Speaking of St. Junipero Serra, Retired Staff Sgt. Dale Day writes…

Speaking of St. Junipero Serra, Retired Staff Sgt. Dale Day writes… November 24, 2015

I wrote about a Catholic saint and I’m not even Catholic!


Because Junipero Serra has always fascinated me since I was growing up in Southern California.

Even back in the ’50s and ’60s, schools taught that the Spaniards who invaded California were cruel taskmasters who enslaved and whipped the poor, innocent natives. They made them toil endless hours under the burning sun to construct their temples to Papist beliefs. And, of course, the Franciscan Serra was the worst of the lot.

That never made sense to me. I could understand the soldiers doing so but not the friars who dedicated their lives to building the missions to improve the native’s lives. Just visiting Mission San Gabriel Archangel when I skipped out of my school classes showed me the beauty and the purpose of creating a bountiful life. Gardens and orchards and the various shops seemed more in line with helping instead of enslaving.

Over the years, I was fortunate enough to visit every one of the twenty-one missions from San Diego to Sonoma. When I was assigned to Fort Ord, I always found time to visit the mission in Carmel. And then, when I attended the Defense Language Institute, the Presidio of Monterey intrigued me. Other tours at the Presidio of San Francisco gave me the opportunity to visit the mission in San Francisco and my favorite, San Rafael.

The time came when my service-related disabilities forced me into retirement and I found myself once again drawn to the story of Father Serra. Thanks to the internet, I was able to conduct research that whipped away the fog of what I’d been taught. I also learned that Father Serra was being considered for sainthood.

And the more I learned, the more I saw the reasoning behind it. Thus, I set out to tell the true story of Junipero Serra who carried out his missionary goals with zeal, amazing dedication, and extreme love for the Gentiles who willingly came to him and the friars who sought to share his lofty aims.

Sainthood? Even as a non-Catholic, I believe there are men and women on the face of this wondrous earth of ours who have lived exemplary and dedicated lives. Did the friars “spank” the Indians at their missions? Of course, they did. It was a time when the world believed in Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child. They loved the natives who willingly came to their missions by the thousands and wanted nothing but the best in life for them. Did they chase down those who left the missions without permission? Yes, they did. But, at the same time, they allowed those natives to return to their home areas to celebrate days and times important in their previous cultures.

He and the other friars were not the slave drivers I was taught about.

And then, the big question; how to tell the story?

Come on. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books about the California missions and the Spanish conquest and occupation of the New World. Books written by renowned and diploma-laden experts. How could someone with just a few college courses compete with those people?

Wait a minute. How about taking a different approach? Telling the story as historical fiction? No dusty tomes or scholarly pages. Just an entertaining story that people of all ages could read and enjoy. The kind of things I’ve read all my life.

Maybe I could even include something that enthralled me in my youth, how those brave sailors set out into the unknown in boats often too frail to survive some of the horrid tempests Mother Earth had in store for them.

Wikipedia and Google Maps to the rescue. Captain Hornblower made it to the Pacific in those marvelous stories. And he sailed from Plymouth. Why not create a young man who finds himself aboard ship due to set sail for the New World? Make him a cabin boy, sold to the captain in order to save his family’s dairy farm. Creating Timothy Beadle and getting him to the ship was fun.

I’ve always known an important part of storytelling are the characters. But, creating them turned out to be as much fun as telling their story. Timothy’s cold-hearted father indentured him to save the family legacy. And his mother did not fight it.

And then hours of researching sailing ships of the 18th century. Barks? Brigs? Frigates? Schooners? Which would fit the time and purpose? So, along comes Captain Stanhope Carlyle, master of His Majesty’s Merchant Brig Willoughby out of Plymouth England. A good, God-fearing man of his time, place, and station. A man who ensured the youth of his ship learned to read, write and do sums needed to navigate a ship. Timothy would learn far more on the voyage than in all his previous years.

Hold on a minute!

What does an English cabin boy have to do with Father Serra and the California missions?

Well, you see, there is yet another character of note in this story. A young Indian boy from the foothills of the western mountains of New Spain who is one of but three survivors of smallpox that wiped out his village. He is found by Franciscan friars on their way to the mission in Culuiacan in Sonora. When the friars are called upon to go to California to take over from the Jesuits, Jaime el Carpintero, as the boy has been named, goes with them. He has a special skill carving wood and is taught to be a carpenter. In the aftermath of an unusually strong cyclone, he is sent to Misión Todos Santos on the west coast of California Sur. There, as in his dream of a white ocelot, he finds a white boy with freckles on the storm-wracked beach.

Voila! We now have the two main characters for The Sailor and The Carpenter, Book One of Father Serra’s Legacy. And they lead me into the heart of the story, how a little man in a gray robe with a terrible limp walks his way through inspecting the missions founded by the Jesuits in California Sur before setting off on the epic journey to discover the fabulous harbor of Monte Rey which King Carlos wants to be secured as part of his realm.

Timothy and Jaime, now as close as brothers in a strange land among strange peoples, are caught up in the holy aura of Father President Serra and join the expedition of he and Governor Gaspar Portolá. They follow the trail blazed by Captain Fernando Moncada y Rivera, through rugged hills and mountains filled with spiny, stinging plants. Rivera is one of the most underrated heroes of Mexican history. They are there when the Franciscans found Misión San Fernando de Velicatá and show us the amazing brilliance of men who create beauty out of sun-dried bricks and reeds. All with the willing assistance of peoples who have lived beyond memory in a Stone Age existence.

The Sailor and The Carpenter ends in a poignant moment when, upon reaching the River Ti Wan just short of Bahia San Miguel, the site of current-day San Diego, they come upon an English merchant brig’s shore party. The same ship from which Timothy was washed overboard. When the captain asks if he can take Timothy home, his reply is that he is now with his true family. As Timothy follows Father Serra continuing the trek, Captain Carlyle turns to one of the midshipmen and remarks that they are watching a true explorer.

Each of the three novels is a little over 100,000 words in length. I did so that readers will not get bogged down in a lengthy tome. Book Two, The King’s Highway, takes us through the founding of Misión San Diego de Alcalá, the 1769 Portolá expedition of California, and the founding of the first nine missions until Saint Junipero Serra passes at Misión San Carlos Borromeo in 1784. Book Three has Timothy and Jaime there through the founding of twenty of the twenty-one mission.

And, one final thought. What would Father Serra think of his sainthood? Having studied his life and that of his fellow friars, I sincerely believe he is somewhere in the Afterlife shaking his head and claiming he does not deserve such an honor. He spent endless hours on his knees praying for forgiveness for what he saw as his sins. The scars upon his thin back attested to this belief. He also begged forgiveness for not completing the full nineteen missions outlined in the 1769 expedition, claiming remiss in properly performing his duties as president of the missions for that failure.

The Sailor and The Carpenter is available here in both paperback and Kindle

The King’s Highway is available here in both paperback and Kindle

The Missions Bloom is available here in both paperback and Kindle

I am and will always be enthralled by Saint Junipero Serra’s life and earnestly agree with Pope Francis that he deserved sainthood. But, as does anyone who studied the history of the time, I now have another mission of my own; to write the epic story of Captain Rivera, a man who always lived by the oaths of fealty he swore and set an exemplary guide for all of us who have or will wear the uniform of the nation we swear allegiance to.

Thank you for your time.

Check thou them out!

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