If you travel just 9 miles south of Tucson on I-19 you cannot miss the beauty of the Mission San Xavier del Bac. Known as "The White Dove of the Desert," the Catholic mission was founded by Father Kino in 1692, making it older than Tucson itself. The mission sits within the boundaries of the San Xavier Indian Reservation. The construction of the white adobe structure that stands today was completed in 1797 and is the oldest European structure standing in Arizona. Unlike other Spanish missions in the area, which include Piman influence in the architecture, San Xavier is entirely European in its design. It is widely considered to be the best example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States. One interesting aspect of the architecture is the carving above the doors which show a cat threatening a mouse. There is a legend that says if the cat ever catches the mouse it will be the end of the earth.
Spanish missions were established frequently as European colonization moved north from Mexico into what is now Arizona. This was an effort by New Spain to extend Christianity and the Spanish culture to the Native Peoples already living in the area. In the case of San Xavier the Pima-speaking people living in this valley were, and are still, known as the Tohono O'odham (T.O.) people. During the construction of the mission, most of the labor needed to build the adobe structure was performed by T.O. men. A private catholic school serving primarily Native American students has been present on the premises since The Sisters of Carondelet opened one there in 1872.
The upkeep of such an old and beautiful church takes a lot of work. There is an organization that is dedicated to the conservation of San Xavier Mission, they are known as the Patronato San Xavier. If you would like to learn more about their work or to donate you can visit their website www.patronatosanxavier.org.
The church still holds mass at multiple times throughout the week for their primarily Tohono O'odham congregation. The mission is open to visitors daily from 7:00am to 5:00pm (closed during services). There is also a museum on site that is open from 8:00am to 4:30pm and a gift shop open from 8:00am to 5:00pm daily. Admission to San Xavier Mission and the museum are always free. For more information you can visit their website at www.sanxaviermission.org.