The Discovery of Serra’s Marian Novena
Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.
man of conspicuous ability and virtue, Blessed Junípero Serra
(1713-1784) is heralded as “the Apostle of California.” In addition to
his extraordinary holiness and zeal, writers have noted his
remarkable administrative talents. Ample testimony in word and in
art indicate the high esteem in which his memory is held by all
classes and ages in California. Jane Standford (co-founder with her
husband, Leland, of Stanford University) had a granite monument
erected to Serra in Monterey. A bronze statue of heroic proportion
depicts him as missionary and colonizer in San Francisco’s Golden
Gate Park. The figure of this intrepid Franciscan represents the
State of California in Statuary Hall of our Nation’s Capitol. In
1988, the Marian Year, Pope John Paul II beatified Fray Junípero
Serra was a competent writer and record-keeper. Fortunately many of
his letters and documents are extant. His best known writings are
the Diario of the journey from Loreto (Mexico) to San Diego
(California), and the thirty-two article Representación
presented to Viceroy Bucareli requesting better administrative
was one fascinating item that had eluded historians, editors and
translators: Fray Junípero’s Novena de Alabanzas en Honrra de la
Purissima Concepcion de Maria ssma. Con el Titulo de Prelada
(Novena of Prayers in Honor of the Most Pure Conception of Holy Mary
under Her Title of Queen). This is a small book containing prayers
honoring Our Lady under the title of her Immaculate Conception.
1943 Father Demetrio Garcia, a Spanish-born priest who worked in
Mexico for many years, offered an incomplete copy of the Novena
to Father Maynard Geiger, O.F.M., for the archives at Santa
Barbara Mission. The forty-five page Novena booklet had been
printed at Mexico City by Don Xavier Sanchez in 1765, when Fray Junípero
was fifty-two years of age.
Mariano Beristáin y Souza (1756-1817), a recognized scholar of that
time, credits Fray Junípero Serra with a work described as La
Prelada de S. Fernando; Novena a la Concepción Inmaculada de Maria,
distribuida por las nueve Letras de Ave Pulcra, printed at
Mexico City in 1765. Beristáin was a competent bibliographer, a contemporary of Serra. He would have had
first-hand evidence about the booklet’s authorship.
edition of the Novena was published in 1770 by Felipe de Zuñiga y
Ontiveros at Mexico City by the same press that later printed Fray
Francisco Palou’s Relacion Historica de la Vida y Apostolicas
Tareas del Venerable Padre Fray Junípero Serra José Toribio.
Medina, specialist on the history of printing in Mexico, reports
only two extant copies of the 1770 edition, his own and another
belonging to Vicente de P. Andrade, also a recognized collector and
bibliographer. Medina noted that his personal copy had an engraved
portrait of the Virgin Mary not found in the other copy.
Monsignor Francis J. Weber, archivist and historian of the
Archdiocese of Los Angeles, obtained a copy of the incomplete
Novena from the archives of Mission Santa Barbara. Later Dr.
Michael Mathes was able to locate the Medina copy in the
Biblioteca Nacional de Chile in Santiago, and had a copy made of
that fragment for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles archive. Finally
in 1988, 223 years after the original publication, the two
incomplete copies complemented each other and gave California for
the first time a copy of the entire booklet, albeit a photocopy.
During the Marian Year of 1988 proclaimed by Pope John Paul II,
Monsignor Weber accepted an English translation and edited the
complete text into A Marian Novena Attributed to Fray Junípero
Serra, which was published as a hardcover booklet of thirty-five pages under the auspices of the Archives of the Archdiocese of Los
Angeles in a special limited edition of 350 copies.