About Our Parish

"Honoring Our History, Living Faith for our Future"

St. Mary's Parish was established as a result of four separate delegations of Native peoples for the Bitterroot Valley who were sent to St. Louis requesting the Bishop to send a priest to the North West to bring the Good news of the Gospel of Christ and minister to their people. Finally, Bishop Rosati sent Father Pierre Jean DeSmet, S.J. to return with them. Shortly after his arrival here, Fr. DeSmet established St. Mary's Mission on the east bank of the Bitterroot River on September 24th, 1841.

Fr. Anthony Ravalli, S.J. came to the valley in 1845. He served the community, bringing much needed skills and talents to the native Salish people. Among other things, he established the first pharmacy and medical clinic as well as knowledge in farming and livestock. The fondness and warm regard of the people of this area for Father Ravalli is remembered in the honor they paid him in naming Ravalli County after him. Fr. Ravalli is buried in the cemetery on the grounds of his beloved mission in this parish. And so, with the calling of the Native people to the Church for ministers, with the faithful and dedicated missionary zeal of Fr. Pierre DeSmet and Fr. Anthony Ravalli, this parish began the long history of Christian witness and presence in the Bitterroot Valley and the North West.

Growing Through Change

Following the construction of the current church located just a few feet south of the original Mission, St. Mary's Church was formally dedicated in September 1954, and continues to serve the parish community today. The former Mission church, along with other original structures, has been incorporated as a historical place. Visitors and students regularly come to Historic St. Mary's Mission and Museum to learn about the early settlement of this area and the influence and gifts that these missionary Jesuits brought with them in their ministry to the Native peoples. In 2011, Historic St. Mary's Mission was added to the National Historical Register as a significant area of historical importance in the settlement of the state of Montana.

Along with St. Mary's Parish is St. Joseph's Mission in Florence. This Mission was formally established in 1921 and became a mission to St. Mary's Parish. Together both communities share the common heritage of those early missionary settlers who brought with them faith, courage, and a determination to bring a lasting presence and witness of Christ's love and care for th people of this area. The face of Christ is revealed in every member and every family in our parish who, together, join their lives around the Table of the Lord to celebrate His Goodness, be formed by His Word and Truth, and be Nourished in the Eucharist that gives life and redeems the world. 

Looking to the Future

Today this community of faith continues its long and proud heritage of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, nourishing the community both in its Catholic identity and through the Word and Sacraments, celebrating our faith, and living our mission to proclaim the truth and announce the Kingdom of Salvation. 

As united Catholics in the Bitterroot Valley for more than 170 years, joining in faith with the Diocese of Helena, we continue "Honoring our History, Living Faith for our Future."