Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"On the road . . . "

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the April 30, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

We are blessed with a wonderful diversity of landscape here in Eastern Washington. In the last few months, I have traveled throughout most of the diocese. During these spring weeks, many parishes celebrate Confirmation/First Eucharist, which keeps me on the road most afternoons and evenings. I have never really tired of driving throughout the diocese. I find that the beautiful and varied terrain provides a rich source of prayerful reflection and gratitude.

A few weeks ago I was invited to celebrate Mass for the team of the ladiesí Cursillo at the Nespelem Community Center. So many people are involved in presenting the Cursillo, not to mention the candidates who come to experience this short course in Christianity. After Mass, I had a couple of extra hours, so I drove back to Grand Coulee, to the visitorsí center at the dam. I always find the displays in these centers fascinating, maybe because of my interest in science. However, this time I noticed a display I had not see before, about our Indian brothers and sisters who were displaced because of the backwaters behind Grand Coulee Dam. The confluence of the Sanpoil and Columbia rivers was a gathering place for the tribes as they came together to fish for salmon and socialize. The stories of people uprooted from millenniaís long tradition of gathering in this place need to be appreciated by us who havenít had the painful experience of losing our ancestral home.

Early in the afternoon I drove to Republic for a parish visit and to celebrate Confirmation/First Eucharist the next morning in St. Patrick Church in Curlew. Heading back toward Nespelem, I drove over the Manila Creek Road to the Sanpoil River and up to Republic, about an hourís drive on Highway 21. The highway from Kellerís Ferry to Republic is one of the prettiest in the diocese and really not that well travelled. After evening Mass and a potluck at Immaculate Conception Parish in Republic, I chatted about the local area with the pastor, Father George Morbeck. When heading over to the church the next morning, I took a little drive around town. Deer were all over the place. One could drive almost right up to them as they wandered around the streets and yards. On the west side of town was a bunch of wild turkeys who clearly considered themselves right at home.

St. Patrick Church in Curlew is the smallest in our diocese. The countryside is beautiful, and I admire this small parishís faithfulness to the Church. To say the least, the Church was more than full, with a small oil stove in the middle of the Church keeping us warm. Thatís a very different experience from the several hundred people I regularly encounter at the Cathedral for Mass, or over 1,000 people at a Mass at St. Patrick in Pasco. Yet somehow the experience is just as rich. This is the Church, large and small, gathered around the altar, celebrating Eucharist. There is no social hall for the parish in Curlew, so parishioners graciously provided their home as a gathering place for a potluck meal.

On the way home, the quickest route is over Sherman Pass, which also has its own beauty. Even in snow storms, the pass is well maintained and sanded. Dropping back down to the Columbia River, toward Kettle Falls, I find the historical significance of the area to be inspiring. St. Paul Mission, which is now a state park, reminds us of the early missionaries who came to this land to share the Gospel and evangelize. The Jesuits were the first priests in the area. Just down the road, toward Colville, was the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters before it was moved to Spokane. The cemetery for the Sisters is still located between Kettle Falls and Colville. Mt. Carmel Hospital in Colville, now a part of the Providence Health Care System, is another legacy of their ministry. The Dominican Sisters established St. Joseph Hospital in Chewelah, also now part of Providence Health Care. Both of these institutions are significant contributors to the economy of the area.

The Ford, Wellpinit, and West End parishes are located on the Spokane Reservation and are now served by Jesuit Father Mark Hoelsken. On the Colville Reservation are the parishes of Inchelium, Keller, Nespelem, and East Omak, along with St. Mary Mission, with its beautifully restored church. In addition, the Paschal Sherman School located at the Mission is housed in a beautiful new facility along with a new longhouse. For years, Jesuit volunteers have served at the school. Jesuit Fathers Jake Morton and Robert Jones serve these parishes. Joe Sehnert, a layman, is the administrator of St. Michael Parish in Inchelium, on the eastern side of the Reservation

This is just a brief reflection on the central Northern part of the diocese, bounded on the east by the Pend Oreille River Valley and on the west by the Okanogan Valley, not to mention the most western part of the diocese in the Methow Valley. We are truly blessed by every part of our diocesan family, wherever the parishes are located. May we always be grateful for how God has blessed us in so many ways.

Blessings and peace to all.

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