The St. Ignatius Mission was built in the early 1890's near Montana's first Catholic school in this town founded in 1854 by Jesuit priests. This Catholic Church is unique because its walls and ceilings have 58 original paintings by Brother Joseph Carignano on them. Two of the most distinctive paintings depict the Salish Lord and Lord's mother in Native American form.
The Mission Mountain Range is a beautiful backdrop of scenery behind the Mission Church. The church is located on the Flathead Indian Reservation.
Next to the Mission, a museum and gift shop displays Mission and Indian artifacts and sells religious items. An adjacent log building was the original residence of the Ursuline Sisters who operated a school for several decades.
The spectacular setting and agricultural potential of the Mission Valley drew Jesuit priests here in 1854 after nearby locations didn't work out.
Father Peter De Smet 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 fellow priests Adrian Hoecken and Peter McGean 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 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.
The mission was located near an established fur-trading post a few miles north. Holding its own against the ravages of mountain weather and time, the well-crafted and solid structure in an open field may be Montana's oldest building. This remnant of Fort Connah, established in the Mission Valley around 1847, is now supported by a new foundation and topped with fresh shake. A black powder range lies nearby, as well as two more antique structures donated and reassembled at the historic site. The dream of a museum quietly waits in the wings.
Thanks to the dedication of the Fort Connah Restoration Society, an interpretive sign at the highway pullout overlooks the site where visitors can view the post, black powder range, and reconstruction efforts. This is about seven miles north of St. Ignatius on Highway 93. Visitors may walk to the simple buildings via a simple footpath, although you may need to clamber over a gate. Although access to the buildings is limited, FCRS is recruiting volunteers with the hopes of opening the doors to Montana's history.
Public access and stewardship of the site is due largely to the largesse of Joe McDonald, a respected educator and tribal leader. He is descended from fur trapper Angus McDonald who established this trading post along Post Creek almost a decade before Jesuits arrived in the valley to establish a mission church that remains open to the public in St. Ignatius.
Please respect the generosity of the McDonald family by treading lightly during your visit.