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

At St. Anthony, ‘parishioners really respond when there’s a need’

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 8, 2001 edition of the Inland Register

To the uninitiated, the church of St. Anthony, just off Northwest Boulevard on Cedar, comes as a surprise. To see a Spanish mission style church in Spokane, especially on a snowy winter day, is completely unexpected.

Why a California Spanish mission style church came to built in Spokane is a question with the answer shrouded in the past. The church was constructed during the time of the parish’s first pastor, a German priest named Father John Faust, and there is no reliable information as to why that style was chosen. The work was completed in 1910, and news reports of its construction stated that the cost was $22,000. It was dedicated by Bishop Edward J. O’Dea on Nov. 21,1910.

Father Faust offered the first Mass on Dec. 19, 1909 , in a one-room rented house which later became the parish rectory. The new pastor expressed his pleasure at the turn-out in a letter he drafted to the bishop the next day: “70 people were present, and that only after a very short notice.”

Another surprise at St. Anthony is the interior. Church furnishings are a traditional style, with an ornate white reredos (back altar) and a painting of Pentecost in the center, both of which Father Faust designed and ordered from Italy, replacing the original reredos, destroyed by fire in 1919. Traditional statues of Mary and the Sacred Heart stand in their customary places near the sanctuary. The stations of the cross are painted in pastel colors — blue, pink and green on white — adding a colorful touch to the walls.

A recent addition is a new sound system. The new system will have Walkman-like devices to deliver the sounds of the liturgy to the hard-of-hearing.

The church is dedicated to an Italian, St. Anthony of Padua, one of the busier saints since his intercession often is sought when people have lost something. His statue is located in the back of the church.

When the church was first built, Father Faust called it Holy Ghost Church, and in 1920, it was officially named Holy Ghost-St. Anthony. In 1972 the Holy Ghost name was dropped. Msgr. John Donnelly, the current pastor, said they still get mail addressed to “Holy Ghost Parish.”

The church has survived two fires, both of which occurred in the sanctuary. The first, in 1919, was by far the worse, destroying the main altar, the statues, the Mass book and other furnishings.

Father Faust served the parish for 28 years, until his death in 1933. He was followed by Father Gerald Feisst, who served the parish 26 years, from 1934-1960. There have been seven other pastors.

Msgr. Donnelly serves a congregation of 340 or so families. The parish’s population mix is changing, he said, as young families buy the area’s homes. “We have lots more young people now,” he said.

One place where this is very evident is in the youth group. Msgr. Donnelly praised the youth program and its director, saying there was a strong and steady core of “28 to 30 who faithfully attend.” Frank DeCaro, who grew up in the parish, is youth minister, and he laughingly said their attendance might have something to do with food.

The group meets after the 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday, and “we always have lunch first,” he said. DeCaro said the group does a variety of things, including an annual camping trip in which Msgr. Donnelly comes along.

DeCaro said they had an “incredible experience” when they attended World Youth Day in Rome last summer. But his goal, he said, is to promote a spirit of community, and to let teens know “they are part of the church, now,” not just when they are adults.

What DeCaro sees as a strength of the parish is how it operates as a church family, to pull together in times of need.

That thought was echoed by Jim Schwarzer. Schwarzer has served on the parish’s Finance Council since 1990.

“Parishioners really respond when there’s a need,” he said. “We needed a new roof and by the time we were ready to let the contract, we had nearly all the money we needed. And the same thing happened when the furnace blew out. It’s just incredible how things get done.” He and his wife, Ann, moved into St. Anthony Parish in 1986, choosing it because it had a school for their two children. “What we like about the parish is its small size,” he said.

Barbara LaCombe is director of religious education, a post she has held for 12 years. She prepares programs for three-year-olds through eighth graders and also for adults. “The people here are very faith-filled,” she said, “and they want to grow in their faith.” One adult Bible study group has been meeting since 1988; a second group also meets each week. “We’re studying the Catholic Catechism right now.”

Social service is a part of faith formation, and LaCombe makes sure that element is included. The parish Rice Bowl program has a local connection: half the money goes to Catholic Relief Services, but the other half goes to Father Clifford, a Maryknoll priest in Mexico who is from St. Anthony.

John Storms is 88, and he, too, has lived in the parish his entire life. “I was baptized there and I’ll probably be buried there,” he said.

He remembers serving as an altar boy under the first pastor, Father Faust. “My dad brought Father Faust into the parish, picking him up at the railway station in a horse and wagon.” He said some people found Father Faust to be “cranky, but I liked him.”

Storms isn’t as active in the parish these days, but some consider him “our unofficial historian.” What Storms likes best about the parish is the people, he said.

Within the boundaries of St. Anthony Parish live some of the poorest people in Washington state and St. Anthony parishioners are mindful of them. About 12 years ago, Benedictine Sister Meg Sass helped form an outreach group called Omega, with St. Anthony one of the original participants. Ten churches of different denominations participate in Omega, and a few years ago, St. Charles Parish joined the group. St. Anthony was the only Catholic church in the venture until then.

What Omega means to St. Anthony parishioners is a $300 financial commitment per month. But they give more than that. Special collections are held during the year, to collect food, clothing, or baby items, and one of the parish guilds spent a recent evening packaging food to give to Omega. Msgr. Donnelly said the parish refers people in need to Omega, which helps them by providing funds for utilities or rent, and by providing the other items as needed. “It’s a way of pooling our resources to let those trained to help the poor do so,” Msgr. Donnelly explained.

In the last couple of years, parishioners have been taking a serious look at parish life, “because,” said parish council president Dennis Fairbank, “it’s important as a parish to see where we are.” The first convocation to start the process drew 400 people. A second gathering, a workshop, was held.

One result of the meetings was to hold a parish retreat at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center in December. Twenty-eight people attended the retreat, and the parish is on the schedule for a retreat next November.

Eventually, Fairbank said, the parish hopes to have some kind of outreach to inactive Catholics.

Fairbank said parish families are very involved in parish life, and he, too, commented on the younger families coming into the church. “We’re a welcoming parish, and a warm group of people,” he said, and the parish would like to make that known.

Lois Stratton is president of the altar society. “I’ve been in the parish for 25 years, but I’ve only been active for the last five years,” she said. She said her parish had a lot of older people, but they are the most active group ... real fireballs.” Right now the women are working on guidelines for the use of Wilson Hall, which is in the basement of the church. “Everyone uses it,” Stratton said, “for wedding receptions, meals for families at funerals, religious education classes, meetings.”

The women recently installed a library in the hall, which will be dedicated to Msgr. Donnelly, who donated the books for it.

“We are a delightful parish,” Stratton said, “very caring. I’ve never seen such cooperation or friendliness.”

Msgr. Donnelly said the parish’s greatest strength comes from parishioners’ deep faith and deep commitment, expressed in a willingness to volunteer. “They volunteer all over the place,” he said. “The commitment goes far beyond what you would expect for its size.”

That commitment extends to fellowship in the church family, too: “We have a lot of potlucks around here.”

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