Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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St. Genevieve, Twisp: Bishop Skylstad’s home parish is a close-knit community in the
by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the May 3, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)
As far as Father Pat Kerst knows, St. Genevieve Parish in Twisp is one of only four parishes in the United States named for the French saint whose deep faith saved Paris in the fifth century. The name was the choice of Sophie Peters, the French Canadian woman who bought the land on which the parish church was built.
Father Kerst is pastor at St. Genevieve, a parish of about 50 families. He travels the 40 miles from his other parish, Sacred Heart in Brewster, to offer Mass at 12:30 p.m. each Sunday. Father Kerst stays over Sunday night in a small house adjacent to the church and schedules parish activities and meetings for Sunday and Monday while he is there.
Masses were held in Twisp starting in 1907. In those days, Father Luyten was the priest who bundled himself up in a buggy for the bi-monthly trip to Twisp. He said Mass in private homes and also in the lodge hall of the old opera house. Twisp was a mission of Waterville and later of Okanogan.
In 1916, Father Fritz served the area. He had the distinction of being the first pastor who owned a car. Father Soentergeld was pastor in the 1920s during church construction. That building was blessed Aug. 20, 1927 by Bishop Charles White. It wasn’t until 1934 that Father Carl Phillip was assigned as a resident pastor, making Twisp a separate parish.
The simple white wooden church is located on Burgar, a quiet street in north Twisp. The setting is beautifully Alpine with the Twisp River nearly right next door and mountains on both sides.
The house that was on the property in 1916 was remodeled and used for Mass and living quarters for Father Fritz. About the year 1954, parishioners, primarily the Frank Morse family, dug a basement and moved the church forward. An addition built on the west end of the church allowed a new sanctuary and sacristy.
The church’s interior features a quiet simplicity. The altar and tabernacle shelves and stands were made by parishioners. Al Bosco, a former parishioner who now lives in Omak, made the wrought iron stands. The altar stand is circular, with 12 curved vertical bars that represent the 12 tribes and the 12 Apostles. The design of the tabernacle stand is similar, with four bars that represent the four gates of the kingdom, one for each direction. Dan Johnson coated the wooden burls used for the stands, bringing out the wood grain and giving it a shining surface.
The sanctuary crucifix hangs on a backdrop of cedar. There is cedar wainscoting, which seems fitting since Twisp was once a lumber town. Elegant statues of Joseph and Mary, done in gold and white, stand at the left of the sanctuary. The bottom half of the six windows will be replaced soon by textured frosted glass panes that are energy efficient. The upper half of the windows will also be replaced, but this project will take a little longer since they are made of gold, purple, and green glass and will be more costly.
Perhaps St. Genevieve’s most notable former parishioner is Bishop William Skylstad. He grew up in the Methow Valley and remembers serving Mass in both Brewster and Twisp. The house where he lived still stands next to the river, and the bishop said he had many fond memories of swimming and rafting as a boy with his family and friends. His parents owned an apple orchard and he attended a one-room public school in the town of Methow which is some distance from his home. It too still stands.
The bishop’s vocation grew out of the strong faith of the Catholic community in St. Genevieve. “Everyone knew everyone,” he said, “and after Mass we would stand around talking (about what we had been doing). It was faith lived out.”
Everyone still knows everyone else in St. Genevieve Parish. Photos show a good attendance at such parish events as the Christmas party, the altar society lunch, and the joint parish council meeting of Brewster and Twisp. Father Kerst said parishioners still fondly remember the parish retreat and camp-out held some years ago in the mountains.
Parishioners enjoy the monthly potlucks, he said, and the recent soup suppers held during Lent were very popular. There are few children at the elementary level right now, but there is an active high school youth group. The parish gained three new families in the last year or so, and were happy to welcome them.
Sue Sabin plays the organ for St. Genevieve’s Masses. She has been in the parish since 1968, having come from a much larger parish in Fall City, near Seattle. She said the parish is “very small and very close-knit.” That cohesiveness helps them, she said, since “everyone strives to get along. In all these years we’ve never had a major disagreement.”
Frankie Morse Waller is a native of Twisp and a contemporary of the bishop. Since early parish baptismal records were lost in a fire, hers is the first name listed in the parish’s records. She recalled the wooden kneelers from childhood days, and the tall pews she could not see over. She remembered how exciting it was when the Sisters would come in the summer for the two weeks of religious education instruction and how “the nuns always played baseball with us.”
Waller commented on the number of tourists who come to Twisp and find their way to Mass at St. Genevieve Church. They come in the winter as well as the summer, she said, since winter sports in the Methow Valley are as popular as summer sports.
Linda and Bob Freeman retired to the Methow Valley and St. Genevieve Parish about 18 months ago. They came from a huge church in Bellingham, but Freeman said she likes the smaller parish. “It becomes family much quicker. And you can quickly get involved.”
Bob sees a strength in parishioners’ openness to new people and the “ease in making new friends.”
At 90, Vernon LaMotte is the oldest parishioner, and he has written extensively about the history of the Methow, including St. Genevieve Parish. About five years ago his tales of the region were collected into a volume titled Stories of the Methow. One of the first copies went to Bishop Skylstad’s family. LaMotte said he has been attending Mass in the Methow “20 years longer than anyone else.” LaMotte said he helped build St. Genevieve Church, “by hand.”
LaMotte has not strayed far from his home and of the few other parishes he has been in, he prefers St. Genevieve. “It’s the only parish I’ve known,” he said.
Father Kerst is grateful to his parishioners for their willingness to accept the late Sunday Mass time, knowing it’s the best that can be worked out for all concerned. He also greatly appreciates the ownership they have in their parish. “If something needs to be done,” he said, “they just do it.”
Photos lurking out there?
Father Kerst issued a plea for photos, especially older ones, of Twisp parish life. The parish has very few pictures from its history, especially the early days. Anyone willing to lend photos that might be copied for the parish’s collection should call him at Sacred Heart Parish, Brewster: 689-2931.
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