Mission parishioner describes her lifelong devotion to Franciscan friar

A portrait of Blessed Junipero Serra sits above his tomb in San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission in Carmel, Calif. His body rests between those of companion missionary Father Juan Crespi and the California missions' second president, Father Fermin Lasuen. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

A portrait of Blessed Junipero Serra sits above his tomb in San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission in Carmel, Calif. His body rests between those of companion missionary Father Juan Crespi and the California missions’ second president, Father Fermin Lasuen. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

By Nancy Wiechec Catholic News Service

CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, Calif. (CNS) — When Pope Francis announced in January he would canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, the announcement surprised people.

He had bypassed the verification of a second miracle attributed to the intercession of a candidate for sainthood, which is generally required for canonization.

It was news that raised the eyebrows of Rosellen Sanna. She and her husband have been parishioners at San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission for nearly 20 years.

“We both have a lifelong love for the missions,” she told Catholic News Service. “We’ve always been fascinated by Father Serra himself.”

Sometime around the early ’80s, Sanna said she picked up a holy card at Mass. It had an image of Blessed Serra on it that asked people to pray for the Spanish missionary’s intercession.

“My mom was in her 70s … very healthy in most respects and keen. And she was a real lover of California history,” Sanna said. Her mother though had developed a lesion on her leg that would not heal.

“She’d gone doctor to doctor … and everything the doctors tried to do didn’t help.”

The family knew Blessed Serra too had been afflicted with an incessant leg sore. So they and members of their Bible study group began to recite the prayer on the holy card. Eventually her mother’s ulcer cleared up.

“She really was healed, and we give that credit to Blessed Junipero Serra,” said Sanna.

Looking back, Sanna said she probably should have filed the paperwork detailing her mother’s healing for his sainthood cause.

“I feel a little guilty. Because we were so busy raising our kids, five daughters, we never filed out all the paperwork or submitted the data as a miracle.”

She said she and the Carmel Mission family are “grateful and blessed and privileged” to be a part of Blessed Serra’s legacy.

The one miracle attributed to the friar’s intercession and deemed credible by the Vatican was a case involving a young American nun diagnosed with lupus. Franciscan Sister Mary Boniface Dyrda attributed her inexplicable cure in 1960 to the prayers she offered through Father Serra. She died in 2000.

Regarding the lack of a second verified miracle for the Franciscan missionary, it is said Pope Francis considered Blessed Serra to have already met the sainthood criteria because of the way he brought the Catholic faith to California and the native populations.

The pope will canonize him at a Mass Sept. 23 in Washington at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. St. John Paul II beatified him in 1988.

Blessed Serra himself was very devoted to the saints and Mary. California’s historical missions bear the names of those he looked to for protection.

During his journey to America in 1749, a raging storm at sea nearly brought his missionary aspirations to a halt.

He and other friars, fearing for their lives aboard the ship named Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), decided to call on a “special patron” for protection. They each wrote the name of saint on a piece of paper agreeing to offer a special Mass for one chosen by lot.

Out of a bowl, they picked the name St. Barbara, whose feast day it was that Dec. 4. According to the story told by one of the friars present, the padres cried out, “Viva Santa Barbara!” and the storm immediately fell quiet.

Blessed Serra believed it was through the intercessions of Mary and St. Barbara that they had survived the ordeal.

He dedicated his missionary work to Our Lady of Guadalupe. And in 1786, the 10th of California’s 21 missions was established in St. Barbara’s name.

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