The following account is taken from a book written for the 100th anniversary of the mission at Chinle by Fr. Blane Grein, OFM and Charlotte J. Frisbie. All photographs produced in this account, with the exception of three from the Diocesan archives, also come from this book, entitled “Blessings Brought, Blessings Found: Celebrating 100 Years of Franciscan and Church presence in Chinle, Arizona”. Since the account is so long and detailed, it has been divided into two parts for this Voice edition. The second part will be posted next week.

Note: If you would like to purchase a copy of this story, please call the Chinle parish at 928-674-5413.

In the beginning…

In 1539, Franciscans, like other religious communities, came to the New World to evangelize and to serve the Catholic Church. During the first half of the 16”‘ century, Fray Marcos de Niza spearheaded the efforts that led Franciscans to spread into New Mexico, Texas, California, and Arizona from central Mexico.

Success, however, was not the result. Navajos as well as some other Native American groups remained largely untouched by these early Franciscan efforts and by the 1840s, the blue-robed Hispanic Franciscans were dying out in the Southwest. Around this time, a new wave of Franciscans arrived in the Eastern United States to serve the German and Polish immigrants there who were Catholic.

Germans migrated and settled along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers; in 1859, the Cincinnati Province was established to serve German speaking immigrants to the Midwest, and by the 1890s, the Franciscan Provinces were headquartered in both St. Louis and Cincinnati.

The St. John the Baptist Province had its true roots in the rugged mountains and soil of the Austrian Tyrol, from where the first friars to Cincinnati actually came in 1844. Within 15 years, the Tyrolese Franciscans were serving the dioceses of Cincinnati, Louisville, and Vincennes.

After discussions with both Mother Katharine Drexel, one of the greatest women and foundress of the Community of Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, and Msgr. Joseph Stephan, then the head of the Catholic Bureau of Indian Missions, and other encouragement, in July, 1897, the Provincial Board at Cincinnati accepted a new call. They began to prepare to assume the Spanish Franciscans’ work that had lapsed over 70 years earlier by sending missionaries to the Navajo reservation in northwestern New Mexico and northern Arizona.

The first to respond to the call to serve among the Navajos included three Franciscan Friars, Fathers Juvenal Schnorbus (1862-1912) and Anselm Weber (1862-1921), and one Brother, Placidus Buerger (l852-1906).

Fr. Anselm Weber.

With financial aid from Mother Katharine, these three eventually arrived on Oct. 7, 1898, in Cienega, a site 30 miles northwest of Gallup, New Mexico that later became known as St. Michaels. Within a few years, they established a home base there, built a school, and then started moving out to set up missions in other areas of the Navajo reservation.

Fr. Anselm replaced Fr. Juvenal as Superior, director of the Franciscan Navajo Missions in 1900 until his death in 1921 . Eventually known as the Curly Haired Priest, he recruited children for St. Michaels’ School in 1902, helped lay the groundwork that made it possible to establish missions elsewhere on the reservation, served as a peacemaker during the trouble at Beautiful Mountain in 1913, and did much to help the People secure land rights from the federal government.

Visits from other Franciscans were few, and while there was plenty of work to do, for a long time there was little evidence of achievement. – Fr. Leopold Ostermann

He also started the annual Franciscan Missions of the Southwest (published from 1913 through 1922), wrote for other publications, and spent much time traveling around on foot, by horseback, and eventually by wagon, becoming known among the Navajos as a friend and advisor.

In 1900, two more Friars were sent to St. Michaels to assist Fr. Anselm: Fr. Leopold Osterrnann (1863 1930) and Fr. Berard Haile (1874-1961). Joining in the work of getting established at St. Michaels, becoming familiar with the People and their customs, and starting to learn and study the Navajo language, these men were joined by Fr. Marcellus Troester (1898-1936) in 1907. While each Friar was named by the Navajos and became known individually, this group of four men, Frs. Anselm, Leopold, Berard, and Marcellus became known as “the Big Four.”

Fr. Leopold Ostermann.

Their lives and efforts illustrate the early years of St. Michaels, and a variety of efforts in first studying the language and culture of the People. They also served during the time when six missions Navajo were established; these were located at St. Michaels, Chinle, Lukachukai, Tohatchi, Shiprock, and Keams Canyon. Establishing the Franciscans as friends, advisors, and a vital part of Navajo life since 1898, these brown-robed Friars marked their own centennial in 1998 with a year filled with celebrations.

In various speeches, publications, and other public ways, including Navajo Nation Council resolutions, the Franciscans in 1998 were credited with many accomplishments, all of which started with the efforts of the Big Four. These included producing the first Navajo dictionary, recording Navajo ceremonies, and collecting and preserving valuable records of early Navajo life, culture, and family genealogies.

My father, Wilson Hunter, made certain that all of us went to church. He walked fast and some of us had to run to stay up with him. At that time, the women and girls still had to wear head coverings in church. The Sisters used to place Kleenex on our heads with bobby pins as we entered the church. – Lillie Nez

As residents of Chinle know, of the Big Four, it was Fr. Leopold Osterrnann (12/24/1863 – 4/10/1930) who would be the first to be associated with Chinle and eventually to become its first full-time priest. Born in Hamilton, Ohio on Christmas Eve, he was invested in the Franciscan habit in August, 1882, ordained on 9/6/1890, and spent the first ten years in parish work before coming to the Navajo reservation. Here Fr. Leopold would stay, mainly at Chinle until the last few years, when illness sent him back, first to St. Michaels, and then in 1928 to Roswell, NM where he died.

Named ’Eé’neishoodii Tsoh, the “Stout Priest,” by the Navajos, Fr. Leopold divided his time between missionary and ethnological labors, always collaborating with his peers on gathering material for the books on Navajo language and culture that would be published at St. Michaels. His last work, a simplified grammar he was asked to produce to help teachers understand the complex Navajo language, was finished by his confreres and printed at St. Michaels. Reportedly, Fr. Leopold had a special knack for making friends among all ages wherever he went.

Despite the circumstances, Leopold was kind to all; “he kept on as he had started, kind, affable, withal a true priest.” (Hesse 1930:118).

That the Franciscans should pick Chinle in northeastern Arizona as the site of their first outreach mission is no surprise.

Fr. Leopold on his porch.

Known earlier by various names including Chin Lee, ChinLee, and Chinle, in 1941 the U.S. Indian Service settled on the spelling, Chinle. At the center of the reservation and home to Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto, Chinle has historical significance that goes back to archaeological times and continues into the present. Many of its occupants suffered directly from Kit Carson’s burn and scorch policies and the roundup, march to, and incarceration at Ft. Sumner. Thereafter, Chinle was home to one of the early government boarding schools and as such, became a population center.

The nearby Chinle Valley offered good farm land fed by the Chinle and Nazlini washes; many families from Black Mountain or elsewhere in the winter farmed there en route to summer sheep camps at higher elevations toward Fluted Rock, Lukachukai, Tsaile, or other places. Thus, it is no surprise that by the early 20th century, Chinle had a school, government agent, three trading posts, and a church.

Fr. Emanuel Trockur speaking at his Ordination Jubilee Banquet; Fr. Anselm Sippel, left; Bishop Espelage, right.

Located about 100 miles northwest of Gallup, NM and two miles west of Canyon de Chelly National Monument, the Chinle Franciscan Mission site is on the west side of Indian Service Route 7. In 2004, Chinle reported a population of 8,756, a figure expanded greatly from May through October by tourists attracted by the picturesque sights at the National Monument.

The community is home to the second oldest Catholic Church on the Navajo reservation, and the first pioneer post, mission station, or outreach site established by the Franciscans after they had started the school at St. Michaels and were ready to expand from their home base. Reviews of the discussions that led to the choice of Chinle as the site for the first outpost show that the place was selected because of its centrality, scenic canyons and picturesque cottonwood groves, nearby good farm land, numbers of Navajos traveling through there from Black Mountain on their way elsewhere, the peach orchards in the bottom of Canyon de Chelly, and what were then rumors about a future government boarding school.

