The tragic fire that destroyed much of Notre Dame de Paris will be regarded by some as the loss of a museum, or a historical site, but it is much more than that. The structure of a church is made of stone and wood, but it has a heart and soul. That heart and soul came to life when the builders and artisans began to build something that they would never see completed. They could imagine the completed cathedral, but it would be later generations that would see the fruits of their labor.
France has been called; “The First Daughter of the Catholic Church”, but she has been a wayward daughter – seduced by the French Revolution she has never quite found her way back home. Fire can be a terrible thing, but not all fires start with matches. Ideas can spark conflagrations that can destroy nations, and consume millions of lives. Just as the secularist that does not believe in God, but believes in Heaven, so do some in churches believe their mission is to establish Heaven on earth. They only get as far as replicating the misery of Hell.
About 30 miles south of my home the Mission of San Xavier del Bac occupies a place in the Sonoran Desert. The White Dove of the Desert is not as magnificent, nor as old as Notre Dame, but the builders were just as dedicated. San Xavier del Bac was no stranger to turmoil, but has survived and is still an active mission.
Mission San Xavier del Bac is a historic Spanish Catholic mission located about 10 miles (16 km) south of downtown Tucson, Arizona, on the Tohono O’odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation. The mission was founded in 1692 by Padre Eusebio Kino in the center of a centuries-old Indian settlement of the Sobaipuri O’odham who were a branch of the Akimel or River O’odham, located along the banks of the Santa Cruz River.
The mission was named for Francis Xavier, a Christian missionary and co-founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit Order) in Europe. The original church was built to the north of the present Franciscan church. This northern church or churches served the mission until being razed during an Apache raid in 1770.
Today’s Mission was built between 1783-1797; it is the oldest European structure in Arizona; the labor was provided by the O’odham. An outstanding example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, it hosts some 200,000 visitors each year.
The present Mission building was constructed under the direction of Franciscan fathers Juan Bautista Velderrain and Juan Bautista Llorenz between 1783 and 1797. With 7,000 pesos borrowed from a Sonoran rancher, they hired architect Ignacio Gaona, who employed a large workforce of O’odham to create today’s church.
Following Mexican independence in 1821, what was then known as Alta California was administered from Mexico City. In 1822, the Mission was included under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Diocese of Sonora. In 1828, the Mexican government banned all Spanish-born priests, with the last resident Franciscan departing San Xavier for Spain in 1837.
Like the French revolutionaries, the Mexican government would try to sever the Church from Mexico in the Cristero War – 1926 to 1929.
Left vacant, the Mission began to decay. Concerned about their church, local Indians began to preserve what they could. With the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, San Xavier was brought under U.S. rule as part of the Territory of Arizona.
The church was re-opened in 1859 when the Santa Fe Diocese added the Mission to its jurisdiction. It ordered repairs paid for with diocesan money, and assigned a priest to serve the community. In 1868 the Diocese of Tucson was established. It provided for regular services to be held again at the church.
In 1872 the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened a school at the Mission for the Tohono O’odham children. In 1895 a grant of $1,000 was given to repair the building. More classrooms were added in 1900. The Franciscans returned to the Mission in 1913. In 1947, they built a new school next to the church for the local children. – from Wikipedia
Tucsonans still respect Father Kino and the Mission has a place on the City of Tucson Seal.