Serra's first position was librarian, and he then taught philosophy at the Convento de San Francisco. By 1742 he was awarded a doctorate in theology from the Lullian University at Palma. He resigned his chair and gave up teaching in 1749 to become an Indian missionary in the Americas. Two of his students, Francisco Palóu and Juan Crespí, also became missionaries in California.
Serra and Palóu sailed on the same ship, leaving on April 13, 1749 and, after various stops, arriving in Vera Cruz, Mexico on December 7, 1749. Serra chose to walk the 250 miles between Vera Cruz and Mexico City, and he arrived at the College of San Fernando on January 1, 1750.
Serra and Palóu voluntered for the Sierra Gorda missions, and both walked the 175 miles to Jalpan, the central mission of that group. Serra served among the Pame Indians from 1750 until 1758, and Palóu stayed even longer. In 1752, Serra was appointed a commissioner of the Holy Office of the Inquisition for the Sierra Gorda district, and for other areas he happened to be preaching where there was no resident commissioner.
In 1758, Serra was recalled to the College of San Fernando, where he remained until 1767, although during these years he visited, sometimes for extended periods, missions in Mexico City, the Rio Verde area, Puebla, Oaxaca, Huasteca and elsewhere. In 1767, he was appointed president of the formerly Jesuit missions in Baja California, and immediately began the trip to Loreto via San Blas.
By 1768, plans were being made for the spiritial and temporal conquest of Upper California, and Serra volunteered. At La Paz, on January 6, 1769, Serra blessed the San Carlos, the first leg of the combined land and sea expedition on its way to establish a mission at San Diego. Serra left Loreto on muleback, and rode north to join the Portolá expedition. The various parts of the expedition had all arrived at San Diego by July 1, 1769, and shortly afterward the land party headed north in search of Vizcaíno's fabled port of Monterey. Serra remained behind in San Diego, but his former student, Juan Crespí was a member of Portolá's expedition. Their story is told here.
With the exception of five deserters, all members of the Portolá expedition made it back to San Diego on January 24, 1770. After a short time during which they recovered and regrouped, the expedition started out again for Monterey. on April 14, 1770--this time to stay. The story of the colonization of Monterey is told here.
For the next 14 years, until his death, Serra worked out of his new headquarters at Mission San Carlos in Carmel.
- Bancroft, H.H., History of California, Vol. 1: 1542-1800 (Wallace Hebberd, Santa Barbara, CA, 1963; original 1886).
- Culleton, James, Indians and Pioneers of Old Monterey (Academy of California Church History, Fresno, CA, 1950).
- Geiger, Maynard, Franciscan Missionaries in Hispanic California, 1769-1848: A Biographical Dictionary (The Huntington Library, San Marino, 1969).