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

Father Maurice Helfenstein dies at age 102

by Father Mark Pautler, for the Inland Register

(From the Feb. 28, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Maurice Helfenstein died at St. Joseph Care Center on Feb. 12, 2002 at the age of 102.

Father Helfenstein retired in 1956, before many of us were ordained, or even born.

He was born in Switzerland on Sept. 30, 1899 and emigrated to the United States around 1920, entering the novitiate of St. Mary Abbey in Richardton, N.D. Due to economic difficulties that eventually led to the dissolution of the abbey, he went in search of a diocese wherein he could serve as a secular cleric. Bishop Schinner of Spokane was willing “to give him a trial.” Maurice completed his formation at St. Francis Seminary in Wisconsin and was ordained on May 4, 1927.

His assignments in the Spokane Diocese included St. Joseph in Dayton (1927); St. Joseph in Odessa (1928-32); St. Anthony in Newport (1932-52); and Mary Queen of Heaven in Sprague (1952-56).

Even though still relatively young in 1956, he asked Bishop Topel to allow him to retire due to health problems. Apparently, he had severe allergies and finally a “vision problem” that is specifically mentioned in his request.

It seems that his fundamental constitution was not compromised!

He retired in Newport and eventually moved to the Park Tower Apartments in Spokane. He lived there until about age 93. One day when he failed to show up at The Delaney for lunch, as was his custom, the Park Tower manager was alerted, and he found Maurice on the floor of his apartment in a severely weakened condition. There was a short stay in the hospital and then in a nursing home before he took up residence at Colonial Care assisted living in the Spokane Valley. He was much loved and appreciated by the staff, who gave him excellent care.

During his time there, Fathers Mulligan, Verdoorn, McCabe, Flour and Barry also resided at Colonial Care or Colonial Court – and departed. Father Helfenstein stayed on!

In a very quiet way, Father Helfenstein became a major benefactor of the Church’s mission. He had invested over the years, not in the market, but in annuities offered by Religious communities and missionary societies. Obviously, these were wise investments. His personal lifestyle was hardly extravagant; his generosity in putting his income back into the Church’s ministry was.

Year after year, he wrote out checks totaling $1,000 or more each month, donating to various ecclesial missions, always carefully surveying their literature and assessing their needs. But even more of his income was dedicated to the mission of the local Church – Catholic Charities, the Annual Catholic Appeal, Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, and especially the Catholic Foundation. The bulk of his estate will be distributed to two endowments established in his name for Catholic Education and the Education of Seminarians.

On Sept. 30, 1999, he received the papal honor Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice – recognizing his contribution to ministry “For the Church and the Pope.” We pray that on Feb. 12, 2002, he received a far greater honor.

The vigil service was Friday, Feb. 15, at 3:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes. The funeral Mass was celebrated there the next morning. Burial was at Holy Cross Cemetery.


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