The Discovery of Serra’s Marian Novena
 

Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.

 

A 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.

                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 conditions.

                But there 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.

                In March 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.

                José 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.

                A second 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.

                In 1971 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.


 

Link to A Marian Novena Attributed to Fray Junípero Serra
 

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