Journey to the Sun: Junipero Serra's Dream and the Founding of California

Overview

The fascinating narrative of the remarkable life of Junípero Serra, the intrepid priest who led Spain and the Catholic Church into California in the 1700s and became a key figure in the making of the American West

In the year 1749, at the age of thirty-six, Junípero Serra left his position as a highly regarded priest in Spain for the turbulent and dangerous New World, knowing he would never return. The Spanish Crown and the Catholic Church both sought expansion in Mexico—the ...

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Journey to the Sun: Junipero Serra's Dream and the Founding of California

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Overview

The fascinating narrative of the remarkable life of Junípero Serra, the intrepid priest who led Spain and the Catholic Church into California in the 1700s and became a key figure in the making of the American West

In the year 1749, at the age of thirty-six, Junípero Serra left his position as a highly regarded priest in Spain for the turbulent and dangerous New World, knowing he would never return. The Spanish Crown and the Catholic Church both sought expansion in Mexico—the former in search of gold, the latter seeking souls—as well as entry into the mysterious land to the north called “California.”

Serra’s mission: to spread Christianity in this unknown world by building churches wherever possible and by converting the native peoples to the Word of God. It was an undertaking that seemed impossible, given the vast distances, the challenges of the unforgiving landscape, and the danger posed by resistant native tribes. Such a journey would require bottomless physical stamina, indomitable psychic strength, and, above all, the deepest faith. Serra, a diminutive man with a stout heart, possessed all of these attributes, as well as an innate humility that allowed him to see the humanity in native people whom the West viewed as savages.

By his death at age seventy-one, Serra had traveled more than 14,000 miles on land and sea through the New World—much of that distance on a chronically infected and painful foot—baptized and confirmed 6,000 Indians, and founded nine of California’s twenty-one missions, with his followers establishing the rest. The names of these missions ring through the history of California— San Diego, San Jose, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Clara, and San Francisco—and served as the epicenters of the arrival of Western civilization, where millions more would follow, creating the California we know today.

An impoverished son, an inspired priest, and a potent political force, Serra was a complex man who stood at the historic crossroads between Native Americans, the often brutal Spanish soldiers, and the dictates of the Catholic Church, which still practiced punishment by flogging. In this uncertain, violent atmosphere, Serra sought to protect the indigenous peoples from abuse and to bring them the rituals and spiritual comfort of the Church even as the microbes carried by Europeans threatened their existence.

Beginning with Serra’s boyhood on the isolated island of Mallorca, venturing into the final days of the Spanish Inquisition, revealing the thriving grandeur of Mexico City, and finally journeying up the untouched California coast, Gregory Orfalea’s magisterial biography is a rich epic that cuts new ground in our understanding of the origins of the United States.

Combining biography, European history, knowledge of Catholic doctrine, and anthropology, Journey to the Sun brings original research and perspective to America’s creation story. Orfalea’s poetic and incisive recounting of Serra’s life shows how one man changed the future of California and in so doing affected the future of our nation.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/24/2014
In this vivid account of the life of Junipero Serra, Orfalea (Arab Americans: A Quest for Their History and Culture) offers not only a biography of the Spanish priest who fearlessly traveled the New World in the name of God, but an early history of California and its cultural origins. In 1749 under the guise of the Catholic Church, Serra left Spain to pursue missionary work in the New World. Yet upon his arrival Serra did more than erect churches and convert Native Americans, he cultivated multiple societies, many of which are now major cities in California: San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Juan Capistrano, and San Francisco. By focusing on one man's journey, Orfalea adds to the narrative with specifics—including actual confessions from believers and other insight gleaned from primary sources—without glazing over or sugar-coating the reality of what Spain's invasion in the New World meant for the natives who already resided there. California may be one of America's most youthful states but it does not lack the history one might assume, it only needs to be seen through the eyes of the right man. (Jan.)
Stephen Ambrose

“Gregory Orfalea’s writing combines powerful war stories with a son’s search for his father to create a fascinating book. Orfalea is unsurpassed in his ability to describe the reality and horror of life on the front line in World War II. As a bonus he has a gripping story to tell and tells it well."
Richard Rodriguez

“These essays, recollection Gregory Orfalea’s American life, are delightful and wise. I don’t think Los Angeles has ever received such lovely valentines from a native son."
James Fallows

