Imagine what the towering St. Francis Xavier Church did to the Missoula landscape when it was completed on West Pine Street in 1892.
There was no university, no Wilma Theatre or courthouse bell tower downtown, no bank taller than four stories and certainly no nine-floor Millennium Building. Beyond its function as a center of worship for Catholics, St. Francis by its mere profile lent an air of permanence and confidence to a community still struggling for an identity.
It was the largest church in the new state at the time and ranks up there today. From the heights of the “M,” Mount Jumbo, the North Hills and Blue Mountain, the tall red steeple of St. Francis is a marker above the tree line.
In 1901, the Jesuits brought Brother Joseph Carignano from Spokane to adorn the walls and ceiling with murals depicting biblical stories and liturgy symbols to create a “total worship experience.”
It’s said that for the next year and a half eggs arrived at St. Francis by the gross to produce the tempera Carignano used to paint 66 murals on the plaster walls, each framed with metallic filigree forms. Carignano, who also produced the frescoes inside the Jesuit church at St. Ignatius in the Mission Valley, painted the interior pillars and other parts of the church with decorative patterns.
St. Francis Church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, its 90th year. In the city limits of Missoula only five properties have been listed longer, starting with the county courthouse in 1976.
Take a tour of Missoula's historic icons, and see the city, on Mountain Line.