Saint Mary's historic mission's annual opening is one of the milestones of spring in Stevensville. Spring is here. The mission is open.
It was founded in 1841, 48 years before Montana became a state. Montana's oldest permanent town is celebrating. It's called "The Year of Ravalli."
Father Mike Smith celebrated a special mass in the chapel that Father Anthony Ravalli designed and helped build in 1866. Little has changed in the simple church with its ornate interior.
Celebrants filled its pews in honor of the Italian priest Ravalli County is named for.
"He was known as a true Renaissance Man," said the mission's Colleen Meyer. The Jesuit priest sculpted a statue of St. Mary that stands above the altar. He sculpted a likeness of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
He built the churches railing, the candlesticks, the original cross. Father Ravalli was a practical man who knew how to do stuff.
"He took a look at the problem, figured out a way to solve it and just went ahead and did it," said Florence's St. Joseph parishioner, Joe Johnson.
In the priests immaculately preserved cabin are the roots of Stevensville's first lending library. In the back, there's Father's pharmacy. He was a physician, surgeon, painter, and machinist.
Stevensville High School's Future Farmers of America honor the priest. They raised the flag, and an FFA member sang The Star Spangled Banner.
In the back of the mission there's an ancient apple tree that still blooms. It's one of Father Ravalli's original trees.
"He introduced a lot of the seeds that we harvest today," said Stevensville's FFA chapter president Jessica Hopcroft. "It's potential for us to keep planting and farming," continued FFA chapter parliamentarian, Sean Watt.
The Bonislewski family of Stevensville came for mass. The mission belongs to Stevensville and the community, said David Bonislewski.
The oldest building on the grounds is Salish Chief Victor's cabin. It's a museum. The priest lived and worked closely with Chief Victor and his son Chief Charlo.