Nine miles south of downtown Tucson, alone in the desert, stands the Mission St Xavier del Bac. We’re not Catholic but our interest in history of the area drew us to this mission school and church.

St Xavier del Bac was founded as a Catholic mission for the Tohono O’odahm people by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Construction of the church began in 1783 and is believed to have been completed in 1799. It’s the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.

As we approached the mission, the striking white of the buildings against the blue Arizona sky made is easy to see why it’s nickname is The White Dove of the Desert. If a building can be photogenic, then this one is certainly that. 

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We arrived at the mission shortly after 9am and spent the rest of the morning at the church, the grounds, and Grotto Hill (situated east of the mission). We enjoyed exploring on our own and at our own pace. There are several meditation gardens on the grounds, as well as a gift shop with local arts and crafts and a snack bar.

 

An earthquake in 1887 damaged parts of the mortuary wall and parts of the church. In 1939 lightning struck the mini tower. Although restoration was done to the exterior after these events, the interior houses the original statues and murals.

 

Nearby Grotto Hill has an approximate 1/4 mile circular path ascending the hill and as you walk the path, there are spectacular views of the mission, the surrounding mountains, and the desert.

 

The mission school is still in operation and has classes from kindergarten to 8th grade for the Tohono O’odahm people as well as for other children in the surrounding area.

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There is no charge to visit this historical landmark. Donation boxes are available for anyone who wishes to donate to assist with the preservation and upkeep of the mission.

TIP: The mission is situated just 1 hour north of Nogales, Mexico and there is a border check-point before you reach the mission. If you’re staying in a hotel in the Tucson area, be sure to have your passports with you. We weren’t aware of this, so didn’t bring our passports, but were fortunate to have an understanding customs official.

“One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.”
― Shannon L. Alder