San Solano Mission
Serving the Tohono O’odham Nation since 1908, the San Solano Missions cover about 4,450 square miles of the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona — roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. The Tohono O’odham tribal homeland straddles the United States-Mexico border. The San Solano Missions provide pastoral care for more than 40 villages and chapels throughout this vast Native American reservation.
For more than 100 years, the Franciscan friars of the Province of St. Barbara have ministered to the Tohono O’odham Nation at the San Solano Missions. Literally “the desert people” in the indigenous language of the tribe, the Tohono O’odham have also been known as the Papagos. A large percentage of the Nation’s members are Catholic. In addition to English, many speak the native O'odham language, which derives from the Uto-Aztecan language group.
The Nation’s lands include the “main reservation,” about 60 miles west of Tucson, as well as three smaller, noncontiguous segments. One of these, the San Xavier del Bac District, is served by another community of Franciscans friars from the St. Barbara Province. As a sovereign Nation, the Tohono O’odham is responsible for the economic development, financial solvency and general welfare of its tribal members. The Nation maintains branches of government as well as community centers, one health center, six Head Start preschools and various other programs and facilities that meet the needs of the O’odham population.
The people on the main reservation live in scattered villages consisting of a few families to a few hundred individuals. The one exception is the community of Sells, the capital, a small town with more than 2,000 residents. The Franciscans friars of San Solano Missions provide sacramental ministry for the spread-out communities of the main reservation, as well as assist in faith formation, education and community-related programs among the O’odham people. Administrative offices and the main Franciscan residence for the San Solano Missions are located in the village of Topawa, next to St. Catherine of Bologna Mission Church.