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

Colbert’s St. Joseph Parish continues to grow in population and building size

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the March 1, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

St. Joseph Parish at Colbert may be one of the largest geographical parishes in the Spokane metropolitan area, with parish families numbering 630, but that doesn’t keep parishioners there from the thought that their parish is like a small country church. Even its location in a peaceful wooded area on Colbert Road hints of the rural life that once flourished north of Spokane.

That’s what St. Joseph was when it first started: a rural parish with a few scattered farm families in a one-room wooden church that parishioners helped build. St. Joseph was one of the many parishes started by the Jesuits; the year was 1910. Eventually the parish became a mission of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Spokane and, later, St. Mary Presentation Parish in Deer Park, which was also administered by the Franciscans.

That arrangement lasted until 1969, the year the Franciscans gave up the Deer Park and Colbert parishes. St. Joseph Parish moved into Mater Cleri, the diocese’s high school seminary.

In 1970 Bishop Bernard Topel granted official parish status to St. Joseph and Father Joseph Danneker was named pastor. To worship at Mater Cleri was a special blessing since parishioners “adopted” the seminarians, who, along with the priests who taught them, became a part of the parish.

The seminary closed in 1974. The facility was renamed the Bishop Topel Center, but the parish, which bought the center in 1986, continued to use it as their church, renting the rest of the facility to many different groups for retreats, conferences, seminars and meetings.

In 1989 the diocese and St. Joseph accepted a purchase offer for the facility. the parish built a new church, dedicated Oct. 29, 1991 by Bishop Skylstad. The pastor at that time was Father James Mangan.

The simply-styled church building sits on 10 wooded acres. The interior reflects the simplicity of the exterior. A lobby area extends across the front of the building. The Blessed Sacrament chapel is on the west side. The office area is also on the west side; the fellowship hall and kitchen are to the east. Classrooms are located on both sides.

The church’s design incorporates elements of the former parish site. The beautiful stained glass windows on either side of the nave which depict the Stations of the Cross came from Bishop Topel Center. Another stained glass window that depicts a cross in a seascape on the south side of the nave also came from the Center.

To accommodate the growing number of families, the parish soon will embark on a 10-year expansion project. Ground will be broken this spring to add a classroom wing as part one of the project. The Blessed Sacrament Chapel will be enlarged and plans call for a gym and multipurpose room.

Parish growth adds approximately 45-50 families each year. “When I came seven years ago, it was much higher, almost twice that number,” said the pastor, Father Mike Kwiatkowski. Even with the slower growth rate, the parish needs additional room in nearly every area.

How does a large parish retain the feel of a small one? For the St. Joseph congregation, it’s easy.

To be open, friendly and inviting is a hallmark of the parish. Everyone is welcome at St. Joseph. Lifelong parishioner Patt Peterson, who is co-chairperson with her husband, Harley, of the welcome and fellowship ministry, said that visitors often say St. Joseph “really makes them feel at home.” Sister Kathleen Reynolds, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, plays an important role in this ministry, too. She is director of religious education and is very inviting to all new people in the parish.

Another hallmark is small groups. The parish is divided into about 10 neighborhoods with 50 or 60 families each, and the parish directory lists the families who live in each neighborhood. But the parish is divided further into small groups that reach all ages and focus on many different purposes and outreach, all of which work to foster community.

The list of groups is extensive: besides the usual parish committees of liturgy and religious education, there are Bible study classes (the Little Rock program has been in use nine years), men’s groups, women’s groups, prayer groups, social concerns ministry, ministry of care group, a parish nurse program. A quilting group, with parishioners and non-parishioners, meets regularly in the parish center for fellowship and also for charity, since part of their time is spent making quilts which are given to children who are cancer patients.

Yet the parish keeps focused on the important fact that together, they are one family. This is very evident on Sundays. Religious education classes are held between the 8:30 and 11 a.m. Sunday Masses. Whether parish families attend early or late Mass, they often wait for their students, enjoying coffee and doughnuts together in the church lobby. Parish youth and their families who are spread out geographically come together as the parish family for that weekly period of time, which nourishes and strengthens the family ties.

Patt Peterson’s grandfather helped build the first St. Joseph Church in 1910. “We were like family even in those days,” she said. “We have a history of being warm and welcoming. That’s our whole focus.”

After being in the parish for 27 years, Deacon John Riherd is almost an old-timer. He, too, says the parish has a “country feel even though parish growth has bloomed.” One of the “exciting changes” he’s noticed in parish growth is an increase in young families with children.

Deacon Riherd said he likes the way the parish reaches out. “I see strength in parishioners’ willingness to explore their faith and see where that leads them. They are willing to try different things and see where they belong.” As the parish’s deacon, he assists with sacramental preparation and also leads a men’s Bible study group.

Some might consider Gina and John Roecker newcomers, since they have been in the parish just seven years. They decided to make Spokane their home after retirement and both are very involved in parish life. John is chairperson of the finance council and a member of the building and maintenance committee. Gina, who is a chaplain, heads the ministry of care, arranging volunteer visits at area nursing homes that Eucharist is taken to Catholics unable to attend Mass because of illness or infirmity.

Gina Roecker said the ministry of care has 15 persons who “very happily serve.” In her view, the parish’s friendliness and welcoming spirit “make one want to be there. It’s a great church.”

The parish mission statement, which is taken from Scripture, states it clearly: “Go then to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples. Preach the Gospel to all people.” St. Joseph parishioners make it clear what they are about, doing “their preaching” by their service. Father Kwiatkowski said the parish volunteerism rate hovers at about 25 percent, more than twice the average of 10 percent.

One example is the parish’s Knights of Columbus Council. It is one of the most active in the diocese, and won a state award for the number of volunteer hours they served. In addition, a group of parish teens has been nominated for the Chase Youth Commission award. Like their parents, they, too, are involved in many different kinds of ministry and outreach, in the parish and out, in such places as the House of Charity and Caritas Center.

Father Kwiatkowski said many of the ministries originated with parishioners who see a need and then respond. “People have come forward with their gifts,” he said, citing the young mothers’ group as an example. “They have really blossomed.”

The parish is also aware that it is part of the larger human family. It has an “Education Discernment Action Network” that works with the Spokane Interfaith and Education Alliance on broad-based community issues. EDAN focuses on developing and strengthening relationships between many disparate groups for the betterment of the community.

Another example: “Because of what’s happening in this parish,” Father Kwiatkowski said, “one of our parishioners, a man in his later 50s, took a job teaching at an inner city school in Las Vegas.”

Parish volunteerism “is our greatest asset,” Father Kwiatkowski said. “Our volunteers bring a great amount of energy to what they do.”

Inland Register archives

© The Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane. All Rights Reserved