On Barb’s Bookshelf: Saint Junípero Serra’s Camino

My fascination with St. Junípero Serra began in grade school when I learned about the California missions. Already familiar with Franciscan friars, I made the connection to the real-life priests and brothers I knew.

On my only visit to California (in 1995), I insisted on having the chance to visit one of the missions. We attended Mass at Mission San Diego and I took the opportunity to explore the grounds. As it doesn’t look like more trips to California are in my future, I’ll need to explore the remaining missions in a virtual pilgrimage of sorts. That’s where Stephen J. Binz’s new book comes in.


Saint Junípero Serra’s Camino: A Pilgrimage Guide to the California Missions (Franciscan Media, 2017) offers armchair pilgrims like myself the chance to go behind the scenes at each of the 21 missions in the state of California. An impressively comprehensive guidebook of the 21 California missions featuring a short biography of St. Junípero Serra, a look at the colonial and missionary climate of the 18th century, and separate chapters for each mission. Readers are invited to take walking, driving or virtual pilgrimages in which they learn the history of each mission site, examine its architecture, discover its patron saint and engage in prayer.

This book digs more deeply than you’d expect in a guidebook. Binz does not gloss over the problems that occurred during the colonization period in an attempt to re-canonize Serra, nor does he demonize the friars and others who journeyed to California to evangelize the people there. I found his approach to the whole Serra controversy balanced and well-documented.

Pilgrims can follow the route laid out by Binz, which is in geographical order from south to north. The author also includes a list of the missions in order of their founding, in case pilgrims wish to follow that path instead (admittedly, this would work best for virtual pilgrimages, as it involves a good deal of backtracking.)

That’s Mission Santa Bárbara on the cover. Founded in 1786, it’s the first mission founded after Serra’s death. If I could only visit one mission, that’s the one I’d pick, because it’s named for my patron saint. This book also helped me learn more about her–because she lived during the fourth century, details of her life are sketchy, so I knew very little.

My only complaint about this guidebook was its lack of photos. There were few photographs, and the ones that were included were small and in black and white.

If you’re planning a trip to California, definitely get your hands on this book and plan to stop to visit at least one of these missions! If you’re like me, this book will help you learn about a fascinating chapter in our nation’s history and that of our faith.

Barb's Book shelf blog title

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

"An Open Book" linkup hosted at CarolynAstfalk.com and CatholicMom.com

#OpenBook: February 2017 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:


vanishedVanished (The Memoirs of Jane_E, Friendless Orphan, book 3) by Erin McCole Cupp. Easily my favorite of the three books in the series, Vanished brings the near-future dystopian retelling of Jane Eyre to a satisfying conclusion. Author Erin McCole Cupp’s fine attention to technical details creates a world that, chillingly, could be nearer than we’d think. More so than in the other books, Jane_E’s need to live with integrity is the driving force in the story.

intermissionIntermission by Serena Chase. Faith’s mother continually tries to squash her Broadway dreams for a more practical profession, accusing Faith of flightiness and bad behavior even as she ignores worse behavior from Faith’s older sister. Faith’s budding romance with a slightly-older actor with similar musical-theatre dreams leads her mother to forbid the two to have any contact. Faith impatiently waits until Noah completes a 2-year program of study overseas, but as she’s unable to get in touch with Noah, she has no idea if he will return to her. This YA romance novel has a strong, but not overbearing, Christian element. Some characters openly evaluate their own behavior according to godly standards, and the subject of chastity, purity and reputation are openly discussed and central to the story. The suspense in this novel is its greatest asset. Chase admirably moves the plot along, while bringing the reader to tears–and sometimes to anger–over the events taking place. Highly recommended for high-school students.

mothers-promiseThe Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth. This book will absolutely tear you apart emotionally. Alice fiercely protects her daughter, Zoe, who suffers from severe social anxiety. When Alice is diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer, the two are forced to leave their insular world and take radical steps out of their comfort zones, finding support from a nurse, a social worker and a high-school boy, all of whom face their own secret challenges. Bring tissues, but don’t skip it. (Netgalley)

hope-chestThe Hope Chest by Viola Shipman. Such a sweet story with absolutely lovable characters, in a town you’ll want to move into. Single-mom Rose finds work caring for Mattie, an ALS patient. Rose and young daughter Jeri find their way into Mattie’s heart, as well as her husband Don’s. Together they all learn to face death by focusing on hope: specifically, the various treasures found in Mattie’s long-neglected hope chest. (Netgalley)


wedding-in-truhartA Wedding in Truhart by Cynthia Tennent. Annie has to plan a wedding suitable for her TV-news-star sister and all the Atlanta society folk traveling to humble Truhart, Michigan for the festivities. This novel is all about appearances and what really matters. The love story between Annie and her old crush, Nick, is the main part of the novel. 2 unnecessarily-graphic sex scenes.



close-enough-to-touchClose Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley. Imagine being allergic to the human touch. Jubilee has lived most of her life unable to touch or be touched by others. Now that her mother has died, she must find a way to support herself. She nearly dies after giving in to instinct, jumping into a river to save a drowning child and resuscitating him. She falls for the child’s dad–and he for her–but cannot bring herself to tell him why she keeps him at arm’s length. (Netgalley)

heavenawaitsfrontcover-768x1152Heaven Awaits by Shannon Claire Morelli. Emily McDougal’s purchase of her first home sets off a chain of events leading to friendship with a neighbor old enough to be her mother, a new romance, and renewed commitment to her Catholic faith. But both she and Tim bear old wounds from past relationships, and Tim has other discerning to do as well. A sweet novel of new beginnings and healing past hurts.


PrintSaint Junípero Serra’s Camino: A Pilgrimage Guide to the California Missions by Stephen J. Binz. (Franciscan Media) An impressively comprehensive guidebook of the 21 California missions featuring a short biography of St. Junípero Serra, a look at the colonial and missionary climate of the 18th century, and separate chapters for each mission. Readers are invited to take walking, driving or virtual pilgrimages in which they learn the history of each mission site, examine its architecture, discover its patron saint and engage in prayer. Lack of color photos is my only negative about this book. (ARC received from publisher)

country-betweenA Country Between: Making a Home where Two Sides of Jerusalem Collide by Stephanie Saldana. Several years in the life of a woman who lives in an intentionally non-intentional way. She appears driven by whim rather than purpose. The memoir begins at her arrival at a monastery in Syria, where she falls in love with a young French monk; he eventually leaves the monastery to marry her. They settle in a war-torn corner of Jerusalem, arriving at an apartment as the result of a seemingly-random sequence of events, and she decides it’s imperative to have a child after a traumatic incident on the street. I can’t understand her insistence on continuing to live and raise her children in a war zone when she clearly has opportunities to live elsewhere. The writing is poetic and evocative.(Netgalley)

meeting-god-in-the-upper-roomMeeting God in the Upper Room: Three Moments to Change Your Life by Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi (Franciscan Media). Msgr. Varghi’s discussion of the history of the Upper Room based on Gospel accounts complements the meditations that are the meat of this book. I found the history fascinating; in various chapters, you’ll read about personalities, prophecy, sacraments, and Catholic social teaching. Each chapter ends with a section titled “Preparing Your Upper Room” in which the reader is invited to consider the personal implications of Jesus’ message. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently (even the duds!)

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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