“Southern California has produced its distinct literary voices, from Nathaniel West and Joan Didion to Walter Mosley and Michael Connelly. Gregory Orfalea is the next in this series, with his moving essays about a Southern California culture that will ring true to locals and surprise many outsiders. I was delighted to read this addition to the literature of my homeland and recommend it to readers, wherever they are from.”
Kirkus Reviews
2013-12-04
A California story becomes an American story: the prolix, passionate resurrection of the largely forgotten Spanish Franciscan priest who founded the early missions along the California coast. With the Spanish church's incursions into the Baja peninsula and what is now California in the mid-18th century, the game was over for the Native Americans who inhabited the region. The Spanish, while ostensibly bringing the civilizing word as they moved in, and more lenient masters than the English, French or Americans, nonetheless wrought the fatal three-pronged scourge of "guns, germs and steel." Arab-American writer Orfalea (Creative Nonfiction/Pitzer Coll.; The Man Who Guarded the Bomb: Stories, 2010, etc.) believes the work of native Mallorcan priest Junípero Serra (1713–1784) deserves a reappraisal. During the half century of Spanish rule in California, when Serra set out to start a series of missions from San Diego to San Buenaventura, the Indians were more "incorporated rather than eliminated." According to this sympathetic portrait of the well-meaning though flawed priest, Serra had certainly learned from the past mistakes of Old World missionaries like the Jesuits. Spain was worried about Russian imperial infiltration into the New World, as well as the threat of uprisings among Indians, and Serra and his missionary forces were ordered to move northward. He seemed genuinely to have believed the naked savages he encountered in Baja in 1769 were "before sin," a people of equal status with the Spanish. Orfalea sifts carefully through the record of pre-contact versus post-contact--e.g., after early initial success in founding several missions, Serra had to contend with violence by the accompanying Spanish soldiers, and he encouraged intermarriage between the Spaniards and Indians as a way to mitigate tension. A doggedly researched and fulsomely argued biography.
LA Times
"A popular, highly readable history of an important figure...Orfalea's book is polished and professional."
Booklist
“One merely has to look at the place names in modern California to confirm the enduring legacy of the Spanish colonization of the area. To a great extent, the initial success of that effort was due to the labors of the Franciscan priest Junipero Serra. This admiring and admirable biography pays tribute to an essential figure in the early development of California.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“At the end of Journey to the Sun, Orfalea offers a confession: Writing his book 'exhausted' him. Readers are likely to feel exhilarated by his labor of love that conjures up a man, his mission and the miracle of humanity itself.”
Publisher’s Weekly
“In this vivid account of the life of Junipero Serra, Orfalea offers not only a biography of the Spanish priest who fearlessly traveled the New World in the name of God, but an early history of California and its cultural origins… California may be one of America's most youthful states but it does not lack the history one might assume, it only needs to be seen through the eyes of the right man.”
Daniel E. Krieger
“Journey to the Sun is a highly readable, interpretive account of Junipero Serra's life. Gregory Orfalea brings his vast breadth of knowledge to fleshing out a humanistic narrative of a man whose history is often distorted and confounding. A brilliant biography about a key Hispanic figure in the launching of American history.”
John R. Johnson
“Orfalea's lively and engaging narrative not only humanizes Junipero Serra, but just as important takes into consideration the cultural perspectives of California Indians as they engaged the Spanish colonial world.”
Allan Figueroa Deck
“Orfalea's riveting narrative significantly enriches our grasp of the elusive and controverted Junipero Serra with delightful episodes from his life in Spain and Mexico based on the author's painstaking research never before reported. Arguably, Serra comes alive in this volume as in no other. Great story-telling and fast-moving action together with a stupendous familiarity with the bibliography on Serra make this an original and substantive addition to the field. Scholars and the general public will find this volume enlightening and a good read.”
Library Journal
Though little known, Junipero Serra had a huge impact on this country's development, having led efforts to establish Catholic mission churches throughout California. PEN finalist Orfalea did research in multiple languages on two continents to tell Serra's story.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451642728
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 1/14/2014
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 311,320
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Gregory Orfalea was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and educated at Georgetown University and the University of Alaska. He has held teaching positions at Georgetown, The Claremont Colleges, and at Westmont College. Orfalea is the author and editor of eight books, the most recent of which are the short story collection The Man Who Guarded the Bomb and Angeleno Days, which won the 2010 Arab American Book Award and has been named a Finalist for the PEN USA Award in Creative Nonfiction.

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