I WAS sad to see that, on his recent visit to North America, the Pope decided not to beatify the Franciscan, Fr Junipero Serra, (1713-1784) who evangelized Alta California. I hope it was not because of the several native American groups who have criticised Fr Serra, the 18th century Spanish Missionary, as a symbol of Spanish Colonial oppression.
I have followed, with the Franciscans, the mission trail through California of this remarkable man from Majorca, whose cause was begun on the Pacific Coast in 1934. I started the trail from the Friary of the Franciscans at the Golden Gate, San Francisco.
The nine missions he founded have the most enchanting names, the first San Diego de Alcala was founded on July 16, 1769. Today it is located six miles up the valley of the San Diego river. The second, founded on June 3, 1770 was San Carlos Borromeo, today near Rio Carmelo. Here he died on August 28, 1784, and here he was buried under the sanctuary of the church.
San Antonio de Padua, is a picturesque valley, difficult to locate, was his third foundation on July 14, 1771. The fourth mission was San Gabriel Artangel, which served the spiritual needs of Los Angeles when it was founded in 1781. It lies at the foothills of a mountain range of spectacular beauty.
San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was his fifth mission, founded on September 1, 1772. Then came San Francisco de Asis, founded on October 9, 1776, the original site being amid lakes and streams. Today it is "Mission Dolores" in the very heart of San Francisco, on the corner of Sixteenth Street and Dolores Street. It lies to the South West of the business section of San Francisco.
San Juan Capistrano mission was established on November 1, 1776. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812, but restored. Santa Clara de Asis was founded on January 12, 1777. again, earthquakes destroyed the original building on the southern shores of the bay of San Francisco, in the city of San Jose, in the suburb of Santa Clara. Today, thanks to the Jesuits, it is the University of Santa Clara.
The ninth and last mission to be founded by Padre Junipero was San Buenaventura, established on March 31, 1782. The original foundation was destroyed by earthquakes, and today the mission stands on the main street of the prosperous city of Ventura.
My most vivid memory of one of the mission stations is of the young Franciscan postulants, at Mass, at dawn, who knelt with arms outstretched like Christ on the Cross, from the Canon of the Mass until the "Domine non sum dignus".
Another memory is of being advised by my Franciscan guide never to refuse wine if offered at any mission station. This was because the custom was to offer wine to the visitor and if the offer was accepted, then the whole community was invited to join in the libations. If the visitor said "no" there were no celebrations. The most memorable Californian wine, from the vineyards of the Franciscans, was produced in enormous glass jars, the size of the amphora which might have been used at the Marriage Feast of Cana.
Padre Junipero devoted his life to converting the Indians, and did his best to protect his converts from the civil arm of the Spaniards and their immoral soldiery. He had a good sense of humour, and frequently, in his letters, he alludes to the fact that it would be well to send Spanish women to California because the Indians, seeing none, were convinced that the Spaniards were the sons of their packmules!.
Padre Serra was denied the martydom he desired. He lived a life of heroic virtue. It is calculated that he walked 13,000 miles in search of souls during his life-time. Prior to his mission to Alta California he had crisscrossed the deserts of Mexico for Christ for eight years. He was fifty-five years of age when he entered the California from which his Most Catholic Majesty, the King of Spain, had banished the Jesuits, because they had treated the Indians as their equal brothers in Christ, and protected them from the corruption of Spanish Colonialism.
After the death of Padre Junipero Serra, twelve more missions blossomed forth, the most popular today being Santa Barbara which is virtually the headquarters of the Sons of St Francis in Alta California.
LEAVING San Francisco on the mission trail, with my franciscan priest driver, one experience of America I have never forgotten was to see, on the motorway in front of us, two automobiles collide, head-on, at speeds approaching 90 miles an hour each. It was like a sequence in slow motion from a movie.
After the accident, in one crumpled automobile, as if seated asleep at the wheel, was a young flannel-suited executive, the business papers from his brief-case scattered all over the highway. He had died immediately from the shock of the impact. In the other upside down automobile still wearing their "hard hats" (steel helmets) were four dead Italian-American construction workers. They too were quite dead, like plaster statues hanging upside down.
The total silence after the initial impact was shattering. My Franciscan companion made the sign of the cross on the foreheads of each of the five dead men, gave conditional absolution and said the prayers for the dying, while others sent for the ambulances and fire brigades.
