The bright white façade of this stunning church, prominently located beneath Big Butte, serves as a beacon proclaiming the heart of Butte’s west side Catholic community. The Immaculate Conception Parish was created from the overflowing St. Patrick and St. Lawrence O’Toole parishes in 1906. The original church building across the street also served as convent and school. The cornerstone of the present church was laid on December 10, 1939. It indicates that the church, dedicated to the Immaculate Mother of God, is also designated a shrine to Our Lady of Victory and St. Therese. Noted architect John G. Link designed this Butte landmark, completed in 1940 at a cost of almost $200,000, which features an unusual blend of the Mission Revival and Art Deco styles.
An article written for the parish history provides this description of the building’s stained glass:
“The beauty of the windows adorning the church truly defies description. They are entirely unique in the catalog of ecclesiastical art in the country. The glass is the imported Norman slab of rich live coloring, graduated from deepest blues, reds, and golden ambers through all the lighter tones … The shading is brought about entirely by the varying thickness of the glass and the outlines by the heavy irregular leading.”
The façade (front) window shows the Cross Triumphant with side panels depicting the Tree of Life. A close view of this window (which can be obtained by climbing the stairs to the rear choir loft) reveals that the glass technique in the cross is very different from that in the other windows. The center cross was originally made of clear glass brick to provide a vivid contrast to the deep colors surrounding it. But the light from it could be blinding to the priest facing that direction in the morning sun, so the original glass was later replaced by colored glass done in a style called dalle de verre. In this technique, slabs of glass are broken or sawn into small pieces, then assembled to form the window. The resulting effect is similar to a mosaic, with richer and deeper color than typical stained glass because thicker glass is used.
A bronze plaque located on the south side wall identifies which saints are portrayed in the clerestory (high) windows of the nave (long aisle) of the church. Items of note are:
· Saint Anne, the mother of Mary, was also the patron saint of miners. The emblem of the School of Mines in Butte (now called Montana Tech) is portrayed in her window.
· The Saint Bernadette Soubirous window includes a BVM emblem that represents the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the religious order that established and taught at Immaculate Conception School.
· The Saint Kateri Tekakwitha window depicts the first Native American ever proposed for canonization. Of Mohawk and Algonquin descent, Kateri was venerated in 1943 and beatified in 1980. The coat of arms with the date 1884 represents the establishment of the Diocese of Helena. The seal of the State of Montana is depicted, as well as the first mission church in Montana, St. Mary Mission built in 1841 in present-day Stevensville, Montana.
The smaller windows in the side aisles show the coats of arms of the recent popes, alternating with the emblems of the bishops of Montana.
The triple panel windows in the two transepts (short aisles) are dedicated to the two special patrons of Immaculate Conception parish. The south window honors our Lady of Victory, and in one side panel can be seen the distinctive white tower of the church itself with the Big M in the background.
The north transept window honors St. Therese of Lisieux. The triple panel window at the rear of the sanctuary portrays the Holy Spirit and the seven sacraments.