Today, the property continues to have historic integrity; while the House Chronicles and other records, including some photographs, show that some earlier buildings and features have disappeared through time, the main ones, including the friary, old church, post office/interpreter’s house (today’s convent), and the cemetery have not changed locations, setting, or association with the Franciscans since their early 20th century construction.

The earliest House Chronicle we have been able to locate thus far starts in 1934, specifically spanning the 4/21/34 – 2/21/35 period with notes continuing through 3/14/37. Then there is gap in the records until the next Chronicle which covers from 8/1/45 to 1/31/60.

Before site selection

“Home, Sweet Home” of Fr. Leopold and br. Placidus, 1904-1906.

Although we have not yet found a House Chronicle for Chinle that dates before 1934, from other sources we know that Fr. Leopold Osterrnann was sent out from St. Michaels to Chinle, about 60 miles away, to look at the area as a possible site for a branch or outpost mission.

Because his report was enthusiastic, 10/25-30/1902 saw a group, including Fr. Anselm Weber, Frank Walker, Josephine Drexel, and Sister Agatha making a visit to the area.

Trader Sam E. Day, Sr. had bought an Indian trading post at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly for his son, Charley, in 1900 and the family had moved there from the St. Michaels area. By 1/1903, Charley was appointed as postmaster, and mail service was started on 5/25/1903 from Gallup via Ganado to Chinle, specifically to Day’s Trading Post.


Viewing Canyon de Chelly.

The store later passed through several owners before becoming known as Cozy McSparron’s Thunderbird Lodge. Once in Chinle, the Day family continued to be friends and supporters of the Franciscans. Sam, Sr. with two of his sons, Sam II and Charley, helped Frs. Anselm and Berard during a special meeting on 4/20/1903 to get local Navajo approval of the idea of establishing a church in Chinle (Wilken 1955:109-119). After Sam, Sr. and Fr. Anselm surveyed the site, identified as “three miles west of the Day trading post but near the mouth of the Canyon,” the request was sent to the U.S. Indian Agent of the Navajo Agency, George Hayzlett.

Travel was more complicated then. It often took days to get from on place to another. The priests had a small hogan where people could stay for a day or two. – Emmett Bia

The latter forwarded it to the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, W. A. Jones on 4/21/1903, with a follow up inquiry on 6/5/1903. On 6/20/1903, the Secretary of the Interior granted authority (Land Authority 88189) for the Agent “to set aside 160 acres of land for the temporary use and occupancy of the Roman Catholic Church for missionary and educational purposes…” G.W. Hayzlett, U.S. Indian Agent, was notified of this by a letter from Jones on 6/24/1903, and actually set aside the parcel of land located in the Chinle Valley on 8/10/1903, appending its legal description to the letter from Jones. The Catholic Mission Site at Chinle, Arizona was described as follows, using the surveying techniques and language of the early 20’“ century: “Beginning at a stone monument from which min at mouth of Canyon De Chelly bears North 82 degrees East to a tree in the Southeast comer of cottonwood grove bears North 47 degrees 40” west, distant 22.45 chains; thence running West 160 rods to a stroke for Southwest for Northwest corner; thence South 160 rods to a stroke for Southwest corner; thence East 160 rods to a stroke for Southeast corner; thence North 160 rods to the place of beginning; containing 160 (one hundred and sixty) acres.”

Once land was acquired, Fr. Leopold began going to Chinle more regularly, staying for two to three weeks each time with the Day family while visiting Navajos in and around the area for missionary purposes. His first public service in Chinle was held on 9/23/1903.

During this and other interactions with Navajos, Fr. Leopold usually employed one or more of the Day boys as interpreters. That fall, or early in 1904 (some say by 9/27/1903), Fr. Leopold and a Brother began renting an abandoned, two-room, old stone building with a dirt floor,reportedly originally one of J. Lorenzo Hubbell’s stores. Fr. Leopold and Br. Placidus Buerger moved into that building on 8/l5/1904 (Wilken 1955: l 13; Mitchell 2001).

With that, the Franciscan approach of visiting “now and then” was replaced with residence in the community, although still part-time and not yet in a Franciscan building. Fr. Leopold wrote numerous articles about his experiences living and working in this old snake-infested building which was later incorporated into Garcia’s Trading Post (Ostermann 1913, 1914, series in 1927, and 1928).

Meanwhile, Fr. Anselm began to travel, give lectures, and in other ways appeal for donations for Indian missions, especially the one planned for Chinle. During an 11/1904 trip east, Mo. Katharine Drexel donated $500, and Mrs. Nurre of St. Bernard, Ohio, $300 for Chinle.


Fr. Leopold with one of the large First Communion classes. Date is uncertain but is was before 1924. Class members unidentified in archives.

On 7/13/1905, Fr. Anselm had gone to Chinle with Charley Day to say Mass and look over the Franciscan land. During that trip, he was shown where a projected irrigation reservoir system would be located in a place near that of the Franciscans.

The specific site for the Chinle mission was actually selected on 8/15/1905 by the very Reverend William Ketcham, Director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, Washington, D.C. who was visiting at Chinle, and Frs. Anselm Weber and Leopold Ostermann.

They picked a slightly elevated ridge, the only little rise available on their quarter section, the 160 acres of Franciscan church-use land. Even then, they were hoping to establish a day school; thus, they located the early structures on the site so a school could be on a nearby rise (Wilken 1955:114). Ground was broken for the first building, the Friars’ Residence/Chapel, on 8/16/1905.


First Communion class, 1955. First row, l to r: Roger Tayah, Fanny Jane Tachine, Sarah Desbah, Mae Begay, Elizabeth Walker, Wilson Shorty. Second row, l to r: Joe Bahe, Lee Davis, Lackey Yazzie, Alfred Claw, Richard Francis Yazzie, and Arthur Harvey.

The Friary was designed by Fr. Anselm Weber but the length and width of its rectangular shape were determined by the long, narrow ridge on which it was positioned (Wi1ken 1955:114). Plans for the federal boarding school were still rumors while the Friary was being built. Construction was done mainly by “Indians” with Br. Placidus Buerger and Fr. Leopold Ostermann supervising the making of adobes and the masonry and carpentry work.

In one letter, Leopold said that he and Brother knew enough about building, plans, and specifications not to need more than assistance with adobe making and some carpentry. The Cincinnati Franciscan Archive has many letters, freighting tickets, and other records which detail parts of the process.

It makes me sad, I almost feel like crying, when I hear other churches telling people that they must abandon their traditional ways to get close to God. – Mary Ann Arnold

Fr. Anselm identified and ordered materials, many of which were hauled by horse and wagon from the stores of Ed Hart, C. N. Cotton, and others in Gallup, and sometimes he came out to Chinle to check on progress. The estimated cost was $1500.

Rock for the cellar and foundation was quarried locally; the house was made from adobe with a wood shingle roof and cellar below the kitchen and dining room area. From the beginning it was understood that the chapel to be included in the Friary would be temporary until $1000 could be raised to build a separate one. Fr. Leopold moved in during January, 1906, before the construction work was finished.

That move signified that Franciscan work in Chinle had become permanent and full-time. Mission work had reportedly progressed to a point that justified adding Fr. Marcellus Troester to the Chinle staff in January, 1907, as Leopold’s assistant. Fr. Marcellus, “the Census Taker,” was proficient in both Navajo and vital statistics.


Inside the old mission at Chinle.

Because financial support had not been forthcoming for the Franciscan idea of a school in Chinle, with time, the Friars shifted gears and became promoters of the government’s idea of building a school. After many, many rumors, interests grew and in 1906, started to appear serious.

A federal boarding school was finally ordered built at Chinle on 7/8/1909. In a very short amount of time, a site was selected, plans drawn, and bids solicited. W. D. Lovell of Minneapolis, MN got the contract, and the site c. 1/2 m. from the Friary/Chapel, was inspected on 9/21/1909 (Ostermann l9l4:31). That fall, construction began and the school opened on 4/1/1910 with only a few buildings ready, and 49 students.

