The St Ignatius Mission
St Ignatius, Montana
The St Ignatius Mission was established in 1854 by Jesuit missionaries at the request of the Flathead Indians. Located at the foot of the stunning Mission Mountains, this establishment is known today primarily for its beautiful Catholic Church, which contains 58 hand-painted wall and ceiling murals.
Several unsuccessful attempts were made by the Flathead Indians to obtain missionaries for their people, beginning in 1831. However, by 1841, St. Mary's Mission was established near present-day Stevensville, along the Bitter Root River.
This was followed in 1845 by the development of the first St. Ignatius Mission, which was located near the Idaho-Washington border. This establishment was relocated in 1954 to its present-day location at the request of the Indians.
By 1855, the area had attracted approximately 1000 Indians. The small community had grown to include a chapel, a blacksmith shop, a carpenter shop, and 2 log cabins. During the same year, the Hell Gate Treaty provided for the establishment of the Flathead Indian Reservation for the Flathead, Kootenai, and Pend d'Oreille tribes.
By 1964, a flour mill, sawmill, and the first church were added, and the community welcomed the first Catholic Nuns to the area. Over the next several years, the area continued to grow, with the addition of both boys' and girls' boarding schools, a hospital, and a printing press.
The present-day brick church was constructed by both the Indians and the Missionaries, and was completed in 1894. The structure is most famous for the beautiful frescoes that depict various biblical stories.
The frescoes were painted shortly after the turn of the century, by Brother Joseph Carignano, who primarily served as the cook and handyman.
Closure of St Ignatius Mission
In the early part of the 20th century, loss of funding, fires that destroyed buildings, and Congress-authorized sale of surrounding Indian land all contributed to the eventual closure of the historical project. However, the Catholic Sisters continued to run the school until 1972.
Today, just four original buildings remain, including the magnificent brick church with its hand-painted murals. Located within the present-day town of St Ignatius, it is a popular stop for tourists. Although the church is still in use today, it is open to the public for viewing, photographs, and self-guided tours.
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