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. Ann, Spokane, located in busy neighborhood

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the July 5, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Tucked away in a residential section in the East Central area of Spokane is the Spokane Diocese’s second parish named for St. Ann, mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus.

The church is only one block from Sprague Avenue, at 2120 E. First, and just a short distance from the freeway. Hundreds of motorists drive down Sprague Avenue everyday, unaware of the church’s presence so close by.

Its presence in the neighborhood might be taken for granted since the church, started in 1902, is one of the older parishes in the diocese. For 99 years, the parish has been a quiet, but active, part of its neighborhood. The parish is planning a celebration for its centennial next year.

Father L. Ferland, who was a chaplain at Sacred Heart Hospital, served the parish as its first pastor. He purchased the property on First and was responsible for building the first church, a two-story wooden structure, in 1904. Father Ferland was succeeded in 1905 by Jesuit Father James Rebmann, who was rector until the advent of Father Theophilus Pypers in 1906.

Father (later Monsignor) Pypers was the first resident priest and also the one who served the longest. Many long-time parishioners have fond memories of the monsignor, who received the title while at St. Ann’s. He retired from St. Ann Parish and active ministry, in 1951.

In 1929 an arsonist set fire to the church, “a sad silver jubilee,” the monsignor wrote. While the building was not completely destroyed, parishioners held several meetings and decided to build a new church.

The new structure, dedicated by Bishop Charles White Dec. 21, 1930, is built of cream-colored stone in what Msgr. Pypers called “a mission style of architecture.”

He wrote further that the church was made to “glow with light and warmth.” Part of the light and warmth is from the three large rose windows, one in the back of the nave, and two on either side of the transept. The other windows contain amber and pale blue “casts of cathedral glass” to brighten the interior which seems larger than it is.

The shape of the bell tower is reminiscent of mission churches. It contains the bell from the old church which had been given to St. Ann Parish by Sacred Heart Parish in 1904. The bell was cracked in the fire and had to be recast.

The first church and its furnishings cost about $7,000; the second one was built for just under $40,000.

St. Ann Parish is one of the smaller parishes, with 130 families. In the beginning they were mostly working-class people, primarily blue collar “down-to-earth”folks. In earlier years, a large number of the families were Italian, many of whom still live in the parish.

One of these is Rose D’Amico, who, at 84, is one of the oldest parishioners and a lifelong member. She was baptized at St. Ann, went to school there, and married there. “Lord willing, I’ll be buried from there,” she said. She can’t imagine being in a parish anywhere else.

Newcomer Mary Farrell, who has been in the parish about four years, echoes that same sentiment. She has belonged to larger parishes, and loves the close-knit community that is St. Ann. “It didn’t take long for us to become a part of it,” she said. “I feel like I’ve known (the people) all my life.”

Farrell also found that St. Ann’s is “very supportive in empowering people to use their gifts, and to use them more extensively for the good of the community.”

As with many parishes, the demographics have changed, and now there has been an influx of white collar folks, such as teachers and those in the medical field. Once again, the parish is blessed with an abundance of babies.

The Franciscans took charge of the parish in 1968, ministering there for exactly 28 years. Their gift was to deepen parishioners’ Gospel spirituality.

The parish has been administered by lay people, and Linda Kobe-Smith currently holds the post. She has served nearly 10 years, and finds great blessing in the parish community: “They take their faith seriously, and see themselves as being people of God. They are willing to face the issues and grow through them,” she said.

One of the issues parishioners faced was that of helping Latin American refugees in the mid-1980s. After months of discussion and teaching, the parish voted, with 82 percent in favor, to offer their church as a sanctuary for a refugee family from El Salvador. The decision was risky in that the United States government believed such refugees were fleeing for economic reasons, while the church took the stance they were political refugees.

The father had been a catechist and was murdered, and his family brutalized. His wife, with 10 children and grandchildren, lived at the church until they were able to start new lives in the United States. Some are still members of St. Ann Parish.

The parish opens its purse as well as its doors. It tithes five percent of its income with half that amount used locally and half for national or international projects. It also holds a second collection each Sunday with the money earmarked for outreach to the poor.

A free lunch is held at St. Ann’s every Sunday, open to anyone who shows up. Parishioner Spike Cunningham started the lunch some years ago, and neighborhood churches takes turns with the cooking and serving.

The parish recently joined forces with Grace Lutheran Church to minister to the kids who “end up living” in the area between Sprague Ave. and Interstate 90.

A number of social service organizations and groups use parish facilities. The parish is part of the Spokane Interfaith and Education Alliance, to try to bring about changes in the root causes of poverty and injustice.

Father Severyn Westbrook, a retired priest of the diocese, says Mass three Sundays a month and on Monday mornings. On Saturdays and the fourth Sunday, Father Wilboard Mwape, a priest on sabbatical at Gonzaga University from Zambia, Africa, says Mass. Currently Father Mwape is able to offer weekday Masses Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 8 a.m.

Kobe-Smith said the parish has been blessed by the diversity of the priests who come to St. Ann, commenting on their recent Pentecost Mass which included African customs.

She also said St. Ann parishioners have a “great openness. They are willing to be led by the God who is calling them ... and they are willing to walk together.”

Secretary Virginia Flatter echoed that thought: “It’s not the buildings. Parishioners try to carry out the spirit of the Gospel. They are very much a people of prayer.”

Historical facts from St. Ann Parish

  • When the parish was started in 1902, parishioners attended Mass in Nolan hall on the corner of Pittsburg and Sprague. The building had once been a dance hall and later became a hardware store.
  • Msgr. Pypers left his mark in the parish; St. Ann had a large number of vocations to the priestly and Religious life during his tenure. In 1956 the vocations director counted 15 priests, 32 Sisters, and one bishop. Father William Condon, who later became bishop of Great Falls, grew up in the parish.
  • Msgr. Pypers left his mark in the parish another way. He wrote the words to the parish theme song: “We Hail Thee, Saintly Anna.”
  • The monsignor also wrote the first history of the parish in 1931 after the new church was built. He and his assistant, then Father David Rosage, co-wrote the second in 1952 for the 50-year anniversary. The parish plans to update its history for the centennial.
  • Father Rebmann, who served the parish for about a year, canceled Mass one Christmas. His reasons? The lack of street lights and sidewalks in the neighborhood. “Besides,” he wrote, “The choir could not sing very well, anyhow.”
  • An undated Inland Register news clipping from the 1960s tells of an experimental class in the parish school for Gypsies. The class was taught by Sister Mary Goretti.

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