Father [Junipero] Serra spent most of his missionary life in Mexico. However, his greatest legacy was founding California’s first nine missions””there are 21””and the 600-mile connecting trail El Camino Real that runs from San Diego to Sonoma. Dozens of roads and schools, including NFL quarterback Tom Brady’s alma mater, are named in his honor. Generations of California fourth-graders have had to construct miniature cardboard models of the missions.
While being Christianized, natives learned how to cultivate crops, raise livestock, weave clothes, make soap and perform other tasks necessary to sustain themselves. Father Serra was as integral to California’s founding as John Winthrop was to the settlement of Plymouth Bay. Gov. Jerry Brown has hailed the priest as “a very courageous man and one of the innovators and pioneers of California.”
Yet revisionist historians take a dim view of the missions. A fourth-grade state history textbook (which my class used in 1997) noted that “for the people who had lived in California for hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived, the growth of the missions was tragic . . . Thousands of Indians died, and by the end of the 1800s much of the Indian way of life had died also.”