Members of the Salish Tribe and Father Leonard Jensen gather in about 1945 in front of the chapel at historic St. Mary’s Mission. (Photo provided) St. Mary’s Mission in Stevensville has been designated a National Historic District, action that includes placing St. Mary Parish’s present-day church on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1841, Jesuit priests and lay brothers founded a mission, the first in the Northwest, near the present mission site. St. Mary’s Village evolved into the town of Stevensville.

With the Historic District designation by the National Park Service, all of the mission’s historic buildings are now on the National Register. Two were registered in 1970. They are the chapel built in 1866 and Jesuit Father Anthony Ravalli’s cabin with pharmacy. Father Ravalli, the physician, surgeon, pharmacist, architect, carpenter, sculptor and agronomist for whom Ravalli County is named, died in 1884.

Additions to the National Register include the 1862 cabin of the Salish Tribe’s Chief Victor; a smokehouse; a survey stone; and Father Ravalli’s crabapple tree. The present parish church, built in 1954, is included because it is a continuation of the original mission history.

The National Historic District designation includes St. Mary’s Cemetery, with an American Indian burial plot containing an undetermined number of graves. Wooden crosses once marked the graves.

In considering whether a historic designation is warranted, the Park Service uses four principal criteria: cultural and historical significance, association with a person of significance, architecture and archaeological potential.

Ellen Baumler of the Montana Historical Society led the St. Mary’s application process. The St. Mary’s Mission Historic District retains nearly all of its historic integrity, Baumler said.

Published in The Montana Catholic Online, Volume 26, No. 9, September 17, 2010.