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, Colfax: over a century of growth from a ‘neat, unpretentious’ building to ‘a jewel of a church’

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 7, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

Drive straight south through Colfax on Highway 195 which is also Main Street. At the edge of the city, where 195 curves to the left, continue driving straight on Main up the hill. Do not turn at the sign that says “Hospital.” Drive straight another few blocks and at the end of Main Street, not quite at the top of the hill, you will have arrived at St. Patrick Catholic Church.

The brick veneer church is tucked against the hill on the city’s south edge. A colorful 15-foot mosaic of St. Patrick, created by Spokane artist Harold Balazs, graces the front of the church to welcome visitors.

The church property is a spacious seven acres. To the west up a set of stairs is a shrine to Mary; to the east is the former St. John Academy school building which is now used as a parish hall. A third building a little further east, which was once St. Ignatius Hospital, is now an apartment house for low-income residents.

Like many parishes in the early 19th century, Mass was offered sporadically by traveling Jesuit missionaries as people began to settle in Colfax and the surrounding farmland. The very first Mass for Colfax-area Catholics was celebrated in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Sexton on March 21,1878, by Father John B. Brondel of Walla Walla.

Father Don Caesari, who became pastor at Uniontown in 1882, could see that Colfax was growing and came to the community once a month to offer Mass. He was the priest responsible for the first Catholic church in Colfax, located on Island Street south of what was then the OWR&N freight depot. Parish history describes this first church, built in 1882 at a cost of $1,600, as a “neat, unpretentious frame building.”

In just four years, the “unpretentious” church was too small for its growing congregation. Benedictine Father Nicholas Frei, who succeeded Father Caesari as pastor, consulted with parishioners and they bought the seven acres of land under the hill for $700.

However, the parish used its too-small-church nine more years. It wasn’t until 1893 when Father P. Kearns became pastor that the second church was built, at a cost of $8,000. It was blessed March 17, 1895, by Bishop Aegidius Junger, of the Nesqually (later Seattle) Diocese.

In the parish history, this church was said to embody many of the features of the cathedral at Vancouver, Wash., which is not surprising, since the plans for it were drawn up by J.B. Blanchett of that city.

According to the history, the church was named to meet the wishes of long-time parishioner Patrick Drain.

St. John Academy was built across what Inland Register newspaper clippings describe as “a gorge” measuring 75 by 300 feet. A wooden foot bridge, 23 feet high and 110 feet long, was built over the gorge to provide access to and from the church.

In May 1946, under Father Patrick Moffatt, the gorge was filled in, allowing more room for parking and a play area. The school opened in 1915, operated by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration until 1938, when the Sisters of Charity of Providence took over. The parish bought the school from the Sisters in 1955; the school was closed in 1966.

The current St. Patrick Church was built in 1960, when Father William Hanly was pastor. It was designed by architect John P. O’Neill of Spokane, and could seat 336 people. Total cost for the new church was $214,000. The remaining parish debt of $56,000 was completely paid in 1965.

The new church was situated on the exact site of the former church, which had been demolished in August 1959. The parish worshipped in a temporary chapel at the school until their new church was finished. It was dedicated by Bishop Bernard Topel Oct. 26, 1960. The old statue of St. Patrick, donated by Patrick Drain, was moved to the new church, and the bell of the old church was placed in the new steeple. Chimes were installed in 1976.

Father Felix Lorge, who has been pastor for the past 15 years, calls St. Patrick “a jewel of a church.” To step inside is to see why. A neat spacious foyer allows room for parishioners and guests to meet and greet each other. Cool marble and warm wood balance each other between sanctuary and nave. Eighteen brilliantly-colored stained glass windows have lost none of their luster and make the interior glow even on a grey winter day.

The altar, purchased in April 1977 with a donation from the estate of the late Alma Hinnenkamp, adds to the interior brilliance. It has a circular walnut base with 30-inch bronze figures that depict the Last Supper. Matching walnut lecterns were also purchased.

The newest addition to the stained glass is a round window designed by Georgeann Randall and installed in the choir loft in 1973. The window’s design includes the words, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

This “jewel of a church” houses a faithful congregation of 165 families. Their religious life is much like that of other parishes — there is a Knights of Columbus council, an altar society, an active youth group, and also a Catholic Daughters Court.

One of the church members is Charles Hofer, who has been in the parish all his life and even now, at age 82, still teaches Sunday school to third graders. “I’ve taught Sunday school for 43 years, from eighth grade on down,” he said. He also sings in the men’s choir, which shares music duties for parish Masses with the folk group.

Hofer recalled serving Mass under Father Peter Leroux, saying that the priest gave his altar boys a nickel each time they served Mass. According to parish history, Father Leroux had the longest tenure as pastor; he served from 1904-1927.

Tommi Sue Ahmann and her husband, Paul, are relative newcomers. They moved to the parish a couple of years ago from Pullman. She said they feel “so blessed to be in the parish. It’s a great parish.” The Ahmanns have young children, but they are members of the hospitality committee, that serves coffee and doughnuts after Mass twice a month. She finds the parish’s greatest strength in their reverence and in living out their Catholic faith.

Hofer, along with his sister, Corinne Liotta, and Mary Lee Nuxoll, said that their parish’s greatest strength comes from their friendliness, and also from their unity and their devotion. Said Nuxoll: “Whenever there’s any need, it’s always taken care of.”

“There’s no friction,” said Hofer. “Everybody has a job and everybody works together.”

Eight women of the parish became Religious Sisters; men ordained from St. Patrick include Father Ambrose Meyer, Benedictine Abbot Adrian Parcher, Father Michael Brodie, and Jesuit Father Jake Morton.

Father Lorge is also pastor at St. Joseph Parish, LaCrosse.

*****

St. Ignatius Hospital was part of area history
The hospital, operated by the Sisters of Charity of Providence and named for St. Ignatius, opened in a small frame building on April 17, 1893. The brick structure that became the hospital opened Jan. 1, 1894; its cost was reported at $22,000. It is owned now by a parishioner who rents to lower-income families.

Father William Bender, pastor from 1927 to 1939, is responsible for compiling a history of the parish’s beginnings and getting it published in booklet form in 1936.

In 1963, during the pastorate of Father Cornelius Stefani, St. Patrick Parish sponsored 61 Cuban refugee children who lived in the school building. Charles Hofer cooked dinners for them. Some of the Cubans continue to live in Colfax and are members of the parish.


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