Building continued and enrollment increased, bringing it eventually to a capacity of 200. Among the blessings of the school for the Franciscans were the contacts with children and their parents, and the opportunities for religious instruction and eventually, baptism, communion, and confirmation classes.

Fr. Remigius with a First Communion Class. Members unidentified in archives.

The Friary

The Friary was the first building erected, with work starting on 8/16/1905, one day after the site was selected. This rectangular adobe building first served a dual purpose as a chapel and Friars’ residence. In 1910 or 1911, it became solely a Friars’ Residence, which it continues to be today.

The Friary was completed in 1906. One of the carpenters, a Walter Shirley, also served as an interpreter until leaving on 11/9/05. That same month, Br. Placidus took sick and left. He died on 2/19/1906, having never seen the building completed. As noted above, Fr. Leopold moved out of his rented quarters into the house in January, 1906, before it was finished and really, when much remained to be done. Once in Chinle permanently and full-time, Fr. Leopold continued to help with the construction by himself until Br. Gervase Thuemmel was sent, probably in August, 1906. Some say that the latter’s first job was to finish the interior of the residence-chapel. Br. Gervase said the Friary was constructed from adobe blocks, 18″ or 24″ wide, with interior walls out of adobe and a central hall 3′ wide. When Br. Gervase came, the walls were up, roof on and floor, in. His initial jobs included partitioning the space into rooms, and then adding ceilings to them.


The friary in progress with three unidentified Navajo visitors in the foreground.

He was also trying to find a source of water, and on 9/14/1906 after three tries, was successful, 15′ below the surface. This gave the Friars an on—site well instead of “counting on” the Chinle Wash, flood waters, or a Navajo water hole c. 1/2 in. over the hill. This well, later called the “windmill well,” was west of the Residence; Fr. Leopold described it in a letter as at least 7′ in diameter, 20′ deep, and near the house.

The water therein seeped through quicksand in which there were no traces of alkali; local residents called it “very good.” The completion of all work on the combined Residence/chapel building was celebrated on 7/24/1907 when the Franciscans “raised their combined residence/church to a residence.”

The earliest photograph of the Friary (Ostermann 19 14:30; Mitchell 2001 :Fig. 4) shows it first without its porch. In that article, Fr. Leopold (Ostermann 1914:29) described it as including six 12‘ x 12′ rooms and a larger, 12′ x 24′ one first set aside for use as a chapel until a regular church could be built and opened for use (c. 1910). In its years as a combined Residence/chapel or Church/rectory, the Friary, in its religious capacity, actually provided the second site used by the Franciscans for religious services in Chinle, as mentioned above.


The friary completed and standing with not much else around.

After the Annunciation Mission was finished and officially dedicated, the original dual purpose of the Residence/chapel changed to that of a single one of Residence for the Friars, or a Friary or rectory.

The porch on the Residence was clearly added in sections. As noted above, the first photograph, taken in 1906 before the building was done, shows no porch. By 1912, there was a porch across the south side of the building and one over the front door on the east side, although both lacked the hand railings (Ostermann 1913:n.p.).

By 1940, the west side also had a porch complete with cedar railings; while the picture in Fr. Francis’ insurance report does not show the rest of the Friary, it is quite possible this was also true on the other sides (see photograph in Anonymous 1955a). Fr. Mark said he thought the porch was added to help shelter the Friary’s adobe walls from the weather. He also said that when he came in 1945, the porch on the north side had already been enclosed with wood on the bottom and screening on the top, creating a screened porch (see photograph in Winter 1959).

By then, the north porch had already been separated from the east and west sides by the shed addition; thus, one could no longer walk from the new dining room on the north to the northeast end of the Friary. He also said that the Friars used this closed off north porch as a deep freezer, storing whole, half, or quarters of a beef from mid December through sometime in February with no problems.

Fr. Bart said that during his tenure in Chinle (1969-1972), the Fathers continued to have a deep freeze on this porch which could be entered through either the kitchen or a screened door which led into the backyard on the north side of the residence.

This door was located approximately where the middle bedroom on the north side was at that time. The north was the side in 1977-78 that was fully enclosed to add closets to the two bedrooms on that side, and to expand the front room/office by adding a small “xerox room.”


Fr. Mark, “The Supervisor”.

Changes over time at the Friary:

From Fr. Mark’s interview of Br. Gervase, we know that originally the dining room and kitchen were one big room across the east end of the Residence complete with a potbellied stove and chimney. Together with the parlor, these rooms made up the front of the Friary. The rest of the downstairs at first consisted of three sleeping rooms on the north side, the room where the attic stairs were, and the big room on the south which was the chapel until the church was built. This room also had a chimney in the outside wall for its potbellied stove.

In 1934, during Fr. Anselm Sippel’s time in Chinle (1934-38), the Franciscans were finally able to connect to the Boarding School water system. Br. Gotthard Schmidt who came with Fr. Anselm in 1934 and stayed until 1952, did the work, also installing a septic tank sewer system in May north of the Friary outside the fence.


Br. Gervase sharing his skills with an unidentified Navajo worker, Chinle Boarding School.

These changes made it possible to partition part of the east end so that the Friars could have a bathroom inside, and thus, abandon the outhouse on the property. The front of the Friary was changed by making one of the larger windows a small bathroom one. Br. Gervase, then at St. Michaels, did the carpentry work with Br. Gotthard’s help. The Chronicle notes that on 5/10/1934 the Friars finally had hot and cold running water and an inside bathroom!

Once the bathroom was added, it was possible to do some other remodeling inside the Friary as well as some landscaping work outside. On 7/1/1934, Br. Gotthard and Joe Carroll, then the new interpreter for the Mission, built a retaining wall for the front yard of the Friary and ornamented it with petrified wood from Nazlini Valley.

They also graded the front area, removing and replacing an old fence and cattle guard. At various times, including that summer, gravel was added to the entrance way. In August, 1934, the front rooms in the Friary were remodeled and repainted, with one being converted into an office, and the other, into a guest room which then became Br. Gotthard’s room until he left in 1952.

Apparently, two windows on the front of the building were boarded up at this time. Br. Gotthard’s room had become a sitting room by Fr. Conall’s time (1956) and he changed it to an office. Earlier, it had been the Post Office after postal services were moved from the Post Office/Interpreter’s House. Fr. Mark (1945-50) used the front northeast room as his bedroom/office. Today, it is the office. In September, also 1934, the front of the Friary was reinforced with concrete and the center beam was braced because the front had started to sink.

Lord, just bless all people on the road and all animals, and keep them out of my way. – Fr. Pio O’Connor

The next change to the Friary occurred in 1935, according to the House Chronicle. Rock was hauled in for a foundation for a new dining room on the northwest elevation, and an entrance wall was built between the Church and the Residence. Before May ended, the shed addition was completed; this added another room, a dining room which had a hardwood floor. [This was where the kitchen is now.]

That summer, the north side was filled in and planted in alfalfa. Inside, several areas were painted, wallpapered, and got new linoleum. Fr. Mark explained that there was not enough room to eat in the kitchen. He recalled a big old fashioned kitchen range that used wood and coal, and a hot water heater and a kitchen sink as all being in the kitchen and leaving no room for an eating table. He thinks that the Friars ate across the hall in the living room before the shed addition was built.


Parish picnic, 1983. “Somebody’s going to get wet”.

Another reason for the addition was that the Friars wanted some privacy while eating; by the mid-1930s, many visitors used the west entrance when coming to the Friary. This was because the meeting room used with visitors had been shifted to the southwest end in Fr. Francis Borgman’s time (1940-45) when he partitioned that space to give the Fathers some privacy in their living room. From talking to Frs. Cormac, Bart, and Bryant, it seems that this new arrangement of the dining room being on the end, where the kitchen is now, held until 1976-78, Fr. Bryant’s second term, when the switch was made.