Then I noticed a number of motorists had emerged in silence from their vehicles and were aiming their cameras at the scene of the accident. Subsequently I learnt that the general idea was to sell the photos to the San Francisco newspapers, and to the insurance companies involved.
I also observed, at the site of the head-on collision, (apparentely a notorious motoring black-spot) a small Coca-Cola sign standing on the side of the road. This duly appeared in the background of the front page picture of the crash in the San Francisco tabloids the following morning, as a free advertisement for all to see.
IN A democracy, where it is enshrined in the constitution that the affairs of Church and state are entirely separate, the faith of the American Catholics is as pure as the waters of a mountain stream. Their forefathers emigrated to escape from the skeletal peasant poverty which was largely their lot and on the vast estates and lands of Imperial Europe, dominated by the Princes of the Church in unholy alliance with the Princes of the House of Savoy, the Hapsburgs, the Coburgs, the Hohenzollerns, the Bourbons and the Romanovs.
I always found the Princes of the Church in the United States were most approachable. Cardinal Cushing of Boston, more often than not, answered his telephone in person. When you enquired if you might speak to His Eminence the Cardinal, the rasping reply was usually, "Yer talkin to him!" followed by a warm welcome to "come on over". Cardinal Spellman would often pause to chat on the sidewalk of his Cathedral, on Fifth Avenue and East 50th Street. I used to meet him at official functions, and frequently observed him presiding at High Mass in St Patrick's Cathedral. Often he fell asleep on his throne on the sanctuary, exhausted by jet lag from his hustling around the globe from Alaska to Korea as Military Vicar to the United States Armed Forces.
The good Cardinal was the victim of a bad press when he died. One of my memories of him is of his getting into his car and driving off to a gasoline station in Brooklyn, where a priest, who had gone "over the hill", was working as a forecourt attendant.
The Cardinal got the man to fill up the tank of his limousine with petrol, while he talked with him, and persuaded him to get into the car, and come back with him to the Chancellery, to be counselled, and to be eventually restored to his priestly duties. Such pastoral touches never appear in an obitury.
Brooklyn reminds me that when Pope Paul V 1, the first Pope to visit the United States, arrived at New York airport on his way to address the United Nations, the band of New York's Finest struck up "Hello Dolly", from the smash hit musical of that name playing Broadway at the time. New York's burly cops, mostly Irish American were in their element that day, as many were part of the security arrangements and faced the crowds togged out in cassocks and cottas, looking, for all the world, like a reunion day at Maynooth college.
ANOTHER fond memory is of the occasions I attended Mass on visits to the Windy City, in downtown Chicago. As the celebrant and his server emerged from the sacristy, they were preceded by a small boxer dog. While the priest went to the Epistle side of the altar to arrange the missal, the dog duly took up its position beside the server at the Gospel side of the alter.
When the priest moved over to the gospel side, his little dog duly moved over to the Epistle side. He sat in his appointed place quite solemnly and silently with ears erect, and, on Sundays, curled up asleep during the sermon and the notices.
At the conclusion of the Mass he led the procession back to the sacristy, I often speculated as to whether he bowed to the crucifix and to the celebrant when he returned there. He was such a solemn and devoted little hound of heaven that St Francis must surely have approved of him.
A DOG of a different colour was the poodle belonging to Wally Simpson which the Duke of Windsor used to walk, late at night, around the block on which St Patrick's Cathedral stood between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue, when he was staying in the adjacent Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Like most of Manhattan's top dogs the poodle's collar was ornamented with precious stones. The Duke used to stop and chat with the Mayo-born janitor of the Irish Tourist Board Office on East 50th Street, and often commented on the splendid fighting qualities of the Irish regiments which he, as Prince of Wales, and as a young officer visiting the Western Front in World War One, has seen going into action.
The Mayor of the Big Apple in those days was an Italian Catholic, a nominee of Tammany Hall. He was known as the "Little Flower". On one occasion he was being driven, late at night, in the Mayoral limousine through the Bowry and its notorious Skid Row. "Look at all dem drunken Irish bums!" he exclaimed to his driver. To which his Irish chauffeur instantly replied, "Yes sir, and not a pimp among them!".