St. Junipero Serra statue has arrived at a new home at the Mission

St. Junipero Serra has returned.

by Patrcia Schallert

The St. Junipero Serra statue has found a new home! On February 29th, 2024, the bronze statue of St. Junipero Serra, previously situated in front of San Buenaventura City Hall, was gracefully relocated to its new residence at the Mission Basilica San Buenaventura (211 E Main St.)

St. Junípero Serra, an esteemed  Roman Catholic Spanish priest and friar of the Franciscan Order, is renowned for establishing nine Spanish missions in Alta California. Canonized by Pope Francis on September 23, 2015, he holds a special place in history.  On Easter Sunday, March 31, 1782, Mission San Buenaventura, his final mission, was founded on a site now known as downtown Ventura.

Fr. Tom Elewaut, the dedicated pastor of the Mission Basilica, warmly welcomed the return of the bronze likeness of St. Junipero Serra. Speaking on the historic significance of the land belonging to the Chumash people, Fr. Tom Elewaut emphasizes Serra’s role as a spiritual father to the indigenous community what was then known as  Alta California. He highlights Serra’s unwavering defense of their dignity and rights before the Spanish magistrate. “The statue acts as a catalyst for peaceful and open dialogue surrounding the indigenous history, the Mission era, Spanish conquest, Mexican occupation, the Gold Rush, and the eventual attainment of California statehood within the United States of America. All of these events have profoundly influenced and shaped the narrative of this land.”

In July, 2020, the Ventura City Council made the decision to relocate two statues during a special public meeting. This choice paved the way for the  landmark bronze statue of St. Junipero Serra, situated on public property in front of City Hall, to be temporarily stored with the ultimate intention of transferring it to Mission Basilica San Buenaventura.

In achieving a peaceful resolution, former Ventura Mayor Matt LaVere, former Chair Julie Tumamait of the Barbareño/Ventureño Band of Mission Indians (Chumash), and Father Tom Elewaut collaborated to respectfully address community concerns and create an inclusive environment that respected and appreciated all community voices. The goal was to honor the cultural heritage of Ventura and pay tribute to its earliest inhabitants.

In February, work commenced on the concrete base of the statue, diligently carried out by Bryan Cooke of Cooks Crating, who spearheaded the delivery and installation process. The bronze cast, crafted to replace the original 1936 concrete statue, was unveiled in a momentous ceremony at Ventura City Hall on October 20, 1989. This striking 9’3″, 1250-pound masterpiece had since stood proudly overlooking downtown Ventura and the majestic Pacific Ocean.

Ventura Mayor Joe Schroeder expresses the historical significance of the statue and mission for the city, affirming that the relocation to Mission Basilica San Buenaventura symbolizes their commitment to preserving the rich history of the community and honoring the legacy of its earliest residents.

The decision-making process involved extensive public input, the invaluable contributions of the Barbareño/Ventureño Band of Mission Indians, and the collaboration with Mission. It is a testament to their dedication to inclusivity and unity while celebrating Ventura’s diverse heritage.

Mission Basilica San Buenaventura, lovingly named after Saint Bonaventure, who was a Cardinal and Doctor of the Church during the years 1221-1274, is aptly known as the “Mission by the Sea.” Guided by a mission statement that upholds the values of prayer and service, the mission endeavors to foster unity among various faith communities as it continues to move “always forward.”

Editor: From a previous Ventura Breeze “A demonstration was held on Saturday, June 20, 2020, to demand that the statue of Father Junipero Serra in front of Ventura City Hall be taken down on grounds that he had committed atrocities against Native Americans, including the local Chumash.”

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