St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church, Missoula’s oldest Catholic community, began more than a century ago and has become a large and thriving parish.
As early as 1841, the Jesuit fathers fulfilled the charge of the American bishops to care for the Native Americans with the founding of St. Mary's Mission in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. For years, settlers in the Missoula Valley had petitioned the Jesuits for pastoral care as well, and in 1881, a Jesuit church in Missoula was established.
On August 9, 1891, the Jesuits laid the cornerstone for the largest church constructed in Montana at that time. It was completed in October 1892. Thus within a decade, 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.
The artwork of St. Francis Xavier Church is unique because it was a tremendous artistic effort by one man, Br. Joseph Carignano, S.J. He 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.
St. Francis Xavier has a long social justice and outreach tradition, devoting nearly 20 percent of its annual budget to the care of the poor, the sick and the otherwise disadvantaged. In addition, the parish has developed education, hospitality, faith formation, prayer and spirituality and many other programs consistent with Jesuit and Archdiocesan apostolic priorities.