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

Assumption Parish, Spokane: ‘Our church is really the people’

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 4, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Assumption Parish is situated in a nearly park-like setting on Indian Trail Road in northwest Spokane.

As a beginning, the Spokane Diocese had purchased 12.5 acres for the new parish, one of seven started by Bishop Bernard Topel in the late 1950s.

Today, more than 40 years later, the parish makes good use of its property. It’s one of the larger complexes in the diocese, with many building projects conducted during its 43 years.

Assumption Parish comprises a church, the original school, a small youth center in what had once been the rectory, the office building, a new building with classrooms for the upper grades, and a parish center with gym.

Originally, a convent was built for the Dominican Sisters who taught at the school, but that was torn down after their departure.

When it was started, Assumption Parish had 240 families, taken from the burgeoning St. Charles Parish to the southeast. Father Ralph Schwemin was Assumption’s first pastor, and a newspaper account at that time called him “an expert in building.” By the time fund-raising started, the number of families had grown to 327. Today the number stands at 875.

Even though Assumption Parish was formed Aug. 15, 1958, it wasn’t until 1979 that it had a formal and separate church building. The worship space for Assumption parishioners, which was supposed to be temporary, was located in the school.

Until the school building was completed, however, parishioners worshipped in the gym of Westview Elementary School, setting up and taking down the folding chairs every Sunday for a year. The parish’s first Mass in the school, on Aug. 15, 1959, was memorable in that the building did not yet have its roof, doors or blacktop.

Father (now Msgr.) John Donnelly was pastor when the church was built. His predecessor was Father William Skylstad — now Bishop Skylstad — who was pastor at Assumption for two years, from 1974-76.

Ground was broken for the new church on Aug. 15, 1978. The church was designed by architect and parishioner William Fiedler, who called his plan “unsophisticated.” Master builders for the project were Leo Higgins and Paul Russell, who governed nearly 200 volunteers.

One construction estimate came to $375,000 plus furnishings; the church’s actual cost was $300,000, including furnishings. A remarkable accomplishment.

The church was dedicated by Bishop Lawrence Welsh on Dec. 19, 1979.

The interior of the church is simple, designed to “create a sense of gathering around the altar without actually doing so,” according to architect Fiedler. A seven-foot figure portraying the risen Christ hangs on the wall behind the altar, and the stations of the cross are hung on either side of the nave. Banners which are changed with the liturgical seasons add color to the space.

Many of the furnishings from the former temporary church were moved into the new church. The huge crucifix now hangs in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. One interesting piece is a small marble statue of St. John Vianney; a first-class relic of the saint is in the church’s altar.

Father Mike Savelsky has been pastor since July. Deacons John Crow and Kelly Stewart also serve the parish.

Many parish activities revolve around the school with its 303 students, enrolled in preschool through eighth grade. The junior high and high school youth group, which meets with young people from St. Charles, is an active bunch and they are discussing ways they might arrange to travel to Toronto for World Youth Day next year.

One parish ministry, common to other parishes as well, is that of providing meals for bereaved families after funerals. However, a not-so-common ministry is provided by parish men who furnish an honor guard at every funeral.

The parish is part of the ecumenical Caritas organization, which helps the poor in many different areas. Parishioners are involved in other charitable works as well. Deacon Crow ministers in the jails and he has given talks about his work to parish groups.

Parishioners interviewed for this article shared a common theme: their parish is welcoming and giving.

“We’re like family,” said long-time parishioner Ann Corrigan. “Our parish is very supportive.”

“When a need arises,” said long-time parishioner Rita Puhek, “parishioners respond generously. They’re willing to help anyone anytime.”

Karen Crum, who has been in the parish nine years, echoed their sentiments. “We found Assumption to be very welcoming, especially the older people. It was also willing to support different groups that people might need,” she said. She started a MOMS group. The acronym stands for Ministry of Mothers Sharing.

Parish Council member Bob Niehenke has been in the parish 12 years. He said that Assumption Parish was a “close-knit group, a friendly bunch and very generous. We have a good mix of people.” Out of that comes “a lot of lay leadership,” he said. “People are willing to serve.”

Said Corrigan, “We have many, many good people who have done so much. Our church is really the people.”

*****

And then they danced

Not too long after it opened, in 1961 the parish offered a series of classes on different topics for adult education. Included were the expected classes on religion and even one on philosophy. But the series also offered a class on ballroom dancing.

There is most likely no connection, but a dance was held as part of the festivities when the church was dedicated in 1979.


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