St. Xavier Mission Church and Rectory

The Apsáalooke people had occasional contact with the Jesuits beginning in 1840, including Father Pierre Jean DeSmet, the first “Black Robe” to visit what is now the State of Montana. By 1880 other Jesuits arrived to evangelize the reservation; they established a permanent mission here in February 1887. Fathers Peter Prando and Peter Bandini resided in a tent before constructing the first permanent building at St. Xavier, a two-story boarding school (which is no longer standing), staffed by Ursuline nuns. Construction of the 1888 rectory and a wooden Gothic style church soon followed. Money to build the church came from Philadelphia heiress Katherine Drexel, who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and donated her entire fortune to mission work. An excellent linguist, Father Prando soon translated hymns, Bible stories, and the catechism into Crow. However, the Jesuits saw the school as their best tool for gaining converts—both among the pupils and their parents. Punishments at the school could be harsh, and close-knit Crow families disliked the boarding school system because it took their children away from home. Nevertheless, most parents preferred the mission school to the agency school, and many families established camps nearby in order to see their children as often as possible. The mission also served as an orphanage and hospital; Father Prando particularly was well known as a healer. Eventually, government funding ceased, and the school closed temporarily, reopening as a Catholic day and boarding school. Unlike in the nineteenth century, in 2020, Crow language and culture were part of the curriculum.

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Map

The boundary for the historic property is scribed approximately 15' to the north and west of the mission church, 15' to the south of the rectory, and 60' to the east of both buildings. The overall dimensions of the boundary are 136' by 150'. St. Xavier, Montana ~ Private