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We invite you to enroll at St. Francis Xavier Parish. Parish enrollment confirms your membership in our Catholic faith community. Enrollment has its benefits:
- have a parish home
- become known to the priests, parishioners, and staff so that we can get to know you, minister to your needs, and provide pastoral care
- stay connected — receive timely notification of parish activities via text, email, or phone
- become eligible to receive the sacraments of Baptism, First Communion, and Marriage.
- keep up to date with our weekly Flocknotes bulletin. The form is at the bottom of the page. Please note if you are already a member you should be receiving this email bulletin which includes audio podcasts and well as videos!
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The present church of Saint Francis Xavier was opened on October 9, 1892.
As early as 1851, beginning with the establishment of St. Mary’s Mission in the Bitterroot Valley, the Jesuit fathers fulfilled the charge of the American bishops to care for the Native Americans. For years, settlers in the Missoula valley had petitioned the Jesuits for pastoral care as well. These Catholics contracted their diocesan authorities who, in 1881, were able to establish a Jesuit Church in Missoula.
On August 9, 1891, the Jesuits laid the cornerstone for the largest church constructed in Montana at that time. It was completed by October of 1892. Thus within a decade, through the work of Fr. Alexander Diomedi, S.J. and others, the Society of Jesus had established the new parish and had organized the design and construction of a new and significant church building – the Church of St. Francis Xavier as we see it today.
Spatially, St. Francis Xavier Church is unified and harmonious. The nave arcades are bridged by a barrel vault that ends in the half-dome above the apse. A cornice crowning the arcade runs in an unbroken line around the semicircular apse in the fashion of sixteenth-century Baroque churches, creating a more unified space by joining the sanctuary area with that of the congregation.
The artwork of St. Francis Xavier Church is unique because it was a tremendous artistic effort by one man to graphically depict all of Christian belief to a community of Christians far from the center of Christian worship. The church interior became a visual catechism and a celebration of The Faith, representing a unified vision in a harmonious composition.
To Christians, St. Francis Xavier Church symbolizes the continuity of a 2,000 year old religious tradition. Brother Joseph Carignano, S.J., painted the church walls with images serving many religious purposes: a pictorial study of scripture stories, a portrayal of all the symbols of the liturgy, and an inspiration to imitate the lives of the saints and to follow the example of Jesus.
The colors that Brother Carignano chose transformed the church interior into a place like no other the congregation had known; a heavenly realm, a warm counterpoint to the grey winter light of an often overcast valley. To enter the great brick church, where ornate gift scroll-work on walls and capitals reflected any ray of light, must have been to step into a sparkling and brilliant vision compared to the harsh and rugged existence of those early pioneers in the great Rocky Mountain West.
Take a Virtual tour of St. Francis Xavier Church (drag your mouse to move around the church)
The Art at St. Francis Xavier
Biography of Brother Joseph Carignano, S.J. (1853-1919)
A native of Turin, Italy, Brother Joseph was acquainted with the rich traditions of church painting in his native country and the long history of the teaching function of church art which flourished there. As far back as the plan of Bernini in St. Peter’s, the idea of presenting the totality of the Catholic Church’s teaching through a combination of artistic means (architecture, painting and sculpture) in a beautiful whole (what Italians called un bel composto) was held as a high ideal.
At age 20, he entered the Society of Jesus to become a lay brother. The Mountain West and California missions of the American Jesuits were under the Turin Provence and in 1899 Brother Carignano was assigned to the Pacific Northwest. He worked throughout this region as a cook and an artist for several years. His art enriched schools, missions and convents as far north as Alaska.
Brother Carignano used many forms and devices learned from early Renaissance painters: the feathery trees, the oval female faces, the vine scrolls, the painted pilasters and the shadowed porch effect which frames the murals on the side altars.
His figures, landscape details and the particulars of classical costume clearly belong to antique sources so often used during the early Italian Renaissance. He adapted those elements to his own style, conveying the messages of Christianity as he understood them.
In 1901 the Jesuits assigned Brother Carignano, then age 48, to paint the interior of St. Francis Xavier Church, including murals and Stations of the Cross.
