Historic St. Mary's Mission

Visiting the St. Mary’s Mission is a great way to learn about Montana history. The Mission Complex is open for tours from April 15 through October 15, and the Visitor’s Center, Gift Shop and Museum are open year around.

The story here begins with Iroquois Indians working as trappers for the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1823-24, some of them stayed with the Salish in the Bitterroot Valley and told of white men who wore long black gowns and taught people about God. The Salish and Nez Perce were so intrigued they sent people to St. Louis to recruit a Black Robe to come and teach them.

That’s how Father Pierre Jean DeSmet and two other Jesuit missionaries came to Montana in 1841 and began the first white settlement in Montana. Indians from many tribes came to visit the Black Robes. Besides having a church, the Jesuits planted seeds for crops and brought in cattle, swine and poultry. One of the missionaries DeSmet recruited was Italian renaissance man Father Anthony Ravalli, S.J. He arrived in 1845 and served as not only a priest, but also as a pioneering physician, surgeon, pharmacist, architect, artist, and sculptor. He built mills, held religion classes, taught reading, writing and arithmetic in the Salish language, led a band, and instructed the Indians in plowing, planting, cultivating, irrigating, harvesting, and tending livestock.

St. Mary’s Mission is in Stevensville, 28 miles south of Missoula. Call (406) 777-5734.