Blessed Junipero Serra, the Franciscan who founded the California missions and is in line to be canonized a saint this fall when Pope Francis visits the United States, could potentially lose his spot in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall under a proposal by a California state Sen. Ricardo Lara.
Lara introduced a resolution Feb. 4 in Sacramento to replace the statue of Blessed Serra with a statue of Sally Ride, the first woman in space who was on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. Lara said Ride, a physicist, astronaut and champion of science, would “become the first woman to represent California and the first member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to be placed in the Statuary Hall.” Ride died in 2012 at the age of 61 from pancreatic cancer.
The senator suggests relocating Blessed Serra’s statue to California “where citizens and visitors can enjoy it and be reminded of his significant historical impact upon our state.”
When the hall was dedicated in 1864, Congress invited each state to contribute two statues of prominent citizens. States can request the Joint Committee on the Library to approve the replacement of a statue if the move has been approved by the state legislature and the governor and if the outgoing statue has been displayed in the hall for at least 10 years.
The statue of Blessed Serra, holding aloft a cross, was donated in 1931. California’s other statue, President Ronald Reagan, was placed in the hall in 2009 replacing a statue of the Rev. Thomas Starr King, a Unitarian minister and famous orator credited during the Civil War with saving California from becoming a separate republic.
Blessed Serra’s statue is one of five Catholic missionaries — four priests and a woman religious — on display, and there is also a statue of the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll.
The missionary statues and their respective states are: St. Damien de Veuster, Hawaii; Jesuit Father Eusebio Kino, Arizona; Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette, Wisconsin; Mother Joseph, a Sister of Charity, Washington state. Carroll, a Catholic layman from Maryland, was a cousin of the nation’s first Catholic bishop, Archbishop John Carroll.
When Pope Francis told reporters Jan. 19 that he planned to canonize Blessed Serra in the U.S. in September, he said he wished he could do so in California, the 18th-century Franciscan’s mission field, but would not have time to travel there.
He said he planned instead to canonize him during a ceremony at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, a fitting location because Blessed Serra’s statue is at the U.S. Capitol.