto Mission (Baja California), Mission San Fernando de Velicata (Baja California) and the nine missions founded by Fray Junípero Serra in Alta California.
All those mentioned here and untold others form a wreath at the feet of California's first citizen, as an eloquent testimony of the love and esteem with which Serra is held in Spain, Mexico and, particularly, in California. These are but external expressions springing forth from the hearts of generations who spontaneously call him great and blessed. While it is true that "monuments do not make the man, nor the saint,” Junípero Serra lives on in the hearts of every true lover of California.