Fr. Bart recalls the late 1960s-early 1970s’ kitchen as having a big window on the west, “where we could sit, drink our coffee and talk, watching Chinle go by.” The room to the north [new dining room] “only had a table and chairs, and an ice box; no cabinets or anything else.”

Other changes to the Friary are documented in various letters and entries in the House Chronicles. Fr. Anselm’s correspondence shows that new eaves were put around the Friary in the fall of 1938 to keep water away from the foundation. Fr. Francis Borgman’s tenure seems to have been associated with several “firsts” for the Friary. He installed the partition in the living room on the southwest end, creating a meeting room for visitors [which reportedly later became a dispensary in the late 1940s and then a parlor in 1956-76].

He was also the first to stucco the outside of the building, which, until then, had retained its original adobe block walls that frequently needed repairs. Fr. Francis’ 1940 insurance report notes cracks in some of the Friary’s walls and suggests two possible causes: earlier earth tremors or insufficient foundation footings during original construction in view of the kind of soil on which the buildings were erected. He also re-shingled the residence (again with wood shakes), and reportedly was the one who installed “battleship linoleum” in all of the downstairs rooms except the Hall which was done by his successor, Fr. Mark. The whole story of heat for the Friary is incomplete although it is clear that by 1940 fuel oil was being used, although propane gas still heated the water. Fr. Mark said that he installed propane gas in the Friary, Annunciation Mission, and Post Office/Interpreter’s House during the summer of 1946. In 1949, the cattle guard was again replaced, and 40 peach trees were planted around the Friary.


Navajo Christmas Creche.

The 19505 brought the addition in 1954 of cabinets and a washing machine in the area by the attic stairs, thus creating a “laundry room”; in November of that year, dial telephone service was installed in the Friary. In April, 1955 the attic area called “Fr. Leopold’s attic hideaway” was turned into a library and hobby room.

That summer, the outside of the house was repainted and the walls of the shed addition were stuccoed to match the rest of the Friary. In 1956, the “old dispensary” (partitioned area of the living room) was cleaned out and set up as a parlor. The original plan was to keep the typewriter and records there. There was also some work done on the west end room in the attic, or the TV room.

The 1960s brought much cleaning and remodeling. Outside, the front yard was fenced to where the cinder block church started. The house was in its “green period” from 1963-1978 since the outside was painted a light green. The attic, which reportedly held many things from the past, including parts of a Model T Ford and a genuine wooden ice box, continued to be cleaned.

Fr. Adam Wethington, in his first year after Fr. Cormac left from his second term in Chinle (1963-66), was convinced that the Friary needed major attention. Accomplishments included: removing the remains of the brick chimney in the living room roof; adding the dormer window on the north roof elevation, and creating the attic rooms. [Fr. Bart was there in the summer of 1967, and then returned in 1969 and stayed until 1972. Fr. Bryant was there in 1965 and 1967-69 as Asst. Pastor, and returned as Pastor for 1976 and 1977.] Fr. Bart reports being responsible for many of the changes, with Br. Erwin Strohofer’s (1967-72) help.

The front door on the east side of the Friary was widened [a job during which Fr. Bart reported he found a “time capsule” in the adobe wall. This consisted of “an old, heavy glass medicine bottle with cork stopper inside of which was a paper dated 1905.” No one today knows what happened to this.]. The circulating hot water heating system was installed in the summer of 1967.

The crumbling adobe chimney in the living room was knocked out and replaced by an insulated flue pipe. In the earliest days, there were two potbellied stoves that burned wood and coal to provide heat for the Residence. One was in the northeast end of the Friary, on the front, in the area then serving as a kitchen/dining room and the other was in the west, or the original Chapel area.

The one on the east had a chimney made from adobe brick; reportedly, it crumbled during Fr. Pius’ tenure (1957-62). The other chimney, an old brick one above the living room, accommodated the other potbellied stove in the early days. It crumbled at about the same time, leaving nothing above roof level in that area by 1967. Some said this chimney was hit by lightning because Fr. Pius had attached a big TV antenna to it. [Fr. Pius was said to be the first person in Chinle to have a TV.] Early photographs of the Friary show both of the original chimneys.

Praying the directional prayer in Navajo at Mass has helped me in many ways. – Lorraine Yazzie

When Fr. Bart came, the partition wall in the living room was still there as was a bookcase. In that and the three niches formerly in the east wall of the living room were various items given to the Fathers, including a small, unsigned Maria pot, as well as some kachinas and other things. Some of these items had been acquired by Sr. Bonita who often bought things from craftspeople who came to the door of the Friary with their wares. A set of Yeibichai figures hand carved by Clitso Dedman reportedly stood on top of the partition wall through the 1950s and at least the early 1960s, but were gone by 1978 and have yet to be traced.

The summer of 1967 was spent upgrading the Friary although some of the changes were spread into 1968 and 1969. The outside walls and roof overhangs were painted; inside, wallpaper was removed, cracks in the walls were patched, and the old chimney was torn down. By the end of July, the inside appeared to have been “bombed.”

Then the living room walls were texturized, new fixtures were put in the bathroom, and a new ceiling was added to the recreation room upstairs in the attic, the old TV room. The central space, used as the mimeograph room, was improved by the addition of one dormer on the north roof elevation in the summer of 1968. In the fall, work began to create a bedroom with a closet in the west end of the attic.

In the summer of 1969, Br. Erwin continued remodeling jobs in the attic, now creating both a bedroom with closet and small bathroom in the eastend. Paneling and carpeting were added to the upstairs room to make the area liveable.

The outside of the Friary also received attention during the 1960s. In 3/1968, more trees were planted to the north; in 7/68, a watering system was added for the trees, and in August, the front walk to the Friary was cemented. In 4/1969, a lawn was sown on the north side in the same area where other Fathers had tried to grow alfalfa for chickens during earlier times.

In the 1968-1972 period, Fr. Bart Pax said that bricks were added along the west side of the Friary, as were sidewalks alongside the residence, while the gardens on the west were also terraced. When possible, the Fathers also added concrete around the church, the south side of the Residence, and the Post Office building.

The 1970s proved to be a decade of more remodeling in the Friary, especially during 1974-78. Fr. Bart finished his closet in 1971; in May of 1973, Fr. Galen and Br. Erwin put a new ceiling in the living room, moving the old suspended one into the Hall.

Then the carpets were cleaned and several rooms were painted before Br. Erwin was sent to Lukachukai and Br. Arthur Puthoff, who had been stationed there, came to Chinle for the 1973-76 years.


Interfaith Easter service at Junction Overlook, 1983.

While there is some disagreement, it seems that the kitchen and dining rooms in the Residence were switched around and remodeled in 1974 or 1975 while Fr. Davin von Hagel (1969-75 tenure in Chinle) was there with Br. Art who reportedly built the needed new cabinets. [Some say this was done later, in 1976-78.] When Fr. Bryant Hausfeld returned (1976-78), the remaining remodeling was done although correspondence shows that funding was limited, approval was hard won, and the Fathers struggled to complete the various jobs before winters set in.

In the summer of 1976, Br. Art repainted the outside of the Friary. To summarize briefly the changes made inside: the heating system was changed in 1976 which meant installing a boiler, thermostats, fan coil units, zone valves, and other things. Natural gas was installed in 1977 and continues to be used today, being provided now by the Navajo Tribal Utilities Authority.

Changes in the living room included the removal of the partition originally installed by Fr. Francis in the 1940s [see above] and paneling the east wall [now behind the TV]. The three niches in that wall were reportedly empty by 1976, and the set of Yeibichai figures was already gone.

In 1977, the downstairs bedrooms were enlarged by closing in the north side screened-in porch areas and walkway and cutting holes through the wall. Sinks and closets were added to the bedrooms. These were occupied by Frs. Bryant and Tom, respectively in the front and middle rooms, and Br. Glenn in the western most one.


Annual Christmas tree cutting party in the forest, 1982.

