José María Serra Julià was born on May 11, 1810 in Mataró (Barcelona), city to which his parents had moved. They sought to distance themselves from the situation of insecurity lived in Barcelona, held by the French, in the context of the war of independence.
He is baptized in the Church of St. Mary, with the names José Eudaldo Antonio. The godfather, Francisco de Asís Carreras, is a cousin of the father who later will be his guardian and who takes care of Jose, maintaining between both, close relation and special affection.
Little Joseph’s childhood is soon affected by the death of his parents, so that in his childhood he is forging his ability to work, to suffer, to undertake and to risk that will characterize his whole life. He studied at the school of Escuelas Pias in Barcelona, whose education was free and, years later, he express deep gratitude to his parents for having provided him with the religious education given by the Fathers of San José de Calasanz.
At the end of his school years, he works in a trade in the Sombrerers Street (next to the Church of Santa Maria del Mar), where he was dear for his industriousness, kindness and his Christian attitudes.
After a life as Benedictine Monk, Missionary and Bishop in Australia, and Founder with Antonia María of Mercy the Congregation of Oblate Sisters of the Most Holy Redeemer, he died on September 8, 1886 in Benicasim (Castellón – Spain). Today the Oblate family is committed to continue his social sensibility, his daring spirit and his spirit of evangelization so that many women can find an open door.
Young Joseph, as he grows up, seeks and questions the meaning and future of his life. He feels the call of God, he receives it and when he is 17 he enters the Benedictine Monastery of San Martín, in Santiago de Compostela, where he begins his monastic formation and makes his first religious profession on December 21, 1828, taking the name of José María Benito Serra.
Years of intense formation, study and vocational strengthening await him. He specializes in humanities, sciences, Hebrew, Greek and theology. He was ordained as a priest on March 18, 1835 and on the following day celebrates his first Eucharist in the Monastery of San Martín at the chapel of our lady of Perpetual Help. At the end of the formation stage, he is ready for the pastoral activity.
In those years the political situation in Spain is complex and delicate. The anticlerical legislation causes the departure from the country of several religious orders, when the decree of Mendizábal’s confiscation and exclaustration was approved in September of 1835.
Of iron and tenacious will, José M. Benito Serra decides to continue his monastic life in Italy. At 25 years of age, his new destination is the Monastery of the Holy Trinity of Cava, in the province of Salerno, where he will remain for 10 years. There the experience of the Benedictine Rule is shaping his personality and vocation. He is active as a teacher of theology, Hebrew, Greek, canons and is appointed rector of the seminary. He feels loved and appreciated by all.
At this time the Catholic Church is living a new missionary resurgence, thanks to the encouragement of Pope Gregory XVI, Benedictine monk, and Serra caresses that dream.
The awakening of his missionary vocation he shared with Rosendo Salvado, a well-known Benedictine monk and good friend from Santiago de Compostela with whom he live community life in the Cava Monastery. Attentive to the ecclesial dynamics, they dream and plan to be missionaries and their unconditional offer is accepted. The Pope himself gives them a farewell audience. They leave for Australia where after long months journey arrive in January 1846.
In his 14 years as missionary in Australia, Bishop Serra, appointed Bishop of Daulia and Apostolic Administrator of Perth, shows his many sides of traveler, explorer, guide, companion and above all educator and evangelizer of Aborigines. It is a period characterized by difficulties, complex tensions and displeasures, but he is creative and innovative in his missionary and pastoral methods, tenacious, constant in his efforts and an idealist fighter.
In 1859 he returns to Rome, presents the resignation to the diocese of Perth and settles in Madrid in August 1862. The Bishop of Daulia, is a personality well-known in the Court, since the Queen Isabel II had awarded him with the great cross of Isabel The Catholic for his missionary activity. On his return he resumed his relations and pastoral activity, attempt to restore the Benedictine Order, he frequent the friendship and work of the Viscountess of Jorbalan, Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul and among others the Hospital of San Juan de Dios where a turning point in his life occurs.
His social sensitivity and dynamism, lead him to look at reality with a critical sense, preferably the reality that occurs in those places where people do not count and live in exclusion. It is in the Hospital of San Juan de Dios where, in her pastoral action, he listens to the reality, the pain and oppression of sick women, victims of the phenomenon of prostitution. Serra is moved, his whole being is affected by this situation, he feels compelled to do something for them and affirms: “If nobody helps me I will do it alone, with the grace and help of God. If all the doors are closed, I will open one where they can be saved.”
Skillful to find resources, connects with institutions, design strategies, resorts to influences, appeals to the Queen, denounces and announces as prophet and requests the support of Antonia Maria de Oviedo and Schönthal, who will be the perfect accomplice for what they discover together as God’s plan for their lives.
On 1 June 1864 Bishop of Daulia and Antonia de Oviedo opened the doors of the first house in Ciempozuelos (Madrid), where they welcomed women who wanted to stop prostitution. Together they overcome several tests and difficulties; the project is growing progressively and on February 2, 1870 the Congregation of Oblate Sisters of the Most Holy Redeemer is born, whose founders are Jose Maria Benito Serra and Antonia M. of mercy.
His pastoral activity inclines to accompany the new religious family and in 1885 he retires to the Desert of Palms in Benicasim (Castellón) where he dies on September 8, 1886.
Video made in 2010 on the occasion of the bicentennial of his birth (in Spanish).
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