St. John the Baptist Catholic Church

French-speaking immigrants from Quebec and eastern Canada settled here in the Missoula Valley in the late 1850s. By 1864, French-Canadian Catholics worshiped in a crude log chapel, the second church in Montana Territory established for non-Native Americans. The Rev. S. J. Tremblay, the community’s first secular priest, arrived from Montreal in 1884 and at once realized the need for a larger church. The cornerstone was laid during the St. John’s Day Celebration in June of that year. Ship’s carpenter Lugar Forast is credited with the design. All labor and materials were furnished by the parish community. Built at a cost of $8,000, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church was dedicated on August 10, 1884. Montana’s oldest Catholic church in continuous use, its simple plan recalls classical revival traditions. Its arched doors and windows, bell-capped tower, and barrel vaulted ceiling are reminiscent of late Romanesque style.  The bell, installed in 1885, carries a dedication inscribed in French. A winding staircase constructed with wooden pegs and magnificent carpentry grace the interior. The red, white, and blue color scheme commemorates the French national flag. Original pews, numbered and divided for individual families, remain in place. In an attempt to maintain French heritage, from 1914 to 1922 the Sisters of Providence staffed an academy under the auspices of St. John’s offering children a Christian education taught in French. Although the community now embraces cultural diversity, St. John’s remains a heritage landmark and a tribute to its founding families.

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16680 Main Street, Frenchtown, Montana ~ Private