- Mission San Xavier del Wa:K, like Tumacacori and Tubac, to the south, is a mission established and still operated by the Franciscan Order of Roman Catholic monks. Like them, it is a mission to the Tohono and Pima people. Nearby Pascua Yaqui people also attend services here, as do Hispanics and Whites who live in the vicinity. San Xavier operates a mission school, located on the grounds to the west of the church.
Wa:K (pronounced “bvaak”) is a Tohono community. Tohono speak a language similar to the Pima, and both are descended from the Hohokam, the ancient farmer-gatherers who lived in the Salt, Gila and Verde River Valleys, from what is now Tucson to what is now Prescott.
In this segment, I will show some scenes of the surrounding buildings, gardens and Grotto Hill, which augment the beautiful mission church.
Here are the Arts and Crafts Center, and a panel of the Pavilion built by students at San Xavier Mission School.
The Mission School serves the community of Wa:K lovingly and well.
The gardens in front of the church, and to its east, highlight the importance of xeriscaping (desert gardening) to the Tohono.
Grotto Hill features a pair of crosses, in memory of parishioners who are laid to rest there, and an outdoor shrine of the Virgin Mary. The hill is of igneous rock, and has a path which circumnavigates, but does not climb, the promontory. It lies just east of the Mission’s East Chapel.
The visitor to Grotto Hill is greeted by twin busts of lions, which have assumed a prominence in this mission, to symbolize the tenacity of the missionaries in their service to Christ.
The Shrine of the Madonna is just beyond the gate, at the foot of Grotto Hill.
From Grotto Hill, one has several fine views of the mountain ranges which surround Tucson. Here is a view of the Santa Rita Range, to the west.
The Mission also honours a Native American saint, Kateri Tekakwtha, who was canonized by Pope John Paull II.
Like many Catholic parishes in the Southwest and elsewhere in the world, San Xavier incorporates indigenous traditions in its work with the people. Here is a Tohono prayer circle.
This was the first part of my visit here on May 5. Next, we’ll visit the church itself.