The Jesuit Mission
A lone church building on plateau holds a physical presence against the landscape. The building could oftentimes be seen for miles. Church bells were the only sound that could break the stillness of the high desert. A tall church referenced the proud and devoted community who built it. Apart from today, where massive structures can be erected in months with the help of heavy machinery and professional craftsmen, on the sparsely populated plateau a church was built by the hands of the devoted. Plateau Natives such as the Nez Perce, worked alongside western settlers, and Jesuits to build the church.
Once built the church became the physical frame of reference where intercultural encounters could take place. Father Aloysius Soer, one of the priests who oversaw the mission, recalls in his writings the unwavering support and involvement from the Nez Perce. The Nez Perce and western settlers would attend the church every Sunday, even without Father Soer’s attendance. They came for catechism, the rosary, hymns, etc. Some of the most devoted came to the church twice a day for prayer. Chief Piopiu Maksmaks (Yellow Bird) was among them, and would attend the mission often.
The mission provided the physical setting where intercultural understanding could take place between native peoples, western settlers, and Jesuit priests. A place where weddings, conversions, baptisms, funeral proceeding were held. A place where everyone could come to pray, and congregate. The mission provided a sanctuary where these groups could engage with each other.