The newly enclosed area in Fr. Bryant’s room became an office. A new tiled bathroom was also installed in 1977, after tearing out the old one which had floors and walls that had rotted away.

In March, 1979, a number of poplars, Navajo willows, and Russian olive shrubs were planted on the property. That year, Fr. Blane, who had arrived in 1978, moved into what had been Br. Glenn Humphrey’s room when the Br. left for Keams Canyon. Fr. Blane’s old room became a second parlor or office. That same year, he and Fr. Tom, Br. Jerry, and Friar Don Billiard started oiling the cedarshakes on the Friary roof, using a mixture of linseed oil and turpentine they created. The job took from May through July to complete. Later that year, Frs. Blane and Tom, and Friar Don added the railing on the steps to the upstairs.

In the 1980s, only several changes were made to the Friary. In 5/80, Frs. Tom and Blane with help from others made an addition to the back, or west entrance to cut down on the loss of heat in the winter. It had three doors, carpet, and was called the backdoor windbreak entrance.

That summer the F1iary’s porch railing was scraped and repainted; the poplar trees were re-fenced and the front yard, cleaned up. Then, too, the statue of St. Francis, which had been in Lukachukai, was placed in front of the Friary by Fr. Tom. That year is also remembered as the one when efforts were made to start a fund to help pay for the paving of the parking lot, a job done in 1984. In 12/1981, Fr. Blane added the fireplace now along the south wall of the living room and installed its triple walled chimney pipe in the same place where the old chimney had passed through the roof.

Since then, most of the “changes” in the Friary have been minor ones associated with normal property maintenance and refurbishing activities. For example, in 1982, a wooden fence was added around the bushes planted by the back porch by Br. Vernon. Fr. Blane had added a greenhouse to the carpenter’s shop on 4/13/1982, and Br. Vernon started using it to raise vegetables and flowers.

A dog fence was installed north of the Friary by Br.Vemon in the spring of 1982 for “Dermot” and his companions. In 1983, he ordered and planted zoysia grass plugs, trying to create a lawn by the Friary.

On 5/7/1983, he added more rose bushes in the front along the fence. That same year the Friary’s cedar shake roof was re-treated and the outside walls were re-stuccoed a cream color.

By 1984, the results of Br. Vemon’s efforts were becoming visible in front of the Residence; in July, he added the rock patio by the Friary and fenced in the front. The paving of the parking lot in 1984 added c. 6″ to the original level of the road bed running beside the northwest door of the Annunciation Mission and the Friary.

The original level of the Friary yard can now be seen by looking at the wall and grass level directly in front of the building. Other build up in the front yard area, c. 1 1/2’ – 2‘ occurred when the hogan shaped church was built in 1989. From the middle 1980s until the present, other work in and around the Friary continued such as repainting wooden railings, walkways, and other wooden areas, and treating exterior logs with linseed oil. Some of the old trees by the Friary, reportedly “the old elms,” were cut down. Railroad ties were added and the ground around the Friary was sloped so that water ran north instead of into the Friary. In 1989, the water and gas lines from the Friary were tied in with those for the new hogan-shaped church by NTUA. In the spring of 2000, another phone line was added to support both a fax machine and some computers. Today, the House Chronicle is being kept up and maintenance activities concerning the Friary and other buildings on the site are being noted. Since the Friary/Residence was the first structure on the site, and it continues to be historically important in its integrity as the first and continuing home of the Franciscans stationed in Chinle, every effort is being made to avoid any major changes to its structure.

The Annunciation Mission Church


Early interior of the Annunciation Mission, 1912.

The second building on the site, the church eventually named the Annunciation Mission, was erected at the same time that the first few buildings were put up for the Chinle Boarding School. The architect for the church was Roy Bradley who was also the building inspector for the boarding school, then nearing completion. We were lucky enough to find his drawing of the church in the Friary’s attic. Among the many sources documenting the relationship between the boarding school and the church, Wilken (1955:116) states that when the “building of a boarding school…went into construction a mile from the Chin Lee Mission simultaneously, on the part of the friars, building operations began on a chapel to provide Sunday Mass and instructions for the school children.”


Dedication day, March 25, 1912. Boarding School children, matrons, Friars, and guests.

Fr. Anselm, in a letter to Joseph Fargis of NYC (10/6/1911), commented it was easier to build the church, and much cheaper while the workers were building the school; Chinle was 81 miles from the nearest railway station [in Gallup, NM] and the cost of building it later would be prohibitive.

Ostennann (1913; 1914:13) notes that the church was ready for use by September, 1910 when 80 students were at the boarding school, and it was probably used earlier than that. The Fathers went to the school on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and the children were brought over for Mass and instruction at the chapel on Sunday. From another letter, we know that the final plastering work on the inside of the chapel was almost completed as of 8/27/1911.


Sanctuary of the Annunciation Mission, early 1950s. Notice the changes since 1912, including the pews. Photographer: John D. Wallace, Chinle.

The church, described as a “nice, substantial chapel built of stone,” measured 24′ x 60′ (Ostermann 1913; 1914232, 33, 34). It was “typica ” of the “costly stone chapels built in formal parochial tradition throughout the reservation” (Hetteberg p.c. 1 1/9/2000). Records show that Fr. Anselm purchased the needed lumber from the Navajo sawmill and that the rock was quarried locally for this one and a half story sandstone block structure.

In addition to Frs. Leopold and Marcellus and “local Indian laborers,” others involved in building the church included Br. Gervase Thuemmel, Clitso Dedman, Frank Mitchell, and probably Reed (Reid) Winney. In many sources, Br. Gervase is praised for his skillful stone masonry as well as carpentry, all under the supervision of the contractor, W. E. Hildebrand.


Balcony of the Annunciation Mission, early 1950s. Notice the cables. Photographer: John D. Wallace.

During his eight years in Chinle, Br. Gervase is known to have built the Friary, Church, shop, tool sheds, and the Interpreter’s house; later, in 1925, he returned briefly to build the ice house. He is said to have learned stone masonry in Chinle essentially by watching others. Fr. Clem called him “a Jack of all trades.”

The walls of the church were from rough cut sandstone blocks, 18″ thick, with a 4 stepped facade on the east front face, sandstone slab lintel above the door, and stone crosses inlaid on either side. The roof was a high gable with a hip on the west end, shingled with wooden shakes, and through it passed two sandstone block chimneys with stone caps.

The inside of the church, illustrated in Ostermann (1914:34) and discussed there and elsewhere (see Anonymous 1955a and b; Wilken 1955) included an altar designed by Fr. Marcellus and built by Br. Gervase and Fr. Marcellus (confirmed by records in Cincinnati archives; Fr.Marcan p.c. 5/20/1997).

Fr. Mark (Sandford p.c. 3/27/2001) reported that Br. Gervase told him he carved the altars and built the vestment case “mostly out of Starbuckel [sic] coffee cases. The only decent piece of lumber was the Mensa.” There was a potbelly stove for wood and sometimes coal on the north side, rugs on the floor in the aisle, no communion rail, and a side altar in the south. On the north right wall was a pedestal with a statue.

Benches were used through the 1930s, instead of pews. In 1955 photographs, it is clear that the church then had two side altars, a sacristy, outside door, crawl space underneath rather than a basement, choir, front nave, sanctuary, and rear nave, pews, and a communion railing.

Fr. Anselm wrote letters and articles requesting donations for the construction; he also traveled to visit groups such as the NY Marquette League in order to raise funds in the fall of 1911; by then, the church was “long finished” but still without a name or dedication.

The League, whose members assisted missionary work by making frequent generous donations to support the erection of chapels (Currier 1906:5) donated $1000 and asked that the church be named the chapel of the Annunciation. Thus, the church became the Annunciation Mission and was officially and formally dedicated on the Feast of the Annunciation on 3/25/1912, “with solemn ceremonies and solemn levitical Highmass” (Ostermann l9l4:34-35).

