History of the San Xavier Mission
(left) Close-up of completed
By Danielle Crounse
West tower of San Xavier del Bac.
Mission San Xavier del Bac is a Catholic church founded by a Jesuit priest, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a European spreading the word of God in a new land in 1692.
While traveling to what is now known as California, Kino found a Pima Indian village near a stream bed ("Bac" means "where a stream emerges") in the Sonoran Desert. He stopped and preached to the people who were receptive to his teachings. Father Kino did not stay in this location, but visited it often during his travels.
From 1692 through 1782 various priests took charge of the church and either visited regularly or were commissioned there. The services took place in a different church than the one that exists today.
During this time the old church was vulnerable to Apache attacks but was left untouched. Charles III of Spain banned all Jesuits from Spanish lands because of distrust of the secular talents of the Jesuits, so from this time (late 1760's) on San Xavier would be led by Franciscans.
Today's church was built in 1783. Not much is written about the Mission from the time it was built until 1828. At this time the Mexican government demanded loyalty from all Spanish priests, and many, including the priest at San Xavier, refused. Therefore, the priest serving at San Xavier was sent home to Spain, and San Xavier was left vacant.
From 1828-1858 the church began to decay and local Indians, concerned about the church, took church furnishings into their homes as a way of preserving what they could. In 1849 the California gold rush began, and then a large number of people came to the church on their travels to California. Most visitors wrote their names on the walls inside.
In 1858 a diary entry by a visitor from Ohio explained that the door to San Xavier was always open and that the church had been taken over by birds and that the Indians respected it too much to vandalize it.
The decaying church was helped in 1859 when the Gadsden Purchase added Arizona to the Santa Fe Diocese. The Bishop for the Santa Fe Diocese ordered a scout to Arizona, where they discovered San Xavier. Repairs were made with Diocese money and a priest was assigned to serve at San Xavier.
A school was begun several times at San Xavier. The church received funding through the government for school, but the first attempt in 1864 failed, as local Indians did not send their children.
In 1895 a school was opened again, and a grant of $1,000 was given to repair the building. Classrooms were added on at the start of the century. In 1947 a new school was built next to the church for the Tohono O'odham children.
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