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. John Vianney Parish: strong community in the Spokane Valley
by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the Jan. 17, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)
On Oct. 10,1999, St. John Vianney Parish held a mortgage-burning ceremony. The day was bright and sunny and photos taken during the event show smiling faces everywhere.
The happy occasion was the culmination of a six-month effort to retire the debt. In the last half of 1997, the parish held a fund drive to raise the money they owed from building their new church in 1988. They raised over $700,000, which paid the debt with some left over.
Not only that, said parishioner Don Spragg, who was involved, the fund drive “really brought us closer together.”
Perhaps the fund drive refocused and deepened a spirit that was already present.
The parish began modestly enough in June 1949 with 175 families. The Spokane Valley, indeed Spokane itself, was experiencing rapid growth in the years after World War II.
The Spokane Diocese had purchased five acres between Walnut and Farr roads for “future growth.” When Bishop Charles White announced the formation of what would become St. John Vianney Parish, the parish was given the land for building. St. John Vianney and St. Charles were the first new parishes in the diocese since 1916.
Father Paul Reilly was named pastor; he served the parish 20 years, the longest of any of its pastors so far.
The congregation worshipped in the Opportunity town hall on Sundays until the end of the year, when the new auditorium cum church, which was to be temporary, was completed. The parish celebrated its first Mass in their new church on Christmas Eve 1949.
The parish’s next project was to build a school. That facility opened with the first four grades in 1953. The parish added a classroom a year until, in 1957, all eight grades could be taught at the school. A convent was also built and the Dominican Sisters staffed the school in its early years.
To Father James O’Malley, pastor from 1970-1980, fell the job of renovating the church, to bring about the changes of the second Vatican Council.
In 1983, during the pastorate of Father George Haspedis, planning began for a new church building. The parish now numbered 1,000 families and the “temporary” church, which had been used for 40 years, was too small. Today it serves its original purpose: as the school’s auditorium and gym.
The new church was built when Father (now Monsignor) John Steiner was pastor. It was dedicated Oct. 26, 1988, by the late Bishop Lawrence Welsh. The church, which can seat 650 people, cost $1.45 million.
The church nave is designed in a semi-circle around the sanctuary. There are no steps anywhere in the building except for the two low steps that define the sanctuary and elevate the altar.
The altar itself holds a relic of its namesake. A statue of the saint stands in the church. A large, nearly life-size stained glass work depicting St. John Vianney hangs in the hall and is visible in the foyer. These two images of the saint, plus the colorful, old-style statues of Mary and the Sacred Heart, came from the former church building.
The old church’s furnishings were put to good use in the new building’s Blessed Sacrament chapel. Almost everything in the chapel, from the tabernacle to the stations of the cross to the pews, came from the old church, which helped the parish community stay connected to its history. Any overflow crowd can sit in the chapel, since that space includes large windows that look into the church.
The chapel has one unique feature found in few other churches. A columbarium, a set of small niches which hold the cremated remains of parishioners, is built into the east wall. The church directory states that the columbarium “gives our faith community an appropriate way to remember and pray for our beloved dead.”
Like other large parishes, St. John Vianney is an active, busy parish and works hard to live out the call of the Gospel. It has all kinds of programs and activities for all age groups, from the Young at Heart seniors group to the Knights of Columbus.
Of particular importance is the parish religious education program which takes place on Wednesdays. The program is called WOW! — “Walking by Faith on Wednesday.” Whole families attend and participate in separate sessions for each group, from preschoolers on up. Other groups in the parish take turns providing a light supper once a month for WOW sessions.
St. John Vianney Parish also works hard to reach out to the less fortunate. Deacon Brownie Braungardt is in charge of the parish’s Poverty Program.
The parish is a member of the ecumenical coalition of Valley churches that supports the Valley Center, which helps the less fortunate. Many parishioners are involved at the center.
Another area of outreach is Chore Service Ministry in which parish volunteers do chores for individuals or families in emergency or crisis situations.
Don Spragg and his wife, Arleen, are deeply involved with parish life. Don is a Knight and Arleen is the parish’s sacristan. Both agree that St. John parishioners are “willing to be involved.” Said Don: “People come through when you need them.”
Hilda Boyd is the parish council president. She stayed in the job an extra year to help finish up the first phases of a program called “New Wine, New Wineskins.” The program involved getting parishioner involvement in a revisioning of the parish’s purpose, and establishment of goals and objectives. She, too, commented on the parish’s spirit of volunteerism and also its friendliness. “We’re a close community,” she said.
Florian and Judy Herda raised their six sons in the parish and they, too, are active parishioners. “We like the people here,” Florian Herda said. “We know our parish isn’t perfect, but we have so much here. We’re proud of it.”
Jan Meyer is not a member of the parish, but she has been on the parish staff for 21 years. Her title now is Parish Services Director. She said the parish has a “basic, rugged faith, a strong faith” which keeps them going. “I’ve worked under five pastors and the continuity of the parish is not disturbed. I think that’s a real blessing.”
Rita Cosby, a parishioner of 40 years’ standing, agreed. “We have an ability to work with each pastor who comes.” Cosby is also on the parish services team.
The current pastor is a native son: Father Ty Schaaf, whose vocation as a priest was the first to come out of the parish. He was ordained there in 1973.
Father Charles Skok is in residence. Two deacons, Brownie Braungardt and Dave Dudinsky, are also on the pastoral team.
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