The event attracted a large crowd of Navajos as well as outsiders, including nine other religious dignitaries, government officials, traders, teachers, and others (see Mitchell 2001 ; Mitchell 2003). With the dedication, the original dual purpose of the Friary as a combined residence/chapel changed to the single one of being a residence for the Friars.

Given the use of the Friary, and before that, the rented stone building as “churches,” the Annunciation Mission was actually the third location for Franciscan religious services in Chinle. After the dedication, the Marquette League contributed another $600 to help pay off “the indebtedness on the building” (Indian Sentinel 1912:21).

Some questions remain unanswered to date about the Annunciation Mission. While photographs of the building from 191 1 and 1912 raise questions about what kind of roof was originally put on the church, a 1940 photo makes it clear that the roof was then wooden shakes, as it continues to be today.

Residents know that it was wooden shakes in the 1930s, and repair work has confirmed that there is only one layer of these wooden shingles. Questions also remain about both the arch and the lower story windows.


The 1924 First Communion Class with Frs. Leopold, Marcellus, and Ambrose. Note that the church bell has arrived. Class members unidentified in archives.

The former, in 1911 and 1912 photographs, was enclosed with 2′ x 2′ flashboarding which appears to be tongue and grove. But by the 1950s, there was a glass window in the arch. To date, we have found no record of when it was installed.

Likewise, in the 1911 and 1912 photos, the lower windows were plain and clear; when they became colored, or yellow streaked with white and brown, or were replaced with colored glass is also unknown. Community members remember them as plain in the 1930s.

Another remaining question concerns the bell. We know that the bell is a cast bronze one produced in 1914. While its surface contains the historical information presented below, despite extensive work on bells and foundries, and much assistance from Franciscans, we have not been able to learn anything about the donor or his connection with Chinle, or to discover when the bell arrived in Chinle and the auspices that made that possible.

The earliest photos we have to date are three in the St. Michaels archive, dated 1924, pre 1926, and 1934. One shows a communion class with the bell to the right side of the church in its wooden wheeled frame like the one described in the Buckeye Bell Foundry Catalog.


Chinle visitors, September 26, 1927. Left to right: Fr. Emanuel, Fr. Jerome, Mo. Katharine Drexel, Mo. M. Frances Xavier, John Foley, Fr. Clementine, Dan Kinlichini, Albert G Sandoval.

When the cinder block church was built in 1959-60, the bell was moved from the flange wall beside the Friary into a tower by a crane hired for that purpose, on 12/19/1959. At that time it was equipped with a stationary swinging bell-rocker system. Now it is in a separate tower north of the hogan-shaped church.

On the surface of the bell it says the following: Buckeye Bell Foundry 1914. The other side says: The E. W. Vanduzen Co. Cincinnati. Below these block, capital letters is etched the following on several lines: St. Joseph, Chin Lee Arizona, Donated by Rev. Jos. Wemke, 1914.

Thus, the name of the bell is St. Joseph. All we have learned to date is that in 1914, 21 Rev. Joseph Wernke was associated with St. Peter’s Church in Chillicothe, Ohio in some capacity when a Rev. Martin A. Heintz was pastor. Contact with the CEO of the Verdin (bell) Company in Cincinnati, Ohio, the company that bought out the James Homan Foundry (the owners of the earlier E. W. Vanduzen Co.) led Robert Verdin to check the purchase records of the Vanduzen Co. for 1914.

Alas, they do not designate the bell or the purchaser. They do note, however, that the Chinle bell was cast in 1914 as a 24″ in diameter, cast bronze bell, consisting of 80% copper and 20% tin. None of the other records Verdin located identified the weight, musical tone, size of the original wooden frame mount, or the diameter of the wheel on the frame of the Chinle bell. If anyone has ever heard any stories about how the bell arrived in Chinle and who made that possible, we’d love to hear from you!

The stone Annunciation Mission served as the Chinle Catholic Church from 1910 until 1959-60, when a new cinder block church, no longer extant, was erected north of the Friars’ Residence.

Changes over time at the Annunciation Mission

In 1935, an entrance wall, termed a wing or flange wall, was built between the church and the Friary. Letters found in the Cincinnati archive show that by the fall of 1936, it was clear the church was sinking and the lintel had already cracked.

Fr. Anselm Sippel, Br. Gotthard, and some Navajos hauled in sand and rock and made a cement foundation for the church that extended 2′ below the earlier one and extending out 1/2′ from the building. The latter was reportedly 6″ deep and made out of rocks thrown in the hole with cracks filled with adobe mud. In November, the walls were bound together with iron tie rods or cables to stabilize the church.


A picnic with Fr. Leopold near the windmill.

A date of 1936 is recorded in the cement plates on the outside northeast corner wall wherein the four cables, running east-west, north-south are anchored. But in spite of this work, the south wall has bowed. Further work plastering cracks and putting on new eaves continued into 1938.

By 1940, when Fr. Francis filed an insurance report, the church was described as having a shake roof, acceptable stoves, and electric wiring, although the walls were still cracked in some places and needed further work, despite the reinforcing. Fr. Mark noted installing propane gas to change the Friary, church, and interpreter’s house to gas heat in the summer of 1946.


The mission compound in the 1950s. Note the flange walls by the Church and the Friary, the church bell on the wall by the Friary, and the trees. Fr. Max Lannert, photographer.

In 1954, the sanctuary lights were changed to “large, fish-bowl shaped” ones, and the confessional and sacristy were rearranged. Two years later, in 1956, the House Chronicle notes that the church, which continued to crack, was too small for instructions of Chinle’s school children.

In the following year, Fr. Pius introduced plans for a new church (Winter 1958) and then from 8/1/59 to 3/27/60, a new one was constructed from cinder blocks north of the Friary. The Our Lady statue came on 11/19/59, a crane put the bell into a tower on 12/19/59, and overall construction was finished on the day the church was dedicated in honor of Our Lady of Fatima, 3/27/1960.

With this church, the name changed from Annunciation Mission to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church.

After the new church was dedicated and put into use, the Annunciation Mission church was used for different purposes, including a Thrift Shop and as recreational space until the Hall/Gym was built. Sr. Damacene, who arrived in Chinle in 1961 , used the front nave or entranceway for the Thrift Shop; the rest of the building served as a meeting place for religious instructions, discussions, Scouts, summer school, Fr. Pius’ 1963 goodbye party, and so forth.


Fr. Francis on his way to Mass with Br. Gotthard calling the people.

A major change to the inside was made in 1961-64 when Fr. Ivo Zirkelbach was in Chinle with Fr. Cormac Antram. Needing more room for his CYO program, in 1964, Fr. Ivo removed the altars, partitions forming the sacristy and sanctuary, pews, and other things. After that, things began to be stored in the building including supplies being used to attempt repairs on the cinder block church; by 1965, the latter was already having structural problems.

While Fr. Bart Pax was in Chinle (1969-72), one-third of the downstairs of the old church was being used by Sr. Bonita for the Thrift Shop (with the overflow stored in the chicken coop), and Br. Erwin, who as “Chinle’s electrical repairman” worked on TVs, radios, and other things people needed fixed.


Our Lady of Fatima Church, after construction was finished, 1960.

After a number of “good cleanings to remove junk and bees” from the Annunciation Mission and also to fix the furnace system by using the crawl space under the church, in 1976, boxing became a major interest at the Catholic Church, thanks to the efforts of Corrie and Frank Adakai, and Don Nelson with the Youth club.

Letters in 1977 from Fr. Bryant to the Provincial show that Sr. Bonita continued to use the front of the church for the Thrift Shop, while a boxing club and Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups were meeting in the other space.

The plan was to fix up the old church as a Teen Center when Fr. Blane and Br. Jerry came to Chinle on 7/17/78, and raffle tickets were already being sold to help with the needed repair work. Frs. Blane Grein and Tom Schellenbach, and Brs. Glenn Humphrey and Jerry Beetz, as well as local teens helped.

