Serra Club of Richmond Virginia


Serra Club of Richmond

All About Serra and the Richmond Serra Club
by Dick O'Hallaron
Serra International, is the only worldwide organization in the Church, whose mission is to foster and support vocations," said Pope John Paul II. The occasion was a 1985 papal audience with the Board of this international group. Nicholas Spinella, former President of Serra International, was one of the leaders of this delegation and recalls this memorable visit.

Serra is an important and truly worldwide effort that focuses on promoting and giving support to our priests, sisters, brothers and lay vocations. The National Council of Bishops has also recognized Serra for its vocation efforts, and has challenged them to help with the Bishops National Strategy for Vocations, and to work on efforts to increase membership in the American Serra effort.

The mission of Serra International reads as follows: "Serra International is an organization of Catholic lay men and women whose (primary) mission is to promote vocations to the ministerial priesthood and religious life. At the same time, SERRA seeks to further the spiritual growth of its members. Its activities are developed (in cooperation with and in support of the college of bishops under the leadership of the Pope, and the Priests and religious of the world."

One of the most frequently asked questions about Serra is, "Do you mean the Sierra Club?" Actually, Serra is named after FRAY JUNIPERO SERRA. Fray Junipero Serra was the founding father of San Diego and the man who helped forge a new civilization in the American West. He was a humble man, a man of God, but mostly a man with a mission, to serve the Lord with a passion and commitment that resulted in a journey to California where he established nine Franciscan Missions. He did much more than this; by his constant meditation and example he moved men and mountains.

Father Serra was born Miguel Jose Serra on November 24, 1713 in Petra, Mellorca. At the age of 14, he entered the Franciscan Order in Palma; later he earned a doctorate in theology and became professor at the University in Mellorca.

In 1749, Serra left Spain at the age of 35 to pursue his boyhood dream of working with the Indian people in the New World. Serra served as a priest in Mexico for 19 years before coming to California, where at the age of 56 years and in failing health, he set out to establish his first mission in California, Mission San Diego, in 1769, with the Spanish expedition led by Gaspar de Porola.

Father Serra stood only 5'2" tall, weighed barely 110 pounds, but was a man of boundless energy and determination. He traveled by ship, mule, and with a lame leg, covered over 24,000 miles during his journeys. During the stay in California, Father Serra founded nine of California's twenty-one missions, he confirmed 5,275 persons in the faith, and kept a constant correspondence with the priests in charge of each of the missions. Despite resentment of many Indians, he loved them and protected them from unusual punishment by missionaries and soldiers alike.

After his last visit to San Diego in the fall of 1783, Serra set out to visit all of his missions. Despite chest pains and the swelling of his legs, he continued his work of baptizing, preaching, and confirming. Toward the end of August 1784, Father Serra, then past 70, suffered his final illness and died on August 28. He was buried the next day at Mission San Carlos in Carmel, California. These are the Spanish Missions founded in California by Father Junipero Serra.

  • San Diego de Alcala, July 16, 1769
  • San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, June 3, 1770
  • San Antonio de Padua, July 14, 1771
  • San Gabriel Arcangel, September 8, 1771
  • San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, September 1, 1772
  • San Francisco de Asis, June 29, 1776
  • San Juan Capistrano, November 1, 1776
  • Santa Clara de Asis, January 12, 1777
  • San Buenaventura, March 31, 1782
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The first Serra club was formed in 1935 in Seattle, WA. Then, as now, the two great needs for the church were for informed Catholic lay leaders who understand and live their own Christian vocations to service, and for dedicated priests and religious. The founding Serrans chose as the organization's patron Father Junipero Serra, the 18th-century Franciscan missionary to Mexico who was so influential in creating missions there. Today, there are more than 600 Serra clubs in 35 countries with a total membership of more that 20,000 men and women and permanent deacons. Each Serra club is a member of both a national council and Serra International. Serra International USA/Canada Council, which has an office located in Chicago, IL links Serra clubs around the world.

The Richmond Serra Club had its start in 1962, when Donald W. Larcen came to Richmond from Baltimore, MD and led the effort to organize a Club. "It took over a year to get the necessary 25 men needed to qualify for the Charter, but the diocese wide respect for Bishop Russell was of tremendous help. Whatever success I had came from his unequivocal support," said Larcen, the first Club president.

