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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    On The Road Again: Mission San Xavier del Bac

    Daniel Burkart

    The 10 steps from the entrance of Mission San Xavier del Bac to the cashier’s counter of its gift shop is a laborious trip for Berta Chadwick. As she pushes her walker slowly over every crack in the tile floor, its wheels make a metallic clank that echo off the church’s ancient walls.

    “Six please,” Chadwick quietly mutters to Diana Allen, a cashier of the church. Chadwick extends her thin, boney finger toward the line of candles sprawled across the countertop. After handing Allen her money, Chadwick places a box of six candles into the basket of her walker and again scoots across the tile floor.

    Once inside the church, she carefully extracts her candles from the box, placing them with care one at a time on the candle altar. As she lights each one, she says a quick, silent prayer to herself. With her box empty, she guides her walker to the nearest pew, where she sits in silence for the next 15 minutes.

    Mission visitors place candles in hopes of heavenly intervention in their personal daily strife. Around each candle is the picture of a specific saint, who, with the lighting of the candle, is believed to intercede on behalf of those lighting it.

    “I have a large family,” Chadwick said. “Right now, my sister is having surgery, my daughter is having breast surgery in two weeks, I have a very good friend who is in very bad shape with lupus.”

    She explained that she tries to come and light a candle for each of them these days. But with each passing week, the trip gets harder, given her condition. She used to come with her husband, but it became too much for him in recent months due to his health.

    “We’ve always believed in the miracles,” she said.

    When she was younger, Chadwick would walk from where she lived on St. Mary’s Road to the mission, braving the heat and exhaustion simply to light a candle in the hope that her prayers would be answered.

    Only candles purchased at the museum can be taken inside and lit. These special ones are odorless, smoke-free and specially made to protect the church; the museum offers a variety of four, according to Allen.

    The guestbook residing in the museum is covered with names of families from across the country, as well as just from down the block. Allen attested to the wide variety of visitors. According to her, the largest flux comes with the snowbirds in winter.

    Even for those who are there every day, the exquisite majesty of the building — its history and its architecture — is not lost.

    Jolene Hartje, a well-versed and insightful docent at the mission, provides daily tours throughout the mission. She said not one tour is the same as another, much like how one visitor’s experience at the mission can be entirely different from another’s.

    Since its inception in the late 18th century, the mission is perched proudly in shimmering white, which is in sharp contrast to the natural tint of the landscape rising up around it. Surviving numerous restoration attempts, squatters, abandonment, a lightning strike and waves of tourists, the mission is a true staple of the Southwest.

    Just a half-hour trip south of Tucson, the Mission Church is open to the public from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Daily masses are offered at various times, as well as guided tours. The museum is free, but donation boxes are scattered throughout the premises.


    Follow Daniel Burkart on Twitter @Daniel_Burkart

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