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. Patrick Parish, Spokane: a ‘comfortable little church’ in Hillyard

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register

(From the Nov. 15, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

“I love coming to St. Pat’s,” said Mary Heitt of Tekoa, whose son and family live in the parish. “I love that church. They’re so friendly there.”

Deacon John Gress, who has lived in the parish since 1978 and been its deacon since 1994, concurs. “We’re known as one of the friendliest churches in Spokane.”

The friendliness seems built into the parish. At the weekend Masses, there are greeters at every door, waiting to welcome whoever comes through. About 250 members are involved in ministry of some kind.

Parishioners, many of whom have deep roots three and four generations deep, know each other well. Their relationships are strengthened by the popular custom of coffee and doughnuts after the Sunday Masses. But their openness reaches out to include visitors and strangers as well.

From its beginning, the congregation was made up of working people, mostly railroaders. Railroad magnate Jim Hill, for whom Hillyard was named, built the Great Northern Railroad yards in the area. Those yards attracted many immigrants to work.

Traveling Jesuits served the Catholics among the settlers until finally there was enough activity to establish a parish. The first pastor was Jesuit Father Robert Smith, who was the first Washingtonian to be ordained in his native state.

The first St. Patrick Church, a wooden building at Freya and Wellesley, was built by the Jesuits in 1893. As people moved in, they settled west of the railroad hub. The church, however, was located to the east. So the pastor, Jesuit Father Aloysius Rogaru, decided to move it.

On a snowy winter day around 1895, a crew of volunteers pried the building up onto log rollers and moved it to Queen and Nelson. They must have done a good job, because that has been the church’s location ever since.

The wooden church was used for 30 years, until itscongregation could no longer fit. A much larger church was built in 1909.

The Romanesque church that is St. Patrick today is built of brick, solid and square, reflecting the solid, steady, working people of the parish. Twin towers with crosses on top lift the eyes to heaven and a rose window graces the center of the facade. A cross is patterned into the brick above the window.

The church has undergone a number of renovations, restorations, and cleanings in its history, almost all of it accomplished by volunteers. In one of the remodelings the original towers were lowered. In another, the exterior brick was painted white. In 1992, the old bricks were removed and replaced with new.

A canopy covers the front steps and a handicapped ramp has been added. A marble altar was installed and consecrated at the church’s 50th anniversary celebration in 1959.

The church is as beautiful inside as it is outside. A half-dome arch adds height to the sanctuary. In the center of the sanctuary is a cross with life-size corpus from India. On the left side is a Sacred Heart statue, unique in that Jesus has a blue robe rather than the traditional red. On the right are statues of the Holy Family.

The tall stained glass windows are gold and green and the walls are painted off-white, with accents of gold. The rose window features a circle of saints, with St. Patrick in the middle. The saint is not neglected downstairs either; his statue stands in one corner of the nave.

The parish is credited with a number of firsts.

They were among the first to offer a free Thanksgiving dinner to people who might be alone that day, an activity which has since been duplicated by a number of other groups and organizations. The Thanksgiving dinner tradition continued for some 30 years. At one time the parishioners also served an Easter dinner to the community.

Parishioners built the diocese’s first strictly elementary grade school. They started a credit union in 1964, which later became the Spokane Catholic Credit Union.

They were the first parish to give monthly support to the Guatemala Mission and also to St. Vincent de Paul. The parish continues to send monthly donations to the Guatemala seminary. They also assist St. Vincent de Paul by bringing non-perishable foods to Mass each weekend which are taken to the group’s food bank. The food is brought up during the preparation of the gifts, and Deacon Gress said it was “quite an uplifting sight to see people, especially toddlers, bringing their gifts to the altar.”

A project called Family Friend is in the planning stages. St. Patrick was one of several churches asked to participate in the program through Washington State University. If the program is adopted, parishioner volunteers will be matched up with people in their neighborhood who are isolated and have no support system with the goal of community outreach and support.

The parish is home to the area’s Vietnamese Catholic community, with Vietnamese language Masses celebrated twice monthly. The parish and the Vietnamese group signed a covenant agreement four years ago and the two groups join together annually to worship and celebrate. Father Tom Khue, a native of Vietnam, is the parish’s pastor. There are between 80-100 Vietnamese families in the community, he said.

The Jesuits served the parish for 80 years before turning it over to the diocese in 1963. The last Jesuit pastor was Father Ignatius Dumbeck. The first diocesan pastor was the Msgr. Robert O’Neil.

Father Joe Weitensteiner was St. Patrick’s pastor for 15 years. Father Khue has served since 1997, assisted by Deacons John Gress and Mike Samuel.

How do parishioners see their parish?

Said Frances Conley: “It’s a comfortable little church, friendly, with a good school and a dramatic choir.”

The history of a good choir goes back a long way. Father Michael O’Malley, the Jesuit pastor from 1918-1920, wrote about parish assets with these comments: “There was a good volunteer adult choir. The spirit of the parish was good and loyal.”

That spirit is alive and well. The parish scrapbooks, filled with photos and newspaper clippings, tell the story. Said Deacon Gress: “It’s a lively, active parish. They’re so supportive of one another, and they look out for one another.”

Marj Brewer adds, “We’re a ‘do-it-yourself’ parish.” So many volunteers turned out recently to remove cupboards in the recent hall renovation, the job was done in less than half the expected time.“When someone sees something that needs doing, they step up and do it,” she said.

Brewer is a third generation parishioner — her great-uncle helped move the wooden church — and is a dyed-in-the-wool volunteer herself. Among her many parish projects is the summer vacation Bible school which she has guided for several years.

“Everyone has a hands-on interest in the parish,” she said. “There is a need for everyone.”

“Our lay people are so involved,” said Deacon Gress. “It takes everyone and we all know it. We all have to work together in this day and age, even to go out beyond church. We’re plain folk and everyone is welcome.”

In an interview during the parish centennial in 1993, long-time parishioner Jean Kiefel is quoted: “St. Patrick’s has meant everything to me. Everything about the place is so genuine.”

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