Saint Joseph's Mission History

A white chapel during winter time with snow on the ground.
St. Joseph's church, taken around 1975. It is privately owned and there is no public access.

Nez Perce National Historical Park Historic Image Collection NEPE-HI-0418

Protestant missionaries had an established presence in Nez Perce country for over twenty years when Father J.M. Cataldo arrived in 1867. Despite fierce competition from some of the Protestant Churches on the reservation, Cataldo was successful in establishing St. Joseph's mission, the first Roman Catholic mission to serve the Nez Perce people. A local Nez Perce leader known as Chief Slickpoo gave permission to establish a mission on the lands used by his band.

While Father Cataldo would leave once the mission was established, going on to establish Gonzaga University, a large mission complex grew on the site. One of the first structures to be built was a chapel in 1868, but a permanent location was not established until construction of Saint Joseph's Mission was completed at a more secluded site in 1874. The mission closed in 1958 and most of the buildings are now gone; however, the chapel has been preserved and is still standing today, though no longer in use.

A white chapel in on a cloudy day.
The Mission Era

During the mid nineteenth century, Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries spent time among the Nez Perce.

A white church with a cross on top of the steeple.
Visit Saint Joseph's Mission

Plan your trip to the site where Father Cataldo established a Roman Catholic mission.

Last updated: August 31, 2020

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Nez Perce National Historical Park
39063 US Hwy 95

Lapwai, ID 83540-9715


208 843-7001

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