by Daniel Fogel
Junipero Serra, a Catholic friar from Spain, founded missions among California Indians from San Diego to San Francisco in the late 1700's. Pope John Paul (Karol Jozef Wojtyla) beatified Serra in 1988, moving him to within one step of sainthood. Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) canonized Serra in 2015, making him a saint. Franciscan priests who campaigned for Serra's sainthood praise him for spreading the Catholic gospel into California and saving thousands of Indian souls for God's kingdom in heaven.
Fogel presents a critical biography of Junipero Serra, tracing the history of the California missions from 1769 through 1834. He focuses on the Franciscan friars' cultural and psychological impact on the Indians they baptized and brought into the California missions. While the friars made diligent efforts to protect "their" Indians from smallpox, mission Indians suffered devastating mortality from measles and syphilis—the latter introduced by Spanish and Mexican soldiers raping Indian women. Indian girls and unmarried women, corralled into mission dormitories locked every night, suffered high rates of disease and mortality.
Even more devastating than the introduced epidemics was the loss of autonomy and self-respect suffered by Indians recruited into the culturally invasive missions. "The Franciscans' paternalism proved disastrous for the Indians of California," writes Fogel. "By teaching them farming and ranching without allowing them to govern their own lives and labor, the friars made the Indians exploitable by private landowners. By teaching them mechanical trades without the scientific and engineering principles behind those trades, they guaranteed that the new Indian skills would be lost once the missions were dismantled. By teaching them Catholic dogma in Spanish and Latin, de-emphasizing literacy and failing to give the Indian languages written forms, the friars hastened the disappearance of the Indian languages and left the Indians without resources to claim the formal rights they had under Mexican law. By confining women and downgrading their social status, the friars broke their independent spirits, making them exploitable as domestic servants and concubines."
Fogel also connects the controversy surrounding Serra and the California missions with key issues dividing the Catholic church in both North and Latin America today: liberation theology, birth control and abortion rights, women's role in the church, and gay and lesbian rights.
"The view presented in this book is broad in scope... It offers a devastating and detailed picture of the fate of the California Indians... [Fogel] contributes a detailed view of the life-style and customs of the California Indians under the rule of the Franciscans and the military forces that accompanied them." —Academic Library Book Review (Dec. 1988)
"One of the most interesting arguments in the book is how Serra and the ideological arm of the 'authoritarian system,' the church, set up the California missions..." —El Tecolote (The Owl, San Francisco)
DANIEL FOGEL has lived in California since 1983. Fluent in Spanish, he has studied and experienced several Mexican and Central American cultures. In 1990, he presented an essay titled, "Masochism and Sainthood: Kateri Tekakwitha and Junípero Serra,” at a symposium on “The Spanish Missions and California Indians” held at D-Q University in California.
219 pages, 24 illustrations & 3 maps. Bibliography, index.
Paperback • ISBN: 978-0-910383-25-7 • Price: $9.
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