Mission San Xavier del Bac: White Dove of the Desert, Tucson

During our recent weekend trip to Tucson, Kathryn and I took an opportunity to visit Mission San Xavier del Bac, just outside the city. As luck would have it, there was a Mass scheduled there Saturday morning. It was to celebrate the 366th birthday of Fr. Eusebio Kino, the Jesuit priest who founded the mission way back in 1692. So we made sure to schedule our visit to coincide.

Tucson: Mission San Xavier del Bac, White Dove of the Desert
Mission San Xavier del Bac, the White Dove of the Desert, exterior view

The present church, shown in the picture, wasn’t finished until the late 18th century, about a century after the mission was founded. It’s said to be the oldest European structure still intact in Arizona. You can see the church for several miles as you drive there from Tucson. It’s easy to see how it might have become a beacon for the natives who lived nearby.

The interior is Baroque and charming. It shows the signs of its age, though. The choir loft appears to be unusable. The pulpit would probably not hold someone of today’s average weight. Restoration is ongoing, but it is a mission church, after all. I imagine funds are scarce.

Tuscon: Altar of Mission San Xavier, White Dove of the Desert
The altar of the Mission San Xavier near Tucson

The mission may have been founded by a Jesuit priest, but over time it ended up in the hands of the Franciscans. It seemed appropriate that the Mass celebrating Padre Kino’s birthday was celebrated by both a Jesuit priest and the mission’s current Franciscan pastor. The Jesuit priest gave the homily, and his descriptions of Kino’s intellect and devotion were fascinating. I was glad we came to the Mass if only to hear the homily.

Later, during the Eucharistic prayer, I couldn’t help but notice that the Jesuit priest invoked the names of two Jesuit saints but only one Franciscan saint. Um, did I detect some rivalry?

For me, the best part of the visit was not the church building itself, nor even the Mass. It was the mausoleum that sits just to the left of the church as you enter. You might easily miss it. It sits at the back of a quiet courtyard filled with desert landscaping. You can see the Stations of the Cross on the courtyard’s walls. A few of the mission’s pastors have been laid to eternal rest in the mausoleum. It’s hard to imagine a more serene place to be buried.

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