When the Holy Family Appeared Between the U.S. and Mexico to Save the Life of a Saint

Many stories have been told about the life of Saint Junípero Serra, the Father and Apostle of California. 

But one little-known story is his encounter with the Holy Family, who saved him from death in the middle of the desert.

In the book “Death Comes for the Archbishop” by Willa Cather, the American writer narrates some anecdotes about Saint Junípero Serra, who led the evangelization of the viceroyalty of New Spain in the 18th century, a territory now part of the United States.

Although Cather was not Catholic, she spent 15 years in the southwest of the country before writing the novel, where she learned about the work of the Church and appreciated the depth of missionary life.

James Day compiled some of these stories in an article for the National Catholic Register, highlighting Saint Junípero’s miraculous encounter with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

Saint Junípero’s Meeting with the Holy Family

“One of the stories in the book tells that on one occasion, the superior of a monastery in the middle of the desert could not believe that Saint Junípero and a companion arrived at the door of his secluded monastery on foot. How could they cross such a vast desert without a guide or food?Father Serra responded that they were helped along the way by a humble Mexican family. The brothers of the monastery found this implausible since there was no house on the road the Franciscans followed.In the face of disbelief, Saint Junípero said that on the way they found a house near three large poplar trees, where they met a shepherd, his wife, and their little son, who was playing with a lamb.The family, which they identified as Mexican, shared their dinner with the priests before the weary travelers fell asleep. When they woke up, they found fresh food on the table, but the family and the lamb were gone.Those who heard the story were amazed because there were three large trees on the road to the monastery, but definitely not a house and much less a family with a small child.So some of the brothers went with Father Junípero and the other Franciscans back to the trees. And sure enough, there was no sign of human activity. There, in the middle of the lonely landscape, Saint Junípero added a detail that gave meaning to the providential meeting: After the prayers, when he said goodbye to his hosts, Saint Junípero bowed towards the child to give him his blessing; but at that moment, it was the boy who raised his hand and with his little finger traced the cross on Father Junípero’s forehead.And since then, they were convinced that the Holy Family was the one who helped Saint Junípero and his companion cross the desert in their evangelizing feat.”

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