Born at Petra, Island of Majorca, Spain, 24 November 1713; died at Monterey, California, 28 August 1784.
On 14 September 1730, he entered the Franciscan Order. For his proficiency in studies he was appointed lector of philosophy before his ordination to the priesthood. Later he received the degree of Doctor of Theology from the Lullian University at Palma, where he also occupied the Duns Scotus chair of philosophy until he joined the missionary college of San Fernando, Mexico (1749). While traveling on foot from Vera Cruz to the capital, he injured his leg in such a way that he suffered from it throughout his life, though he continued to make his journeys on foot whenever possible. At his own request he was assigned to theSierra Gorda Indian Missions some thirty leagues north of Querétaro. He served there for nine years, part of the time as superior, learned the language of the Pame Indians, and translated the catechism into their language. Recalled to Mexico, he became famous as a most fervent and effective preacher of missions. His zeal frequently led him to employ extraordinary means in order to move the people to penance. He would pound his breast with a stone while in the pulpit, scourge himself, or apply a lighted torch to his bare chest. In 1767 he was appointed superior of a band of fifteen Franciscans for the Indian Missions of Lower California. Early in 1769 he accompanied Portolá’s land expedition to Upper California. On the way (14 May) he established the Mission San Fernando de Velicatá, Lower California. He arrived at San Diego on 1 July, and on 16 July founded the first of the twenty-one California missions which accomplished the conversions of all the natives on the coast as far as Sonoma in the north. Those established by Father Serra or during his administration were San Carlos (3 June 1770); San Antonio (14 July 1771); San Gabriel (8 September 1771); San Luis Obispo (1 September 1772); San Francisco de Asis (8 October 1776); San Juan Capistrano (1 November 1776); Santa Clara (12 January 1777); San Buenaventura (31 March 1782). He was also present at the founding of the presidio of Santa Barbara (21 April 1782), and was prevented from locating the mission there at the time only through the animosity of Governor Philipe de Neve. Difficulties with Pedro Fages, the military commander, compelled Father Serra in 1773 to lay the case before Viceroy Bucareli. At the capital of Mexico, by order of the viceroy, he drew up his Representación in thirty-two articles. Everything save two minor points was decided in his favour; he then returned to California, late in 1774. In 1778 he received the faculty to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. After he had exercised his privilege for a year, Governor Neve directed him to suspend administering the sacrament until he could present the papal Brief. For nearly two years Father Serra refrained, and then Viceroy Majorga gave instructions to the effect that Father Serra was within his rights. During the remaining three years of his life he once more visited the missions from San Diego to San Francisco, six hundred miles, in order to confirm all who had been baptized. He suffered intensely from his crippled leg and from his chest, yet he would use no remedies. He confirmed 5,309 persons, who, with but few exceptions, were Indians converted during the fourteen years from 1770. Besides extraordinary fortitude, his most conspicuous virtues were insatiable zeal, love of mortification, self-denial, and absolute confidence in God. His executive abilities has been especially noted by non-Catholic writers. The esteem in which his memory is held by all classes in California may be gathered from the fact that Mrs Stanford, not a Catholic, had a granite monument erected to him at Monterey. A bronze statute of heroic size represents him as the apostolic preacher in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. In 1884 the Legislature of California passed a concurrent resolution making 29 August of that year, the centennial of Father Serra’s burial, a legal holiday. Of his writings many letters and other documentation are extant. The principal ones are his Diario of the journey from Loreto to San Diego, which was published in Out West (March to June, 1902), and the Representación before mentioned.