From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Cheney parishioners form ‘warm, welcoming’ community

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Jan. 18, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

St. Rose of Lima Church in Cheney, built in 1969-70, is of simple and solid design — a brick and wood triangular shaped building at 460 N. Fifth in Cheney. A white cross situated in the peak of the building’s triangle is the dominant feature of the exterior. The building’s simple interior reflects the exterior, with the eye drawn to the large white sculpture around the figure of Jesus in the sanctuary. The work, done by sculptor Bob Snider of Spokane, was added in 1976 when Father Jim Kuhns was pastor.

St. Rose of Lima is one of the smaller parishes in the Spokane Diocese, with about 250 families. It’s also one of the oldest. The first Mass in Cheney was offered in 1881 by Jesuit Father Pascal Tosi in a room above Blefgren’s Furniture Shop. After Mass a committee was formed to begin raising funds for a church building. Bishop Aegidis Junger of the Nesqually Diocese, which in those days included Washington state, paid the Northern Pacific Railroad Company $25 for two lots at 5th and C streets. The church was erected in 1883.

Jesuits served the Catholic community until 1885. After that diocesan priest Father Aloysius Meuwese served the fledgling Catholic community in Cheney, when he became resident pastor of the Sprague church, which had Cheney as its mission. The first resident pastor was Father John Faust, in 1898. A comment in the parish history points out that Father Faust “has a beautiful black beard.” During his tenure, he purchased the 500-pound bell that is still in the parish, now used to ring for the weekend Masses.

The second church was built in 1926-27, when Father Gerald Feisst was pastor. Since the new church was built at the same site, the old church was dismantled. During construction, Catholics worshiped at St. Paul Episcopal Chapel on C Street. The new church was dedicated Dec. 8, 1928, and its first Mass was celebrated Christmas Eve.

Once again Cheney Catholics outgrew their church. Father Walter Abel was pastor when the the current church and rectory were built just down the street, about six blocks from the old church. Bishop Bernard Topel dedicated the church April 8, 1970. The former church now serves Eastern Washington University as a Native American Center.

St. Rose of Lima is a family parish of solid, mostly working-class people. Father Tom Caswell, who is pastor, and parishioners describe St. Rose of Lima Parish as a “warm and welcoming community,” giving much of the credit to its smaller size. “It’s a small town parish,” said Father Caswell. “And that’s our greatest strength, for those who want to get involved.”

But it’s not just size alone. To see photos of the Christmas potluck which hang in the parish hall is to know what parishioners and pastor mean by their descriptions of the community. People of all ages enjoyed the program and dinner. “We’re very friendly,” said Lupe Zamorra, who with her husband, Emilio, and their children made their home in Cheney after Emilio’s military service ended. “It’s a wonderful parish; the parishioners are great.” The Zamorras are involved — Emilio is a member of the Knights of Columbus and has served as Grand Knight. Lupe is a member of the Women’s Guild.

June Labish, who with her husband, Joe, has been in the parish since 1939, remembered bringing a friend to Mass who had been away from the church for a number of years. The friend was greatly impressed, Labish said, by the friendliness of parishioners.

St. Rose of Lima has a solid religious education program that encompasses all age groups. Barbara Wodynski is religious education coordinator, a job she has held six years. Preschool through middle school students meet on Sunday mornings, with high schoolers meeting during the week. Adults are invited to join either of two groups, one in the morning or one in the evening, for Scripture study, which will focus on women of the Old Testament this session.

Another parish asset is its RCIA program, with about a dozen people being prepared for entry into the church. “We have about that many people every year,” said Wodynski. Add to this number the catechumens’ sponsors who go through the program, too, and the parish has a dedicated core of renewed Catholic members.

Even the changes brought about by the Vatican II went smoothly at St. Rose of Lima. In an Inland Register newspaper article dated May 4, 1972, the parish was complimented for its successful adoption of changes such as Eucharistic ministers and lay lectors. “We seem to go with the flow,” Labish said, in recalling those days.

As is true for nearly all churches, volunteers are the backbone of parish life. Long-time parishioner Howard Ringley is another military retiree. The spirit of volunteerism is due to the fact that the parishioners are “self-starters,” he said. Parish volunteers have done quite a bit of the remodeling work in the parish, including the office addition to the parish hall. EWU Newman Center director Tara Brown said the parish was “extremely helpful and generous” in fixing up the center this summer. “They cleaned, they painted, they did everything,” she said.

The parish assists the diocese in supporting activities at the Newman Center, which is an outreach to Catholic students at the university. It was started in the 1930s by Father John Blake when the university was called Cheney Normal School.

Father Caswell termed the parish’s Knights of Columbus Council “very parish-centered.

It was formed about 10 years ago, to “get the men of the parish involved,” said Ringley. He told about the Knights’ parking lot sale, which last year raised $1,700. The sale was unique in that “we didn’t put a price on anything,” he said.

The Knights are involved in many different activities, with a special emphasis on helping the CAPA organization. (Childbirth and Parenting Alone helps women who are raising children alone.) The Knights recently sponsored a visit of an Our Lady of Guadalupe icon to the church, and the prayer service held when it was there “was really special, ” Zamorra said.

There is also a Women’s Guild which cares for the altar and church. Zamorra said one of the most important things the Guild does is to put on funeral dinners for families.

Father Joseph LeClerc served as pastor the longest, from 1937-1954. He was an accomplished organist and a previous organ used at St. Rose was given as a memorial to him. Not only could he play the organ, he was an excellent cook, “better than the girls (of the church)” as quoted by Della Lee in the in the parish history. “He had an apron hanging in the kitchen.”

The church proper can seat 235 people, but the building was designed to hold more if necessary. Doors into the parish hall on the north side can be opened to allow extra seating for Mass as needed, which these days is the 10 a.m. Mass every Sunday. The staff consists of Father Caswell, Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Wodynski, and part-time secretary Melinda Wilke.

The church building is simple, solid and functional in its design and use. The parish of St. Rose of Lima could be described that way, too, “simple, solid, and faithful in living out the gospel in their community.”

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