There are a few members of the 1963 Charter group still living. Congressman Thomas J. Bliley, Jr. was Vice President; Dr. Joseph T. Byrne, James T. Lewis, III and Dr. Charles R. Riley are a few. Current Serra members include Charles M. Morrison, George E. Schraudt, Jr., and Nicholas A. Spinella. Spinella is a former President of Serra International, and has visited many of the countries in which Serra is represented. In 1982, Nick Spinella, the late Dr. Thomas Chun and Dick O'Hallaron visited S. Korea to charter the first Serra Club in that country. "There are now three successor clubs in Pusan" said O'Hallaron, who recently visited Korea and Serra participants. Father George J. Gormley was the first Richmond Serra chaplain. "He brought Monsignor Tom Shreve to a number of our meetings, always trying to gain wide support for the Richmond Club." The current Chaplain is Fr. Michael Renninger.

The Charter night program of April 19, 1963 stated the goals of Serra. They are:

  1. To foster and promote vocations to the religious life.
  2. To further the Church's cause, chiefly through the development of an informed interest in matters that affect its welfare.
  3. To further Catholicism through enduring friendship among Catholic men.
These goals remain much the same, except that today, Serra is an organization open to all Catholic lay men and women. The unique mission of Serra clubs around the world (over 600 Serra clubs in 35 countries, having over 20,000 members) is focused on vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the Catholic church.

The current President of the Club is Gerard J. Mullen, and membership includes both men and women from many different fields of endeavor. Some are professionals, homemakers, or retired. The club has a diverse membership, including, black, oriental and Caucasian members. Some members have been in the club for many years, others are brand new members. One thing they do have in common is, however, a unified interest in working to pray, and give support to seminarians, vowed women religious, brothers and priests.

Mullen says, "To be a Serran (a member of a Serra club), one must be convinced that priests and religious are essential to perpetuating the Catholic Church and its teachings. And one must want to do something that in some way helps and encourages priests, nuns, brothers, and seminarians to live out their vocations to give up everything and follow Christ." [Top]

Serrans put faith into action with activities aside from the regular meetings. Often these activities focus on fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life because Serrans believe this is the responsibility of every Catholic layperson. Some programs include:
  • We visit our Seminarians at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, or at other seminaries where our Richmond Diocese seminarians are studying. We enjoy a liturgy, dinner and conversation with the seminarians and affirm their vocation to the priesthood.
  • An appreciation dinner is held annually, to which all priests and nuns in the Richmond area are invited. Bishop Sullivan is our principal speaker and guest.
  • We help organize and staff a reception following Ordination of new diocesan priests.
  • We conduct yearly web page contests open to Catholic School children in grades 6-12 regarding some specific aspect of Vocations. Winners receive prizes at a dinner hosted by Serra and the Bishop.

Serrans meet each month; believing that when members gather for prayer, a meal, and conversation, they grow in faith and are inspired and challenged by each other. After hearing a speaker or discussing a topic such as social justice, business ethics, ministry, or church vocations, Serrans return to the community with a renewed sense of how to live out the Christian message. Other club activities include:
  • We seek personal spiritual growth by attending an annual Day of Recollection at Monte Maria Monastery, and an annual Communion Breakfast at the Cathedral, or elsewhere.
  • Prayers for vocations and prayers that men and women will respond to the call of the Holy Spirit.
  • We pray for each other that our lives will help draw others to Christ and the Church.
  • We continually update ourselves on the special works of our religious through continuing education in these areas.
  • By the end of this year we hope to have in place a Vocation committee in every parish in the Richmond area. Serra will encourage this effort along with the Diocesan Office for Vocations and the individual parish councils.

"Men and women who know how important priests and religious are to the future of the Church, and who want to do something to encourage and support them will feel very much at home in the Serra Club of Richmond, where all members are united by this common cause.

Our mission is Vocations, identifying them, appreciating them, encouraging and supporting them for the good of the Church and for the greater honor and glory of God, and we encourage any man or woman in the Diocese who may share this interest to join in with us in this important world wide effort," said club Trustee, James L. Pollock.

Join us in our mission for vocations. For more information, contact our Vice President of Membership, Dick O'Hallaron.