SAINT IGNATIUS, Mont. — A $1.2 million community funded project to restore the iconic murals at Saint Ignatius Catholic Church Mission is almost done.
Plans are for the artisans to continue their work this summer.
While parishioners couldn't physically see the murals this Easter Sunday , they celebrated Mass online.
Easter Mass was video taped before empty pews for parishioners to watch on You Tube.
Father C. Hightower compared the isolation many of us are feeling to the Passion of Christ.
"Feeling alone. Feeling abandoned. Feeling bewilderment," said Father Hightower. " Those are some of the things that Christ felt as he made his way to Jerusalem and the cross."
But he reminded us, there's also Resurrection.
"We know that Christ is going to be victorious," he said, "and we know as a community we are going to be victorious over this Coronavirus.
Prominently displayed, among dozens of murals in the church, is a painting of the Resurrection.
They are the paintings of a Jesuit brother who lived here at the mission.
" Brother Carignano was the cook of the Jesuit community," said Father Hightower. " And he just started painting. He had no professional training."
In the summers of 1904 and 1905, Brother Carignano painted 58 murals in the church.
But through the years the plaster behind the murals began to deteriorate.
A company called Custom Plaster, owned by Greg Marsters of Boise, Idaho is restoring them.
"Through this restoration," said Father Hightower, " there's a new beginning."
The present Saint Ignatius Church was built between 1891 and 1893.
But the original mission was founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1854.
"The Salish out of the Bitter Root," said Father Hightower, " sent three different delegations to Saint Louis to get the Jesuits, the Black Robes, to come west."
"Chiefs way back in the day," said parishioner Carole Lankford, " invited the Jesuits to this area to help us learn the Catholic religion."
Carole is a Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes council member.
She is Salish, Kootenai and Coastal Salish.
"I've been a part of the church for many, many years," she said. "The main thing for me is my spiritual well being, my spiritual life."
The tribal council member loves the murals, their gorgeous colors and how each one is unique.
It's just wonderful to look at," she said.
But it isn't just Brother Carignano's murals that appeal to her.
In the back of the church are two newer paintings that were not painted by the Jesuit.
One is of an Indian Chief, a Salish representation of Jesus Christ.
The other is of a Salish Madonna with the Christ child.
"I think they're beautiful," said Carole. " As a Native American they make me feel comfortable coming in here and being a part of this community."
Behind the altar is a Triptych of the Visions of Saint Ignatius, one of the founders of the Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits.
There are too many murals to name.
Here are just a few.
The Blessed Mother holding lilies, one of Saint Joseph with the child Jesus, another of Saint Anthony, one of Saint Cecelia, and another of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments.
"They tell the story of the saints," said Father Hightower. "They tell the story of Hebrew scripture."
You couldn't find a more beautiful setting than the Mission Mountains for Easter.
Father Hightower calls them a "gift of God's creation, with a blanket of snow representing the purity of baptism and Christian dignity."
"There's no better place to share in the spring," he said, " than in the beauty of the Mission Mountains and the Mission Valley."
As a tribal leader Carole Lankford knows many of her friends and neighbors are at high risk of contracting the virus.
With gloves and a face mask she is prepared.
She keeps in contact with her community through phone calls and Facebook.
"Easter, " she said, "is rebirth and renewal," and I believe when this passes, and it will pass, that's what it will be. Rebirth and renewal."
She prays every day in English and in her People's native tongue.
"My message to my people," she said speaking Salish, " is Yesu K li. K Incut n Spu us. You're in my heart."
This Easter both Carole and Father Hightower look forward to the day when everyone can gather together at St. Ignatius Church-safely.