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. Anne, Medical Lake: small parish, big heart

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the June 15, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

St. Anne Parish in Medical Lake is one of the oldest parishes in the Spokane Diocese, but believe it or not, Catholics there did not have a regular Sunday Mass schedule until 1936. Further, the church did not have independent parish status until 1957.

Until then the parish was a mission served by priests from various other places and parishes in the area. In the 1800s the few Medical Lake Catholics were served by the Jesuits, first from Colville and then from Spokane Falls. The first diocesan priest to serve Medical Lake was Father Aloysius Meuwese, who had been assigned to Sprague. Medical Lake and Willow Springs were missions of Sprague.

In 1888, Father William Dwyer came to live in Medical Lake as a “missionary rector.” He was a resident priest in the sense that he chose to live in the community, but like his predecessors he was a traveling priest. The area’s French Catholics had acquired land for a church and Father Dwyer was the priest in charge when the church was built in 1889.

The next priest to live in Medical Lake was Father William Chaput, who arrived in 1920. He, too, was a circuit rider priest, but, according to the parish history, he had the luxury of a car, a “green Essex roadster which he drove with great abandon.”

The brick church that is now the parish’s church was built in 1931 when Father William Con-don, who later became bishop of Great Falls, was pastor. The parish history states that at a Mass one Sunday in the old church, the stove pipe came crashing down during one of Father Condon’s sermons. A Jesuit priest who was visiting said the pastor should take that as a sign to build a new church, which he did.

The new church, constructed at 708 E. Lake St., was designed along the lines of a European country church, a simple brick and wood design. The old church and rectory and its property were sold for $25.

Father Edward Kowrach was given charge of St. Anne and the institutions at Medical Lake, as part of his first assignment after ordination in 1938. The assignment lasted until 1941. In a sense, Father Kowrach returned to the parish in 1955. That year he was assigned as pastor of St. Rose of Lima, Cheney, and the Medical Lake parish was a mission of St. Rose. When Medical Lake became a parish in 1957, Father Kowrach was named pastor. He served there until 1972. He is the author of the 1963 parish history called How Silently.

But through the years and the various priests, in residence or not, Medical Lake’s Catholics “kept the faith.” Their numbers have grown steadily since the parish was founded. Once again the parish community is looking at the possibility of building a new church, “in the next six or seven years,” said Father Jack Krier, who is pastor. Currently there are 250 families.

Early Catholics were French who chose to name the church for St. Anne, the mother of Mary, to whom the French have great devotion. A colorful statue of St. Anne with Mary as a young girl by her side was purchased for the original church. It stands in the vestibule of the present church, a graceful reminder of those long-ago days. The statues of the Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart inside the church also came from the original church.

One well-known parish story concerns the pews, bought when Franciscan Father Frederick Bromham was pastor (1972-76). He purchased the pews from a Lutheran church in Spokane that had had a fire, paying $7.50 for each one. The pews were scorched and stained by smoke, requiring a complete restoration. Then he got parishioners together to sand and refinish them.

“I don’t know what we used to clean them off,” said parishioner Leona Mayfield, “but it ate rubber gloves. The fingertips of our gloves fell right off.”

Father Frederick sold the old pews for $10 each. Parishioners were the primary buyers; Mayfield said she still uses hers.

The church is typical of many small parishes: parishioners like the small size and the fact that “everyone knows everyone.” They like the “warmth, the friendliness, and the camaraderie” found in a small parish. That gives them a closeness which is hard to duplicate in bigger churches.

Newcomer Laura Dayton learned how important that can be after her husband, Steve, left for military duty in Korea. She said she was feeling “teary-eyed” at Mass one Sunday, and a parishioner gave her a hug that day which, said Dayton, “I really needed. But she didn’t even know me.”

Parish activities are also typical, with an active religious education program, an ongoing Bible study, a prayer chain, a monthly senior citizens’ dinner and monthly bingo on the calendar. In 1980 the parish started a food bank, which is now community-ministered, and it continues to help in other areas of outreach.

Medical Lake is a quiet city of nearly 4,000 people, situated next to its beautiful namesake lake. Four state institutions, Eastern State Hospital (founded in 1891), Lakeland Village (which is to be closed soon), Pine Lodge Correctional Center, and West Lake are located on the southwest edges of the city. Many Medical Lake residents work at the facilities.

All the priests who served St. Anne offered ministry to the residents and patients at the institutions. Father Kowrach was chaplain at Eastern State Hospital for 20 years. The parish’s deacon, Bob King, continues to minister at Lakeland Village, holding a Communion service there once a month. He is on call at the other sites and serves wherever needed.

Now, however, even though there are still many state employees in the city, as well as retired military people, Medical Lake has become even more of a bedroom community for Spokane. The population mix may change since new housing developments are being built in the open areas around the city. Growth is inevitable.

But there is growth of another, more important, kind which is taking place at St. Anne, and that is spiritual growth. Both Father Krier and Deacon King mentioned parishioners’ desire to grow spiritually. “We’ll have 30 to 40 people at Tuesday morning Mass,” Father Krier said. St. Anne also has a weekday evening Mass.

Perhaps Laura Dayton said it best: “For a small parish, it has a big heart.”

(Information for this article came from Father Kowrach’s book and also from the updated version compiled by Mary Ellen Peper-Baldwin for the parish’s centennial celebration.)

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