The Old Mission State Park, or as it’s known by most locals, The Cataldo Mission, is a true gem of Northern Idaho.
Take exit 39 off I90 and the large park is right there. There is a boat slip and a floating dock and many spots for private reflection and picnicking.
Yet the main attraction is the Mission itself. It’s the oldest building in the State of Idaho, and it was built by Jesuit Missionaries starting in 1850. It sits high on a hill above the gently rolling Coeur d’Alene River, and it was the bustling center of this area when it was first established – long before Idaho became a state in 1890.
Steamboats traveled up the river carrying people, cargo and livestock to the frontier, and American Indians came to the Mission to trade and barter crafts and foods. Think of early missions as a combination of church, farmers market, hotel and livestock fair, and you have a pretty accurate idea as to what early mission life was like.
Members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe helped Jesuits build the Mission building and many converted to Catholicism, but when the reservations were established in 1877 Cataldo was left out. The Catholic Mission picked up and moved to Desmet, on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation, leaving the mission building behind.
In 1887, the parish house next to the mission was built, but nothing brought back the early bustling times of trade and hospitality. Slowly the mission and the surrounding area began to deteriorate. Restorations began in 1925, but it wasn’t until 1962 that it became a National Historic Landmark.
Catholic missionaries’ history in the United States is closely and sometimes painfully connected to that of many American Indian tribes. The fact that American Indian religions were largely outlawed, is one reason why many American Indians saw no choice but to convert to Catholicism. Culturally important native traditions and languages were lost in this process, and it wasn’t until the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978, that American Indian traditions began to regain broader respect.
Today, the Cataldo Mission is the site of an annual pilgrimage for the Feast of Assumption. It draws Catholics from all over the inland northwest and as well as the Coeur d’Alene (Schitsu’umsh is the tribe’s name in its own language) and other tribes. This spiritual event incorporates Native drumming, singing and dancing with Catholic prayer and worship, reflecting the rich history of the place.
One last thing: before you leave the Old Mission State Park, do stop at the visitor’s center which has a great video and exhibit about the mission’s history.
We love road trips here at Local Treasures with Pia – please let us know if you have a good destination, big or small, in the Inland Northwest and we will check it out. Send emails to CorpComm@AvistaCorp.com.