Mission to Arizona, 1916-1940: Father Augustine Schwarz, O.F.M.
Mission to Pimería: Introduction
The first brown-robed Franciscans from the Sacred Heart Province of St. Louis, arrived in Phoenix in 1896 to take over St. Mary’s Parish. These friars and those who were to serve in southern Arizona, are in a geographic division based in Santa Barbara, California – the Santa Barbara Province.
In April of that year. Father Novatus Benzing climbed into a dilapidated buggy, cracked the whip, and drove his team some 14 miles to the village of Komatke, a Pima word for Blue Hazy Mountain. Here, at the foot of the Estrella Mountains, he offered holy mass, thus establishing the first mission with the Pima Indians of the Gila River Indian Community. The Indians asked that it be named for St. John the Baptist.
In the beginning, St. John’s was the center from which all missionary work radiated in Arizona, and during his tenure, records show that Father Augustine visited and photographed other sites in the Gila River Indian Community: St. Michael’s at Hashan Kehk; and St. Joseph’s at Wetcamp. He also made regular trips to St. Francis of Assisi church in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. These follow the St. John’s story.