St. Ignatius Mission, St. Ignatius, MT
ST. IGNATIUS MISSION, ST. IGNATIUS; SACRED HEART CHURCH, ARLEE; ST. JOHN BERCHMAN CHURCH, JOCKO
10/28/07 Fr. Peter De Smet, S.J. founded St. Mary's Mission in the Bitterroot Valley, Montana, in 1841. The original St. Ignatius Mission was erected near Lake Pend d'Oreille in winter 1844-45 when De Smet along with Fr. Adrian Hoecken, S.J. and Br. Peter McGean, S.J. secured shelter in a cabin constructed from fir columns and bark slabs near Albeni Falls. On this location the three Jesuits carried out religious instructions and baptisms.
Owing to a rash of adverse conditions--inclement weather, a dearth of productive land, sparse game, and geographical isolation--Fr. Adrian Hoecken, S.J. relocated the Mission in 1854, under the initiative of Chief Alexander of the Kalispel tribe, to its present site known as "Snyeỉmn"--a Salish term signifying "a place where something was surrounded"--in the Lower Flathead River Valley. Fr. Hoecken described the site in radiant terms:
. . . I arrived at the place designated on the 24th of September and found it such as it had been represented--a beautiful region, evidently fertile, uniting a useful as well as pleasing variety of woodland and prarie, lake and river--the whole crowned in the distance by the white summit of the mountains, and sufficiently rich withal in fish and game. I shall never forget the emotion of hope and fear that filled my heart, when for the first time I celebrated Mass in this lovely spot, in the open air, in the presence of a numerous band of Kalispels, who looked up to me, under God, for their temporal and spiritual welfare in this new home.
By summer 1855 St. Ignatius Mission flourished. Stream water propelled flour and whipcord mills. A school was completed in 1856 but operated just one year. The advent of Sisters of Providence in October 1864 sparked the opening of a girls' boarding school and hospital. Providence Holy Family School was the first Catholic school in Montana. Initially, the school was co-ed until the boys' education subsequently passed to the Jesuits. The school's expansion was gradual until additional funding was secured from the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions in 1885. While enrollment in 1871-72 numbered 6 boys and 23 girls in the two schools, by 1886-87 the combined student body was 186.
The coming of Ursuline Sisters in 1890 led to the inception of a kindergarten for Indian children, and to a boys' boarding school in 1906. After the school's demise by fire in 1922, a three-story brick edifice--"Villa Ursula"--was constructed, followed two years later by a high school. The boarding school's operations perdured until 1962, while shrinking ranks of Sisters and financial shortfalls forced the day school's closure in 1972.
However, withdrawal in 1896 of federal educational assistance coupled with dormitory and school arson the same year seriously curtailed the Mission's educational programs. This misfortune was exacerbated by a 1919 fire that decimated the successes of the Providence Sisters. Just as the tenacious Ursuline Sisters restored their school following the fire of 1922, the Providence Sisters persisted in their hospital ministry. During two visitations between 1879-82, Archbishop Charles J. Seghers conferred Confirmation on 113 persons and 40 persons, respectively. The latter event sparked a tender occurrence:
While examining some Indians for confirmation with the help of Father Cataldo, His Grace noticed . . . an elderly Kalispel, whom he felt sure he had confirmed on a previous occasion. "But you, my son, have received the Holy Ghost already," said the Archbishop to the Indian. "Yes, Great Black Robe," answered the Indian; "but I lost Him; He got drowned crossing the river." The poor fellow was far from jesting or being irreverent: he only expressed himself as best he knew.
Spiritual routines included: daily prayer and Mass at 6:30 AM followed by three catechism sessions per day, evening prayer, Sunday morning High Mass and afternoon Benediction or Stations of the Cross, and regular reception of other sacraments.
Beginning in 1872, however, a chain of adversities undercut the gains of the preceding years. An influx of whites alienated Indians' land and weakened their cultural, moral, and religious identity--soon relegating the native peoples to minority status.
The schools' successes had attained noteworthy heights from 1890-96. Endeavoring to form "the whole person," education involved a "ratio" of the three Rs, complemented by (a) carpentry, smithing, industrial arts, gardening, animal husbandry, and farming for boys and (b) sewing, cooking, laundering, dairy work, and gardening for girls--while striving to honor and preserve the culture and identity of the Indian children.
The hospital established by the Providence Sisters was situated in the convent-school until a full-scale facility was erected in 1914. Because of insufficient staffing, the Sisters turned over the hospital to the St. Ignatius community in June 1977; the facility was relocated to its present site in 1976.
The Mission's surviving vigor generated waves of missionary activity in the environs--e.g., St. Mary's Mission and the Flathead Reservation, including the Jocko Valley, Hell Gate, Plains, Frenchtown, Arlee, Thompson Falls, Bonner, and Sanders. Hence, the Misssion's apostolic spirit perdured, leading to this observation about the Jesuits: "It is their joy to have done the work where it had to be done." Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.
The foregoing information and quotations are culled/adapted from: William N. Bischoff, S.J. The Jesuits in Old Oregon: 1840-1940 (Caldwell, ID: Caxton Printers, 1945) 70-86; Wilfred P. Schoenberg, S.J. Paths to the Northwest: A Jesuit History of the Oregon Province (Chicago: Loyola UP, 1982) 60-61; William L. Davis, S.J. A History of St. Ignatius Mission (Spokane, WA: Gonzaga University, 1954) 11-12; Robert J. Bigart, ed. A Pretty Village: Documents of Worship and Culture Change, St. Ignatius Mission, Montana, 1880-1889 (Pablo, MT: Salish Kootenai College Press, 2007) 5-7; Joseph L. Obersinner, S.J. and Judy Gritzmacher. St. Ignatius Mission: National Historic Site (St. Ignatius, MT: The Jesuit Fathers, 1977); data from St. Ignatius Mission Museum. Orthography and translation of the Salish term in the 2nd paragraph derive from a conversation with members of The Cultural Committee at St. Ignatius Longhouse.
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