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. Michael Parish, Inchelium, reflects family connections

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register

(From the Sept. 13, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

In 1997, the water level of the Columbia River at Inchelium was really, really low. When that happens, visitors can see the stone foundation of St. Michael Mission church. When Grand Coulee Dam was built and Lake Roosevelt came into being, the church, along with the rest of the town, had to be moved to higher ground, leaving behind stones to tell the tale of its former home. The move took place in 1939; the church was 14 years old.

The Jesuits ministered to Native Americans throughout the Pacific Northwest, beginning in the mid-1800s, and built many small churches for their congregations. In 1918 Jesuits built the first Catholic church in Inchelium and named it in honor of St. Celestine. The name may have had something to do with the Jesuit priest who built the church: Father Celestine Caldi.

Jesuit Father Edward Griva rather than Father Caldi, celebrated the first Mass at the church. He finished building St. Celestine and when that church became too small, he built the church that became known as St. Michael Mission. It was dedicated by Bishop Augustine Schinner June 11, 1925, the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Altogether Father Griva built 12 churches in the Pacific Northwest, and the church that became St. Michael was typical for its time. It’s a rectangular structure with narrow windows down the sides and, at one end, a steeple with cross on top. It also had a small room on one end that was used as a sacristy and for storage.

Two unique features favored by Father Griva in his churches were ornamental tin ceilings and numerous statues of Jesus, Mary, saints and angels. In those days the back altar boasted nine statues, including an almost life-sized Piéta.

Deacon Alvin Toulou grew up in Inchelium and he recalled his early years in the church. “The women sat on one side and the men on the other,” he said. “We had an a usher who carried a ruler to make sure the children behaved during Mass. He wore a purple sash and we called him ‘the policeman.’” Deacon Toulou said the congregation was “lots bigger then.”

Lifetime parishioner Betty Nugent remembered that the church was moved in four parts to its new location, but the ornamental tin ceiling was not replaced when the building was reassembled. Father Griva’s steeple was not reinstalled, either; instead, a shorter steeple was installed.

Bishop Charles White dedicated the newly-relocated church April 2, 1940. To this day several of the numerous statues, including the Piéta, remain in the church.

The city of Inchelium is in a scenic area in northeast central Washington, on the Colville Indian Reservation. According to Jenny Edgren, who is the pastoral administrator at St. Michael, the name “Inchelium” is loosely translated from the Salish Indian language and means “the singing of the waters.”

The primary industry in Inchelium is logging. The Colville Tribe operates a treated pole plant. Logging is an industry that suffers a cyclical economy and that greatly affects all aspects of the community, including the church.

Summer tourism also plays an important role in the area’s economy and the church hosts many visitors who live near or who visit the nearby Twin Lakes Resort during the summer.

St. Michael Mission remains a Jesuit parish. Jesuit Father Jake Morton is pastor and has served St. Michael and the churches at West End, Wellpinit, and Ford for 12 years. Deacon Toulou, ordained in 1999, assists Father Morton in ministry.

Edgren has been at Inchelium a little over five years. When the church was moved to its present site, the attached rectory was remodeled into a separate building. Edgren lives in the house but parish meetings and other gatherings are held there as well.

In the 1940s Jesuit Father William Ryan built a fellowship hall, a huge log building with kitchen. When it was built he included a movie projection booth and a sturdy wooden floor for rollerskating.

Even though those two activities no longer take place, the building is much in demand. Its large size accommodates wedding receptions, wakes and funerals. Firefighters had a base camp at Inchelium earlier this summer and meals were cooked for them at the parish center.

The church’s interior is much simpler now and reflects its Native American congregation. The altar cloth features a Native American pattern and there is a huge picture of Kateri Tekakwitha on one wall.

The parish has about 60 families, and about three-fourths are Native American. Inchelium’s population ranges somewhere between 800 and 1,500.

There are three other Christian churches in Inchelium and Father Morton said they “work together ecumenically.”

The parish celebrated its 75th anniversary last year, and made a huge photo display showing the various stages of building for St. Celestine and St. Michael, and other events of parish life.

A hallmark of St. Michael Mission is family, partly because most parishioners are Native American. Inchelium families have many connections with the Spokane Reservation to the south and even with the Flatheads to the east. But its small size also plays a role in family-connectedness since everyone knows everyone else.

Even in its out-of-the-way location, parish life is typical of other parishes that size. A monthly potluck, Scripture sharing and prayer time, called Faith Alive, started in June. Many parishioners have taken part in Cursillo and in Kateri Tekakwitha Circles. Religious instruction is held on Sundays. Weekly adoration of the Blessed Sacrament began this month.

The summer Bible Camp, which Edgren said is her favorite event, is popular, drawing nearly 50 young people. Several students from Gonzaga Prep in Spokane come up to spend the week in Inchelium helping with the camp.

Edgren, who is originally from Long Island, New York, is deeply involved with parish and community life. To her the people are the parish. “They’re good people,” she said. “They are what make the parish special.”

Jeanne Toulou, Alvin’s wife, likes the small size of their parish, and the fact that there is only one Mass on Sundays. “That way we all get to see each other.” But she also likes the fact that “when there’s a need and people know it, they always come forward.”


A note or two about St. Celestine

There are five St. Celestines, and all were popes. Three of the five had very short reigns. One of the St. Celestines was pope for only 15 days, dying before he was crowned. Another, a man who was a hermit and very holy, became pope when he was 84 years of age. He resigned after five months because he couldn’t say no to any request, which created great confusion.

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