The Saint Ignatius Mission

 Story and photos by Candace Rojo

Saint Ignatius Mission, located on the Flathead Reservation inside San Ignatius, MT, was founded in 1854 by Fathers DeSmet, Hoecken, and Menestry, who were Jesuit missionaries. The mission was created with the goal of converting local natives to the Christian faith and way of life. The cornerstone of the present day church was laid in 1891.

The old mission was a central location for the town. From 1875 until 1900 it was the center for a printing press, a school for boys, a boarding school for girls, a lumber mill and a flourmill. The old mission flourmill ran from 1864 until 1935 and used local materials such as native rock and lumber from the trees in the surrounding hills.

Two other historical buildings reside on the mission property. One is the house where the missionaries lived, which was built in 1854 and the other is the house built for the Providence Sisters in 1864. There is still a Jesuit community living close by and they share part of the property with the mission.

The mission has architecture typical of the mid-1800s time period. Its bricks were made from local clay, and the lumber was cut in the nearby hills. The windows of the mission are all stained glass.

The mission is an active Catholic church with an involved community. The congregation is made up of believers from different cultures including both Native Americans and Caucasians. Their pastor, Father Andrew L. Maddock and Sister Mary Stauder, head the church and hold a 9:15 a.m. mass on Sundays.

The most unique aspect of the Saint Ignatius Mission is the paintings within it. They were painted by Brother Joseph Carignano, the mission cook and handyman. This Italian Jesuit had no formal training in painting and painted the murals in his sparse free time from his regular duties. 58 unique murals from both the Old and New Testaments line the walls and ceilings of the San Ignatius Mission.

Although the mission is listed on the US National Register of History Places, it does not receive any funding for the preservation and up keep of the mission, or the two history houses on the mission property. It is because of this that the mission asks frequently for donations, and it sells pamphlets and postcards.