A partial wall located in front of the choir loft/balcony was moved into the west end (where the original sanctuary was) to make a classroom there. Fr. Blane added a heater to that room, a door at the sanctuary level, and a new step down into the body of the church, a 13″ drop. He also installed a drop ceiling over the narrow board ceiling and boarded up the east end from the balcony to the roof peak with the understanding that the whole church would get a drop ceiling from that point to the front stone walls to save heat.

The House Chronicle shows that on 9/24/78 the church celebrated its 75th anniversary with a special Mass and exhibit of old photographs. At this time, bids were sought for remodeling the old church, fixing the cinder block church, and adding to the present Hall. However, when they came in, in 1979, the costs were prohibitive.

Since then Fr. Blane and others have continued maintenance work as needed, including painting, patching cracks in inside walls, tuck pointing some of the rocks, and so forth. In 1979 the recreational goals in Chinle changed to sponsoring pool, ping pong, and shuffle board; the boxing ring and other equipment were donated to St. Michaels’ boxing club.

By then, space in the old church was also being used to provide overnight accommodations for transients or visitors needing help, if other possible spaces, in a trailer, were already in use. The new back room was already in use for prayer meetings, board meetings, baptismal programs. New cabinets for the Teen Center in the old church were built in 1981 before Frs. Tom Schellenbach and Larry Schreiber went to Lukachukai after the rectory there was totally remodeled following trouble at the mission.

In 1982, the Chinle property included: the Our Lady of Fatima church, the Friary, a Convent (the former Post Office/Interpreter’s House), the Old Church (now a Youth Center with ping pong and pool tables, and a room used for meetings and as a sleeping place for travelers and inebriated wanderers), a Thrift Shop, the Hall, a trailer (being used by the Talbot House), and the workshop behind the Friary.

In 1983, a parachute acquired through the efforts of Br. Vernon was placed in the body of the old church and hung from the balcony to the wall that had been erected at the site of the sanctuary. It was to serve as a drop ceiling that helped keep the heat in.

In 1983-84, the outside of the church was tuck pointed. In 1984, the front room of the church was identified for use as a storage area for equipment belonging to the Chinle boxing team.

That summer, the parking lot was finally blacktopped. That meant that the ground was leveled and two things were removed from the area behind the Friary: the foundation of a building formerly in front of the shop, and a large, raised, rock-lined circle in the middle of the back yard where a light pole had once stood surrounded by shrubs and flowers.

Fr. Blane had rocks put in front of the old church to hold the bank in place. By the time the blacktop job was finished, two of the four original stone steps leading into the Annunciation Mission were already buried, and the church’s foundation on the north side was no longer visible.

A fence was then installed by the church and parking lot to reduce human and animal traffic. Br. Vernon added a wall of rocks in front of the Annunciation Mission so the ground would not wash out. In 1987, a sidewalk leading from the parking lot to the old church was added.

The next year, fund raising was started to build a new church. In 1989, among the things being stored in the old church were items to be used in a Food Bank, started around then by Sr. Adelaide.

In 2001, repair work was done in the middle and west end of the church roof; all areas where wooden shakes were leaking or had been blown off were fixed. In 2002, new bedding items and couches were purchased for the emergency overnight quarters.

The Post Office/Interpreter’s House/Convent

The third building to be constructed at the site was a one story, rectangular, sandstone block structure directly or 10′ south of the Annunciation Mission, now modified by two additions.


A view of the mission compound, early 1920s. Note the hitching post by the post office, the wagon, and the mailbox by the friary.

Completed right after the Church was finished in 9/1910, we know that Br. Gervase, probably with the same laborers used on the Church, was the major force behind this building, too. Records show that it was finished before 7/1911.

The early photos in Ostennann (1913, 1914) show that on the front, the building had two doors and two windows, and one chimney each in the north and south parts of the roof. The building’s earliest known use was as the Chinle Post Office with Fr. Leopold Ostermann serving as postmaster from 1911 until 1925.

Fr. Leopold followed in the steps of Chinle’s first postmaster, Charley Day, who took care of the job (1903-1910) from inside Sam Day’s trading post. Either directly after the Post Office use, but more likely at the same time, the building also served as a church-related residence housing interpreters employed by the Fathers. We know that initially, various members of the Day family, prominent non Navajo traders in the area, interpreted for Fr. Leopold and other Franciscans when they visited the community. They also assisted with the original site discussions with local Navajos in early August, 1905.

Records indicate that a Walter Shirley was doing the interpreting during the construction of the Friary in 1905, but he left before that building was finished. Evidently, at some point, Billy Ayze (or Ayza) took over, and served as Fr. Leopold’s interpreter. We have not been able to discover how long Ayze held the job.

Records at the Franciscan Archives in Cincinnati show that three others: Torn Catron, Fred Price, and Dan Kinlichini were all listed as interpreters in Chinle during the 1918-1920 period. Again, we have no additional information about them or their service.


William B. Ayze, the first interpreter.

At some point, John Foley was hired as the interpreter. Foley was involved with the mission from 1914 on, and clearly interpreted first for Fr. Leopold, and then for Fr. Emanuel when the latter was in Chinle (1924 or 1925 through 1927). Foley resigned on 6/11/1934 to take an SCS job in Frazer’s (later, Valley Store). He was replaced on 6/21/1934 by Joe Carroll. It is unclear if Joe lived in the house, or when he left this job, but we know it was at least by 1939.

We also know that Seya Mitchell helped both Frs. Anselm Sippel and Silverius Meyer, and Br. Gotthard with interpreting from 1934 to 1941, and that from 1939 to 1941, the official interpreter who lived in the house was Tsohi Mitchell. As is well known, Joe Carroll later became aTribal Council delegate from Chinle, serving in that job for 16 years (1948-1964).

In 1942, Reed (or Reid) Winney was hired as the interpreter; he preferred to live at home with his wife and children, so at that time, the house became available for others to use. Reed stayed in the interpreter’s job, working with Frs. Francis Borgman, Mark Sandford, Conall Lynch, and Cormac Antram (including Cormac’s radio program) until health problems forced his retirement in 1967; his replacement was Thomas H. Begay.


The post office.

Records show that when the Interpreter’s House was not being used, others stayed there. Records indicate that a Mrs. Brickweg, housekeeper for the Fathers, lived there from 7/31/1950 until c. 12/1952. From then until 12/1959, the place was “rented” by guests, lay ministers, and others working at the mission. The list includes Albuquerque men supervising the construction of duplexes in Chinle in 1953; the Thomas Preston family, 1954-58; a couple serving as lay ministers, 1958-1959; and construction workers building the cinder block church, 7/18/1959-1960.

Eventually, the Post Office/Interpreter’s House was converted to a Sisters’ Residence or Convent, with the first Sister arriving on 8/3/1961.

When this new function was agreed upon, an addition with a black shingle roof was added to the east end of the building, built from 12/12/1963 to 1/17/1964. It included a chapel, four bedrooms with sinks, a parlor, and a bathroom. At that point, the building’s name was changed to “the Sisters’ House or the Convent”; the first Mass was celebrated in the new chapel on 5/13/1964.


Fr. Conall saying Mass at Valley Store Trading Post in 1956 with Reed Winney seated on his left, interpreting.

A second addition, one large room, was put on the west end by Fr. Bart and Br. Erwin in 1970. The Sisters’ laundry and general work area were in this new space.

These additions put the original stone building, with which they were aligned, in the middle of the structure. The carport was probably built during the 1970 addition work.

Among other changes made to the structure were converting the heat from wood/coal to propane gas, 1946; and remodeling to create a kitchen, bathroom, sewer line and septic tank in 1950. In the 1940 insurance report, the building is listed with a metal roof which some say was retained through the 1960s. Others say that by 195 1 it had been changed to asphalt shingles. When the chain link fence surrounding the building was added is unknown; it was not there in a 1940 photograph we have, but was there by 1978. In 1977, the Sisters’ bathroom was replaced and the living room paneled.

