In the year 1749, at the age of thirty-six, Junípero Serra left his position as a highly regarded priest in Spain for the turbulent and dangerous New World, knowing he would never return. The Spanish Crown and the Catholic Church both sought expansion in Mexico- the former in search of gold, the latter seeking souls-as well as entry into the mysterious land to the north called "California."
Serra's mission: to spread Christianity in this unknown world by building churches wherever possible and by converting the native peoples to the Word of God. Such a journey would require bottomless physical stamina, indomitable psychic strength, and, above all, the deepest faith. Serra, a diminutive man with a stout heart, possessed all of these attributes, as well as an innate humility that allowed him to see the humanity in native people whom the West viewed as savages.
By his death at age seventy-one, Serra had traveled more than 14,000 miles on land and sea through the New World, baptized and confirmed 6,000 Indians, and founded nine of California's twentyone missions The names of these missions ring through the history of California -San Diego, San Jose, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Clara, and San Francisco- and served as the epicenters of the arrival of Western civilization, where millions more would follow, creating the California we know today. Gregory Orfalea's magisterial biography is a rich epic that cuts new ground in our understanding of the origins of the United States.