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Photo credit: Shutterstock.com/Elliotte Rusty Harold

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Crisis Magazine on June 24, 2019.

By Patrick M. Laurence, Crisis Magazine, July 8, 2020

Patrick M. Laurence, an attorney, writes on legal, cultural, and philosophical issues from Orange County, California. His talk “Junípero Serra on Trial: Criminal or Saint?” has been presented to numerous audiences and was featured on a nationally-syndicated radio program.  …


Patrick M. LaurenceThe story of the American founding usually begins in the East. In that account, we speak of the War of Independence, the establishment of the American republic, and prominent founding fathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. However, there is an older story involving other founding fathers which took place in the West.

Nearly 80 years before the Pilgrims founded the Plymouth Colony, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo explored the coast of California under the flag of the Spanish Empire. Named after a mythical island in a popular Spanish novel, California was claimed for Spain by virtue of its nearby imperial strongholds in Mexico and Peru. However, the Spaniards made no serious effort to occupy the region until a Franciscan friar, St. Junípero Serra, arrived with other colonists in 1769. Over the next fifteen years—covering the American Revolutionary War period—Serra established nine of California’s famous missions, helped lay the foundation for much of its modern economy (including its agriculture and winemaking), and planted the seeds of the Catholic faith for generations to come.  …