Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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Walla Walla’s St. Patrick Parish receives national honor
the Inland Register
(From the Jan. 18, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)
A national study has named St. Patrick Parish, Walla Walla, as one of America’s outstanding Catholic parishes.
A team of researchers from the Parish/Congregation Study at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington made the choice recently after two years of searching the nation for outstanding Catholic parishes and other denominational congregations.
“St. Patrick was clearly the type of parish we were looking for,” said the study’s director, Paul Wilkes. “We looked for parishes which nurtured the spirit, welcomed and yet challenged, both preached and — more importantly — lived the Good News. St. Patrick is that kind of church.”
Father Michael Savelesky, pastor, was pleased by the news.
“We participated in the study and interviews, but I didn’t dream that we would be recognized for any degree of excellence,” he said. “We’re a rather ordinary parish. If there is excellence manifest at St. Patrick, it clearly is rooted in the hard work of previous pastors, associates, staff and hundreds of dedicated, generous and faith-filled parishioners.
“We are far from being a perfect community of believers, but we are committed to our pursuit of a Gospel-inspired way of life,” he said.
St. Patrick is a bi-lingual parish in the southern part of the Diocese of Spokane. More than 850 Anglo and Hispanic families are found on the parish registration list.
According to Sonia Muro, parish secretary, another 300 or more Hispanic families frequent the parish, including a flux of agricultural workers who come to the area each year.
“The colorfulness and spirit of family values of our Hispanic population enrich us all,” she said. “It’s a real challenge to coordinate the use of our facilities by two language groups with different cultural expectations, but we have managed to find a happy balance.”
The parish is served by what Father Savelesky describes as “an enthusiastic staff and a dream-team of dedicated volunteers” who are active in a variety of parish ministries and community social service programs.
“These people are St. Patrick Parish,” he said. “The possibilities of a Gospel-centered life-style and the needs of people in our area demand more of us. We are committed to keeping our hands to the task.”
“Working in a bilingual setting has its unique challenges,” said Juan Pedroza, parish Hispanic Minister. “We try our best to pray, work together and serve the needs of others — all in faithfulness to the mission of our parish.”
Printed on the front cover of the Sunday bulletin in both Spanish and English, that mission is placed weekly before parishioners as a reminder and challenge. The statement reads: “Born of the original 1846 Diocese of Walla Walla, St. Patrick is a culturally diverse community of Roman Catholics who, in cooperation with other Christians in the Walla Walla Valley, strive to worship God, foster spiritual growth among its members and serve others according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“Faithfulness to that mission calls the parish to strong religious education, sacramental prep and youth programs for both Anglos and Hispanics,” said Susan Logsdon, parish Director of Religious Education. “Our young people are not only the Church of today; they are our future strength as well. We reach our youth at a wonderful, teachable moment in their lives.”
The parish’s slate of ministries and activities also includes a full schedule of weekend Masses in English and Spanish as well as participation in the Walla Walla Catholic Schools, St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Knights of Columbus, visitation of shut-ins, care for the poor and needy, prison ministry, pastoral care at nearby Saint Mary Medical Center and ecumenical efforts.
The parish also shares ministry with nearby St. Francis of Assisi Parish, founded in 1915 by Bishop Schinner in response to the pastoral needs of Italian immigrants.
The facilities at St. Patrick Parish demonstrate a sense of presence in the community. The spires of the 1881 gothic church tower over the west end of downtown Walla Walla. In addition to a brick two-story office building south of the church, the parish is in the process of constructing a Pastoral Center, whose completion is anticipated at the end of February. The new building, which is attached to an existing classroom structure, will include a large fellowship hall, gymnasium, kitchen and small meeting rooms.
“When our construction project is finished, parishioners will have even more opportunity to grow in relationship with one another and to be of service to the needs of our local community. Our hope is that our Pastoral Center will be a reflection of celebration and service,” Father Savelesky said.
An obvious date is already marked on the calendar for a bi-lingual celebration of the building’s dedication: March 17, the Feast of St. Patrick.
The roots of St. Patrick Parish extend to 1847 when, at the very same time of the historic massacre of Protestant missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman at their mission settlement at Wailatpu (12 miles west of Walla Walla), Bishop A.M.A. Blanchet, first bishop of the then Diocese of Walla Walla, arrived to establish a Catholic presence in the Oregon Territory. The bishop and his vicar general were instrumental in winning the release of hostages taken during the massacre.
Because of the ensuing dangers, the diocesan See was transferred within three years to Nesqually — and later to Seattle.
The study, underwritten by a grant from the Lily Endowment, combed the country for the best examples of local church excellence, both Catholic and Protestant. According to the study’s author, neither size nor location, denominational affiliation nor lack of one, were important. A certain “habit of being” was.
“These parishes we found are simply wonderful places to be. They not only take care of their members but reach out generously into the world. I am absolutely amazed with the abundance of goodness and greatness that was found,” Wilkes said.
The study identified 300 excellent Catholic parishes and 300 excellent Protestant congregations nation-wide. The search results will be included in two soon-to-be published companion books: Excellent Catholic Parishes (Paulist Press) and Excellent Protestant Congregations (Westminster John Knox), both of which will be available next month. St. Patrick will be included in an annotated, state-by-state index of outstanding parishes.
St. Patrick also has been invited to take part in the Pastoral Summit, a nation-wide conference to be held May 30-June 1 in New Orleans, an outgrowth of the Parish/Congregation Study research. The summit will bring together some of the country’s best pastors, church staff, and lay leaders.
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