Globetrotting: St. Charles Catholic Church

The Globe-Miami communities are blessed by our proximity to our neighbors, the San Carlos Apache people.  I was privileged to serve the Apache people for almost 20 years and, throughout that time, continued to be amazed by the beauty and treasures of the reservation.  Not to my surprise, many Globe-Miami locals do not know about these assets and so I want to highlight some of these treasures.  Today my focus is on St. Charles Catholic Church in downtown San Carlos.

The first time I walked into the church, I was blown away!  I had no clue about the beauty and artistry hidden within this unassuming stone church.  I tried to get the history of the church building for this article, but was unable to find anyone who knew this (if you have info, please contact me).  Here is what I could gather.

The church is believed to have been constructed in the late 1800’s of native tuff, a volcanic rock quarried on the reservation and commonly used for construction in buildings built during the late 1800’s to early 1900’s (locally many of us call this “tufa stone” but geological research states this is erroneous as tufa is formed from limestone precipitated from groundwater and tuff is compacted volcanic ash).  By report, there had been little work done on the church after the early 1900’s until Father Gino Piccoli arrived in 1997.  A Franciscan friar, Fr. Gino served the San Carlos community for 16 years until his death in 2013.

Fr. Gino saw Apache spirituality and Franciscan tradition as interchangeable. I had heard about him skillfully weaving Apache beliefs into the mass with the use of an eagle feather, yellow pollen, and the four directions.  However, until I first visited, I did not realize he had actually restructured the church to represent Apache images and beliefs with the congregation seated in a circle around the altar, the addition of Apache Christ and Virgin Mary representations, Apache symbols and colors, and changes to the meeting space based upon the four seasons.  God transcends culture and Fr. Gino found a way to show Christ is relevant to modern-day Apaches and fits within Apache tradition. 

As an artist and carpenter, Fr. Gino worked for years to restore and renovate the church, church office, and meeting hall next door.  If you visit, you will see his intricate painting and extensive woodwork throughout these buildings.  He added ornamentation, worked to cover the exposed dropped ceiling, and adapted images to fit Apache tradition.  To my great disappointment, I discovered that the church and services have returned to a more traditional Catholic set-up since his death which feels like an immense loss; however, regardless of your faith background, the space still displays tremendous beauty and is worth a visit.

 The St. Charles Catholic Community runs the church, elementary school, convent, and a clothing distribution center.  They also host a Christmas bazaar of Apache art and handcrafts.  Their mass is Sundays at 9 am and is open to anyone.  To get there, take Highway 60 east which becomes Highway 70, turn left at Indian Highway 6 (just after the casino and saw mill), go 12 miles, then turn left on San Carlos Blvd and drive to the church at 460 San Carlos Blvd (on right side of street).  

In a region rich with visual, historic, and experiential treasures, St. Charles Catholic Church is one of the many things I love about our Globe/Miami/San Carlos community.

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