Our Home at St. John the Baptist Mission
On May 13, 2015, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, seven Franciscans rolled out of their cross country caravan consisting of three donated vehicles and a trailer. Exhausted and exhilarated, they moved into the old convent building at Saint John the Baptist Mission on the Gila River Indian Reservation in the Diocese of Phoenix.
The friars’ new home in the saguaro spotted desert is the location of a long Catholic and Franciscan history. This history spans from the Spanish Franciscan friars who first explored the northern expanse of the Sonoran Desert, to Padre Kino (the great Jesuit missionary to Pimeria), to the Franciscan priests, brothers, and sisters who built and ran a beautiful and long-revered Indian School.
Saint John’s Indian School was closed years ago and time has worn away the old school buildings. Thankfully a beautiful Church and a convent both remain as a monument to the great Catholic history. The convent was named Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Spiritual Center, and on that late evening on May 13, for the friars, it became Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Friary.
The new missionary friars were warmly welcomed to Saint John the Baptist Mission by the parishioners. Several members of the parish said that they had been praying and waiting for the Franciscans to return. In fact, they were praying for over twenty years for a charismatic Franciscan community to reside once again at Saint John the Baptist.
They told the story about a vision in 1987—the same year Pope Saint John Paul the Great visited the Diocese of Phoenix—that was received at prayer meetings of different Christian faiths. Those who received this vision said when they were in prayer they went up to the top of a mountain peak in their minds’ eye. From the top of the mountain they saw a little spark on the valley floor below. Many believed this spark was coming from Saint John the Baptist Mission.
The spark began a small fire that gradually grew to consume the lands around them. Then the fire became bigger and brighter and began to spread to the city of Phoenix and the cities around it. But it did not stop there. The fire spread throughout the entire nation. As many different people shared this prayer experience and realized how similar it was, they considered it a prophetic vision.
We friars believe that this is the fire of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospels, Saint John the Baptist says, “He who comes after me will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt. 3:11). So it is fitting that this parish, under the patronage of this great prophet should be a source of revival for this Reservation, this Diocese, and the entire nation.
We are grateful to God that Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and the Pima people gave us a home at the epicenter of this spiritual fire.
We have been set on fire by the love of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. God has called us to this place to fan the spiritual fire.