Fr. Blane paneled the dining room after he arrived in 1978. Then on 6/24/1980 concrete footings were poured for Sr. Viola’s metal garden shed. She had a vegetable garden south of the Convent protected by a double fence, and she also planted grass in the front, as well as fruit and other kinds of trees.

The kitchen subfloor was then replaced in 9/1980, a month before Br. Vernon arrived here (on 10/8/1980), and the east addition was re-shingled in 1983. Fr. Blane paneled the back hallway in 6/1984, the same time that the sewer line was hooked to the NTUA line. Protective window grates and other safety devices were added in the 1985-89 period, and in 1987, a sidewalk was poured leading from the parking lot to the Convent.

Other additions included the birdbath brought in from Lukachukai in 1980, and the repositioning of the Our Lady of Fatima statue, originally in front of the cinder block church, to the garden area south of the Convent. A protective Grotto area was built in 1991-92, before the last of the Sisters from the earlier groups left Chinle in 1993.

Then Fr. Blane made further changes inside the Convent. In 1993-94, he converted the earlier chapel to a bedroom, and the earlier office to a chapel. He also carpeted the other bedrooms as well as several other rooms, upgraded the plumbing, and connected it to Chinle’s system.

At present, general maintenance work continues, including tuck pointing the original stones, painting in 2001, and replacing the tar paper roof on the west end with aluminum sheet roofing in 3/2002.

The Cemetery

The original church cemetery which measures 156′ x 200′ is located northwest of the Annunciation Mission; its west boundary lies parallel to the Nazlini Wash. Now enclosed with a new fence, this is the first group cemetery and the first Catholic cemetery known in Chinle. Church records show that it was the final resting place of at least 95 Navajos who died between 11/12/1907 and 11/11/1935 plus one more from 1938.

When the area was deemed full, Fr. Anselm Sippel began burying deceased Navajos “across the wash” in the cemetery near the Visitors Center at Canyon de Chelly National Monument (an area now fenced), if not on family land. The “Across the Wash cemetery” was used until 3/30/1946, when the Chinle Community Cemetery was opened, and Frs. Mark Sandford and Silverius Meyer started doing burials there.

With help from college students, during the summer of 1999 the Annunciation Mission Cemetery was re-fenced, cleaned up, and the large aluminum cross used earlier in the cinder block church was placed in the approximate center.

The cemetery is now among those protected by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriatation Act, a federal law passed in 1990.

Other Buildings on the Site

Of the 12 other structures on the site (in 2005), six are located directly behind the Friary, Annunciation Mission, and the Post Office/Interpreter’s House/Convent.

First, however, is one that stands in front of the Friary, the Hogan-shaped Church. This replaced the cinder block church which was torn down by parishioners during the summer of 1989; the new church was first used on 12/24/1989 and dedicated on 6/3/1990.

The Church Hall a 50′ x 100′ steel building for which ground was broken on 4/4/1966 and which was blessed on 9/24/1967, the same day the Many Farms church was dedicated, is in constant use by the church as well as outside community groups.

The hogan now on the property is used for church meetings and instructions rather than by overnight guests. About 29′ in diameter, it was recycled from Manuelito (where it had been built in 1969 by Fr. Cormac Antram, Br. Francis Evans, and others) and reconstructed in Chinle in the late spring/summer of 2002, north of the Hall, west of the shop.

A mobile home which now serves as the office of the Pastoral Minister of the Parish, Sr. Margaret Bohn, was purchased on 4/1/1987 and brought in a week later. When it arrived, an earlier green/white mobile was towed by parishioners to a home site on Ledge Ruin.

Directly behind the Friary stands one of the very early stone buildings on the property, one that is now used as a Workshop/Garage/Storage shed. In various House Chronicles, the building is called a Shop, Shed, Tool shop, Ice House, Carpenter’s Shop, or Morgue (during Fr. Pius’ time and earlier, but undated).

It was also known as “Br. Art’s shop,” “Br. Gotthard’s shop,” and now, “Fr. Blane’s shop.” Photographs at St. Michaels document its construction in March—August, 1925 by Fr. Mathias Heile, Br. Gervase (who returned just for this project), and at least three Navajo workers.


Lucy T. Begay participating in a Seder meal in the Parish.

The building was made from sandstone blocks with mud mortar; it was wired for electricity in 1934 and includes a full basement divided into rooms and accessed through trap doors in the wood floor above. In 1954, part of the building was used for religious instruction classes; in the summer of 1959, it stored supplies for the building of the cinder block church.

A heater and a partial plasterboard ceiling were installed in 1/74. The roof, at first a composition one, was changed to rolled tar paper sometime before 1940. The aluminum roof, new in 1950, was tarred in 1951; another new roof went on at the end of December, 1980.

In 1982, a greenhouse lean-to on the east was added by Fr. Blane, and while Br. Vernon Spirk was in Chinle, this was used for raising flowers and vegetables that could be transplanted. In 2001, the shop got another new roof, this time of corrugated tin.

The last building of the six under discussion is what is now called the thrift shop. Formerly, this rectangular building, half sandstone blocks and half adobe blocks now covered with wooden siding, was used as a chicken coop for Br. Gotthard’s chickens; records suggest that at least part of it was on site before Fr. Leopold left in 1925.

As of 12/1934, the Fathers had 125 chickens as well as one pig. Br. Gotthard Schmidt, who was here from 4/21/34 to 7/27/52, was known not just as the mail carrier but also as a poultry farmer with LOTS of chickens. Fr. Anselm Sippel’s letters show that in 1/1939 they added another 14′ X 30′ room to the building to increase the space for chickens, given the demand for eggs.

During that time, and at least from 1934 until 1952, the Friars raised alfalfa in an enclosed area north of the Friary for the chickens. In 1954, a gas heater was installed in the building which was also re-roofed. In 10/1956, Fr. Conall Lynch got rid of all of the chickens. Next he poured concrete in the coop over the entire floor area. Then the west end was remodeled for use as a living space; when finished, it contained two bedrooms and a combined living, dining room, and kitchen with a sink and stove, but no bathroom. The outhouse was near the southwest corner of the building.

Those who lived there were usually working at the mission in some capacity; among them in the 1959-1966 period were the Augusta and Cecil Sandoval family, the Kee Nez family, and the Guy White family.

This usage seems to have stopped by 1971, when the building went back to serving as storage space, and then became the location of the Thrift Shop. A new roof of rolled roofing paper was put on by Fr. Davin, Fr. Galen, and Br. Art in June, 1974.

In 1977, Fr. Bryant Hausfeld got permission to remodel the old chicken coop for use as a Thrift Shop run by Sr. Bonita Wagner. The work included insulating and drywalling the inside, reinstalling the electricity, adding baseboard heat, and stuccoing the whole outside. In 8/82 the sidewalk from the Convent to the Thift Shop was added; in 1983 the roof was tarred, and the Thrift Shop, paneled. This was also the year that the whole building was sided to keep water off of the original adobe blocks which were starting to crumble.

Later, the roof was changed so that it extended beyond the building, was made from interlocking shingles, and was no longer flat. The insides of the building were remodeled again in 2001; in 2003, the sidewalk was extended to the Talbot House.

Most of the other 6 buildings at the site are all church-related meeting places associated with the Talbot House, an AA outreach program. The program was started on the grounds on 7/21/1981 by the Catholic Charities of Gallup after discussion with Fr. Blane Grein.

It opened in a mobile home located by the Hall; now, this trailer is no longer on the site. The required archaeological survey of the two acre parcel to be donated to the program by Fr. Blane was completed on 9/25/1982, and shortly thereafter, on 12/5/1982, a new, permanent building holding the main offices of the program, was dedicated. Moving in was delayed until 1/25/1984 because of problems with NTUA.

Located directly south of the Thrift Shop, Sr. Margaret’s office, and the Church Hall, the program now includes five other structures: three mobile homes or trailer buildings used as meeting places for the Talbot House, another belonging to the Eagle Air Medical Evacuation company which is renting the site, and finally, as of 2003, a tractor shed and wood shed.