UNIVERSITY NEWS | Loyola Marymount University’s statue of Father Junipero Serra was dedicated outside of the then-Von der Ahe Library in the early 1990s, a gift of William H. Hannon. That day, a group of Native Americans protested by the flagpoles on Alumni Mall. While their voices were heard, critical dialogue and diverse perspectives about Father Serra’s historical role would not be explored until decades later.
In the early summer of 2020, the statue was removed as part of a relocation plan in response to community conversations and recommendations from the university’s Committee on Public Art and Images. The Father Serra statue is currently being evaluated for weather-related wear-and-tear repairs and will be reinstalled in a yet-to-be-determined location. Its new location will be indoor and presented within an educational context that provides a broader sense of Father Serra’s role in the history and cultures of early California by presenting diverse narratives of his impacts.
The historical impacts of the colonizing quest on original peoples as an inextricable part of the spread of Christianity, are among the details that LMU faculty and students will explore and explicate as part of the educational mission of a new Serra exhibit. While Facilities Management evaluates the statue’s restoration and reinstallation requirements, LMU historians and theologians will elucidate the complexity of these historical events to sharpen community awareness and broaden students’ perspectives. Conditions permitting, these processes will take place in spring and fall of 2021.
Though there has been recent speculation in student news outlets and social media, the discussion about moving or modifying the statue has been underway, openly collaborative, and known within the community for several years with input from faculty, students, and campus leaders. The Committee on Public Art and Images and the William H. Hannon Foundation, with support and approval from the President’s Cabinet, have explored options for how to reposition the statue to educate the LMU community more effectively about Father Serra’s complex and competing meanings for indigenous peoples and Latino/a and Latinx Catholics in the region.
Though the discussion about the Father Serra statue became more pressing in recent months as several statues of Father Serra in California public spaces and at Catholic universities became the targets of desecration, LMU’s proposal to relocate the statue was discussed, reviewed, and approved prior to recent news coverage and the pandemic closures, which slowed the university’s plans.
In June, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez’s issued a letter that while staunchly defending Father Serra’s historical reputation, acknowledged the need to plumb the records and think deeply about the past and what it means today. “Historical memory is the soul of every nation,” Gomez wrote. “What we remember about our past and how we remember it defines our national identity — the kind of people we want to be, the values and principles we want to live by. But history is complicated. The facts matter, distinctions need to be made, and the truth counts.” By relocating and contextualizing the statue, LMU commits to bringing nuanced interpretation to the study of Father Serra’s legacy for the diverse peoples who constitute our community today.