navigation bar Houghton Mifflin Social Studies California Studies
Biographies Unit Biographies

Junípero Serra 1713-1784
Started the California Mission System

Junípero Serra was born on the Spanish island of Mallorca (MY yorca) in the Mediterranean Sea. He became a Catholic priest as a young man. In 1749, he became a missionary. He sailed to Mexico. He worked there for nearly twenty years before he was sent to Alta California to start missions.

Travel to Alta California was very difficult in those days. Serra was very determined, however. His motto was: “Always go forward, never turn back.” He made the long journey to Alta California and founded the first mission in San Diego in 1769. He started eight more missions, which he managed until his death.

Many people today admire Serra for his courage and hard work. Others believe the missions harmed California Indians by forcing them to change their way of life.

Comprehension Check

What did Serra do in Alta California?

Critical Thinking

Why do you think Californians today have mixed opinions about Junípero Serra?