The St. Francis Historic Mission School in the Ak-Chin Indian Community celebrated its sixth anniversary on Friday, September 6. People came to celebrate, enjoy lunch and cake, and see the building’s vintage furniture and trinkets.
Located next to the Ak-Chin Him-Dak EcoMuseum, the schoolhouse has a long history in the Ak-Chin Indian Community. It was recently renovated to help preserve the memories and artifacts contained there.
In 1925, the St. Francis of Assisi Mission School opened and was administered by Father Antonine Willenbrick, according to an article in the Ak-Chin O’odham Runner newspaper. Father Willenbrick served both the Ak-Chin and Gila River Indian Communities, and he learned the O’odham language while living on the reservation.
Historically, young members of the Ak-Chin Indian Community left their families to attend boarding schools run by the federal government or by Catholic missions. The St. Francis of Assisi Mission School provided education to Ak-Chin youth right in their community.
Many current Ak-Chin Indian Community Elders attended the school, and they share fond memories. Elders also recall festive holiday celebrations, as the school served as a meeting and gathering place, according to the article in the Ak-Chin O’odham Runner newspaper. Some students even watched their first movies right in the schoolhouse.
Architect Arthur Stables with BWS Architects renovated this building with oversight from a team of Ak-Chin Indian Community Elders. The project was recognized as one of 10 recipients of the 2017 Governor’s Heritage Preservation Honor Awards. Each year, this award recognizes people, organizations, and projects that represent outstanding achievements in preserving Arizona’s prehistoric and historic resources, according to the Arizona Preservation Foundation.
The September celebration of the St. Francis Historic Mission School observed the sixth anniversary of the building reopening to the public. Attendees received free tote bags and were able to catch glimpses of exhibits that recreate the look of the historic schoolhouse.
Members enjoyed a good time of fond memories and celebrating part of the history of the Ak-Chin Indian Community.
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