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

St. Augustine Parish has long history on Spokane’s South Hill

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the April 12, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

A statue of Jesus’ crucifixion which stands above a huge sign at the corner of Bernard and 18th announces St. Augustine Church before the building itself becomes visible.

Even without the sign, people driving in the neighborhood become aware that the area is a holy place. Snow-white Carrara marble statues depicting the Seven Sorrows of Mary can be seen in the terraced garden built on two sides of St. Augustine’s hill, a stark and beautiful contrast to the nearly black rocks and dark green shrubs.

Drive one block past the sign to find the church at 428 W. 19th. The oblong brick church, of a “modestly conservative design,” features a bas relief of St. Augustine and St. Monica over the exterior entry doors. A tall bell tower with cross is prominent.

The simple design of the exterior gives no indication of the visual feast inside. About 15 stained glass windows, some tall, some small, most of which depict saints, add glorious color to the interior, even when the sun isn’t shining. Another feature is a striking glass “crown” over the baptismal font. Etched into the glass are scenes from Biblical stories in which water plays a prominent part, such as the miracle at Cana and the parting of the Red Sea. A pipe organ, donated by three parish families, was installed in the choir loft in 1999.

The parish was founded in 1914, one of the first to be created by the Spokane Diocese’s first bishop, Augustine B. Schinner, who named the parish for his own patron saint. Father W.V. Fitzgerald was the parish’s first pastor.

The first church, a multi-use facility, was built on the corner of 18th and Stevens. The school entry faced Stevens; the church entrance was on 18th. The church was on the main floor, with classrooms for the first and second graders behind the sanctuary. The parish hall filled most of the basement. Father Fitzgerald’s living quarters were along one side. There were additional classrooms on the third floor, and the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who came to teach at the school, lived on the fourth floor.

Noted Spokane architect Kirtland Cutter designed the original building, according to Henry C. Matthews’ book Kirtland Cutter: Architect in the Land of Promise. Cutter’s plans now reside in the archives of Eastern Washington University, Cheney. A Seattle architectural firm, John Maloney, is also given credit for the building’s design.

The parish’s history is highlighted by building and remodeling projects to accommodate the fast-growing congregation.

Spokane’s Catholic population grew just as rapidly as that of the rest of the city in the early part of the 20th century. Not many years passed before the St. Augustine congregation outgrew its building.

Twelve years after the parish was started, when Father John Cronin was pastor, the parish started raising funds for a larger church. The first building fund drive netted $2,950 in pledges from 14 persons. Father Cronin purchased two additional pieces of property around the church building, where he planned to build the new church.

Father Cronin engaged the John Maloney firm, which designed the new church as a lofty Gothic structure. When the project was put out for bid in 1929, the parish learned it would be extremely expensive to build, more than the budget could afford, so those plans were shelved.

Even though fund-raising began in 1926, the present church was not built until 1949-50. By that time, the parish had $90,000 in its building fund. The once-planned Gothic structure was replaced by a more affordable, more modest, design. Msgr. Stephen Buckley, the pastor then, guided the construction project. Msgr. Buckley also served the parish as pastor longer than any other, from 1939 until 1968.

He was also able to purchase the rest of the property on St. Augustine’s hill, so that the parish plant encompassed a whole city block. The new St. Augustine church, which cost $365,000, was dedicated by Bishop Charles White Oct. 1, 1950. After the new church opened, the old church was remodeled into classrooms.

The terraced garden and its statues, which were donated by parishioners, were added during Msgr. Buckley’s pastorate. Gardener Hidejiro Yamagira, under the pastor’s watchful eye, built the garden starting in 1959. Yamagira, who was 60, knew nothing about rock walls when he started, and learned as he went along. He worked part-time at first, and later full-time, up to six days a week in the summer months. The work took him nine years, and is a testament to his love and devotion, and also to that of Msgr. Buckley and the parishioners who supported the project.

Today, St. Augustine parishioners support many kinds of projects in their busy, active community, from sacramental preparation to religious education to hospitality to outreach to the poor.

Mary Ann Heskett came to St. Augustine Parish in 1966. She commented on the collaborative efforts of St. Augustine pastors in getting the laity involved. “We have full participation by people,” she said. “And they are generous,” she said, “in providing for others’ needs.” She sees the parish’s greatest strength as the resources among parishioners, pastors and staff. “We have people with so many skills, professional skills, they are willing to give (to help others).”

Greg Wrenner graduated from eighth grade in St. Augustine Catholic School in 1972, the last graduating class before the school became Cataldo. He was away from the Church for a time after his divorce, and in coming back, has found in the Church a deeper tolerance for the failings of its members and a greater acceptance. “The parish is more inclusive and involved,” he said. “There are lots of programs, activities, and opportunities for all different kinds of people.”

The family aspect of parish is important, too. Parishioner Merri Lou Dobler said she sees her parish’s greatest strength in the “families who make up the parish, who give it a sense of community. When someone is struggling, it’s really phenomenal how the community reaches out.”

Liz Sestero echoed that sentiment: “It’s a perfect place to have someone companion you on your faith journey.”

Msgr. Robert Pearson has been pastor since 1988. He is most proud of the parish’s deepening commitment over the last 10 years to reach out to the poor. One example was the recent Lenten food drive, spearheaded by parish young people, with proceeds given to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The parish also helps support the mission school in Nahuala, Guatemala.

The strength of the parish is shown in the generosity of its people, Msgr. Pearson said, not only financially, but “in what they commit to.” One long-term commitment is to a sister parish program. St. Augustine adopted Sacred Heart Parish in Brewster, contributing financial support and sharing exchanges of pastors and spiritual customs. The parish also is involved with the Spokane Alliance, an organization that helps build connections and relationships between churches, civic groups, and others for the common good.

Another important parish commitment is to prayer, with various groups which meet regularly, some for more than 15 years.

When the parish began in 1914, it had 75 families; now there are 705. Soon it will celebrate its centennial and add new pages to its history. The number of young families coming into the parish is on the rise, adding lots of children to the congregation. The school, renamed Cataldo, is still situated in the original building, which has undergone several remodelings and additions in its nearly 100 years. Cataldo is a lively place during school hours with the bustle of its 364 students, grades K-8, that make up the current enrollment. The school is inter-parochial, with students coming from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes and Sacred Heart Parish, in addition to St. Augustine.

Parochial vicar is Father Richard Semple, who was ordained in the summer of 1999. Two deacons are assigned to the parish: Deacon Gary Cooper, who is pastoral associate, and Deacon Kenneth Dunlap.

The parish has its own web site as well.

Moments of history at St. Augustine Parish

The church bells play an important part in parish life. They ring at noon and 6 p.m. for the angelus and, at 9 p.m., for the deceased. The bells are also rung just before weekend Masses begin and for weddings and funerals.

Father Theodore Bradley grew up in St. Augustine Parish and shared memories of his growing up years. He recalled that there had been a zoo at Manito Park, and among the animals on exhibit were buffalo. “We kids would get tufts of grass and drag them along the fence. The buffalo would follow along.”

When the zoo was closed, at least one of the buffalo was killed, since a mounted buffalo head was presented as a gift to the school, according to Father Bradley. “It hung on the fourth floor of the school for many years.”

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