As we approach St. Francis Church we see two brown half-columns flanking the front doors. Above them we read, “PORTA del CIELO” (Gate of Heaven). In the newly remodeled interior, similar white columns have been added: two half-columns on either side of the sanctuary, as well as a pair of similar columns, fully in the round, on either side of the door and a pair supporting a beam which separates the new addition from the main nave. These noble classical columns combine harmoniously with the textured earth-tones newly applied to the walls, reminiscent of churches in southern Europe and Central America.
The tabernacle is the center of attention. Its outside metal doors display the first three letters of the Jesus’ name, the human “gateway” to His divinity. These outer tabernacle doors open to reveal an inner pair of metal doors, with the letters alpha and omega, the first and last of the Greek alphabet, representing His eternity and thus His divinity. These inner doors, in turn, open to reveal the sacred vessels in which both His humanity and His divinity are hidden under the appearance of bread. Echoing Isaiah (45:15), St. Thomas prayed, “Adoro te devote, latens Deitas, quae sub his figuris vere latitas”: Hidden God! I adore Thee devoutly as Thou truly lie under these appearances. “In cruce latebat sola Deitas; at hic latet simul et humanitas.” On the cross, only Thy divinity was concealed; but here Thy humanity hides as well. (The outer doors close to form a cross.)
Above the tabernacle, and crucifix, a large round window shows Mary, seated on a throne, with the Christ-child on her lap, holding out a scapular to sinners begging for mercy in the flames of Purgatory, as their guardian angels assist them heavenward. The cross in the foreground is paired with an anchor, symbol of hope.
The parish’s patron saint Francis (feast: Oct. 4) occupies the large window to the left of the altar, whose caption reads, “IL UOMO DI DIO PICCOLO POVERO”—the little, poor man of God. Beside him is the fierce wolf which had terrorized Gubbio, now tamed by the holiness of the saint. Above him is the Nativity, since the saint is famous for staging the Christmas scene with live actors. Behind him we see our church’s façade. Beloved pastor Msgr. Hugo Pautler lends his likeness to the saint’s face. Fellow Franciscan St. Anthony of Padua (June 13) appears in a side window with the supertitle “Arca Testamenti” (Ark of the Covenant) because he was filled with knowledge of the Bible: On the open Bible in the saint’s hand, Jesus, the Living Word, rises from the written word to caress him.
Msgr. Pautler is also honored in the Good Shepherd window to the left of the main church doors. Above it, we see the Lamb of God in triumph on the book with seven seals (Rev. 5:5-6). Above the doors, St. Cecilia plays her pipe organ where there was an organ loft prior to the latest renovation. The window to the right shows the Virgin Mary as a young girl with her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne (July 26), whose heart (in the window above her) would be pierced with a sword (Luke 2: 35). (It is sometimes called the “Holy Family” window—and it certainly is a holy family—but the mother in this case must be St. Anne in view of her age.)
Other windows, in the side aisles, honor the Italian pioneers from both Lombardy and southern Italy: The northern saints Charles Borromeo (memorial: Nov. 4) and Ambrose (Dec. 7), both bishops of Milan, and the southern saints, Michael the Archangel (Sept. 29) and Lucy (Dec. 13). St. Charles’ symbol, the cardinal’s hat, appears above him, as clothed in Mass vestments he holds the Blessed Sacrament. St. Ambrose, holding quill and book, famous for his “honeyed” words, stands under the bee hive as his symbol. Above St. Michael is the shield bearing the words, “Quis ut Deus”—Who is like God?—his battle cry in defeating Satan’s pride. Sts. Lucy and Joseph (Mar. 19) stand side-by-side, each with the palm of righteousness and the lily of purity. (Joseph holds the lily, with the palm above him; Lucy holds the palm, with the lily above her—a pleasing cross-over symmetry. Lucy also shows the eyes plucked from her in her martyrdom, representing her as a patron saint for eye trouble.)
Parishioners of French descent donated the St. Martin and St. Peter windows. St. Martin (Nov. 11), Bishop of Tours, wears the vestments of a bishop with mitre and crozier. Above him, the crested helmet of a Roman soldier refers to his resignation from the army after his conversion to Christ. Beside him St. Peter (for “Pierre” whom the window honors) holds the keys of the kingdom, but above him, the crowing cock reminds us that he denied Jesus.
Other windows honor Mary as Our Lady of the Holy Mount, surmounted by a rose, and as Queen of the Holy Rosary (Oct. 7)—note the 15 stars representing the original 15 mysteries of the Rosary, with three bands of color: blue for the joyous, blood red for the sorrowful, gold for the glorious. Finally we find two recent saints: St. Frances Cabrini (Nov. 13), who visited Walla Walla, and Pius XI, “Papa della Pace” (Pope of Peace), who died in 1939, the year the church was built.
– David Carey