In preparing the interior surface of St. Francis Xavier Church for Painting, Brother Carignano first applied a light and delicate background color of pale rose to the plaster walls. For the wainscoting and pillars, a vibrant turquoise handles in a trompe-l’oeil manner to represent marble reveals both the Italian taste of the painter and an instinctive understanding of the need to emphasize the architectural details, such as the ornate capitals and deep cornices, with gold leaf to sparkle against the delicate pastel ground. He used filigree designs of foliage forms to frame the divisions of the wall spaces and paintings. In this awareness of the wall as more than merely a surface for paint, Brother Carignano sought for an artistic unity as well as a theological summation.
Brother Carignano used egg tempera, a medium that lends itself to the modeling of simple forms, on the plastered walls. With large areas of color he created a balance of figural and architectural masses. A bowl-like landscape or horizon fills the distant background, creating a design open on the sides. The viewer’s eye moves easily from one figure to another and from one mural to the next. Blue tones coordinate the backgrounds in an airy, cloud-like manner, effecting a great distance between the horizon and the foreground figures. This brings the figures to the edge of the mural where they nearly fill the height of the mural and can be clearly viewed. The figures are draped in large masses of simple forms which make them look solid and earthy. Their gestures are graceful and peaceful. Brother Carignano’s people are ordinary, but they are ennobled by their serene expressions and postures.
Brother Carignano completed the 66 murals during an eighteen-month period in 1901-1902. Over a period of four years he painted the Fourteen Stations of the Cross in oil on canvas.
On October 16, 1918 Brother Joseph Carignano suffered the first of three strokes. He died in Yakima on February 5, 1919 at the age of 66, and his Requiem Mass was chanted in St. Joseph’s Church. Brother Carignano was buried at St. Michael’s Scholasticate in Spokane, Washington. His obituary there fittingly quotes Hebrews XI, 4: “Being now dead he yet speaks.”
Stain Glass Windows
Several years ago the St. Francis Xavier Church community embarked on a long and ambitious effort to fully restore all seventeen original stained-glass windows throughout the church. Through generous donations from parishioners and friends of St. Francis Xavier, the project was able to proceed and the results to date have been simply breathtaking. To begin with, each window had to have its storm window removed that over the years had aged to the point of completely obscuring the stained-glass from the exterior. Once this was done the stained-glass window panels were carefully removed in sections, in much the same way it had originally been installed, and sent to the restorer’s shop here in Missoula. In some cases, the entire window had to be removed in one large piece due its position in the church and the difficulty in removing it. This often involved the use of crane as pictured below.
We wish to thank everyone who donated to this extraordinarily restoration effort. This project and others that are designed to maintain this historic church are always in need of donations. To make a donation or for more information, please contact our parish administrator, Colin McCormack at 542-0321, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
Safe Environment & Victim Resources
The crisis in the Catholic Church, which began in the Archdiocese of Boston with the revelations of sexual abuse of minors and has spread throughout the world in a widening cycle of failure and recrimination, has not left the Church in Montana unscathed.
Indeed, as a Jesuit Parish, St. Francis Xavier is keenly aware of the anguish caused not just by the failure of individuals but by the systemic failure of the Church to accept responsibility and provide appropriate care for the most vulnerable. In light of this history, and the call of the Gospels, St. Francis Xavier is dedicated to reconciliation of the past and to the highest standards of protection for the future.
As a Parish, we fully adhere to the Diocese of Helena’s Safe Environment Program through Virtus Training. Staff are all certified in this area. Further, all parishioners, parents, and volunteers who work with vulnerable populations are required to take the three hour Safe Environment Training Program and regular updates.
The Virtus classes are held several times a year here in Missoula and throughout western Montana. This training does not aim to stop the predatory individuals, but to help all of us to recognize the warning signs of abuse and to empower us to act before a child or vulnerable adult is harmed. It teaches us to take responsibility in a way that we, as Church must, if we are to heal our history and bless our future.
Victim Resources & Response to Church Scandals
We invite you to visit these sites and read the documents.