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

Spokane’s St. Peter Parish: a lively spirit of community on South Freya

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

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

When Jesus commissioned Peter as the head of his church, he said: “You are Peter and on this rock, I will build my church...” (Matthew 16:18a)

A ground-breaking for the church-school at the newly-formed St. Peter Parish was held March 30, 1957. Father Armand LaVerdiere, who was pastor, pushed the shovel into the earth only to hit a rock “in an otherwise rock-free turf,” said a newspaper account of the ceremony. Photos were taken of the rock for posterity, to show that on this rock, or at least where the rock had been, they built their church.

St. Peter Parish, on 18th between Thor and Freya streets, was the second to be formed by Bishop Bernard Topel on the south side of Spokane in 1956, following Our Lady of Fatima.

Naming the parish for St. Peter was a dream come true for the new pastor. Father LaVerdiere, who was born in Quebec, had been given the name Peter at baptism. As he grew up, he thought that, as a priest, if he ever built a church, he would name it for the saint.

Thanks to the efforts of parishioner Thornton Murphy, who helped build it, Father LaVerdiere was able to use worship space in the basement of the Lincoln Community Center for his fledgling congregation. The space was not the warmest in the winter months. Founding parishioners Jack and Schotzie O’Brien and Marky Cooper still remember how the holy water would freeze in the font. “We had to go early to thaw it out,” O’Brien said.

“I was teaching catechism then,” said Cooper, “and one of my students had leg braces. I missed him one day, and my search found him next to the furnace, getting his braces warm.”

Often a new parish would begin with a combination hall-gym that could be used for church services as well as school activities.

The first St. Peter church building was dedicated by Bishop Topel and the first Mass was celebrated Oct. 20, 1957. The new structure included a four-classroom section for the first four grades. Willing parish volunteers gave their time as well as their dollars to get the structure built, and many spent numberless hours in the evenings and on weekends, helping to “build the church.”

The school opened its doors to 107 students in September 1958, with the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon as their teachers. Later on parishioners added classrooms for the other four grades.

But it wasn’t only building construction that kept the congregation busy. Parishioners were just as enthusiastic about building community. Within three years, there were organizations for practically everyone: a study club, a parish choir, adult inquiry classes, Altar Society guilds, and a Holy Names Society.

Scrapbooks compiled by Cooper show photos and news clippings of all kinds of events: the fund-raiser salmon bakes for the school, dances, tea parties, luncheons, festivals and carnivals. School activities take their share of space in the history books, too, as well as the building projects.

In 1992 work began on plans to build a formal church. Father Mike Savelesky was pastor then. His tenure as pastor, from 1980-1995, is the longest in the parish’s history so far. He guided the parish through discernment, decision-making and fund-raising processes.

A number of committees were formed and parishioners were involved in the process from start to finish.

Once again parishioners showed their willingness to volunteer as they accomplished some of the construction work themselves. That not only saved money, said Father Savelesky, but it helped build community, which was one of the building program’s goals. The church was dedicated by Bishop William Skylstad Feb. 10, 1995.

The new church was built on 18th, to the east of the school. The location lent itself to a church designed with two levels. The church, Blessed Sacrament chapel, Reconciliation room, and hall are on the upper floor. Parish offices and meeting rooms are on the lower level.

The Madonna Room on the upper level, for wedding preparation and other purposes, was completed only recently. Some work remains to be completed on the parish hall.

Another of the building program’s goals was to “construct a building recognizable as a church.” To see the angular church, with the huge cross on top, is to know immediately the building’s purpose.

The church is spacious, simple and light. The baptismal pool is located in the narthex, a room large enough for simple gatherings. A tapestry designed by artist Joan Smith, depicting Jesus commissioning Peter, hangs in the narthex.

Rectangular windows have been built in the tops of the walls all the way around the nave, admitting light from all sides. Some of the windows have been replaced with stained glass work done by Smith and her assistant, Susan Joyner. Smith said one window remains to be done. That window, located in the entry, will feature imagery of the Holy Spirit.

The pews are arranged auditiorium style in a semi-circle around the altar. A crucifix hangs behind the altar. Above it is a circular stained glass window featuring the Blessed Mother, also created by Smith and Joyner.

The first parish census was taken in October 1957. At that time Catholic families in the new parish numbered 232. Today the number of families hovers around the 900 mark. Many are young families, and O’Brien commented on the large number of children: “When the priest announces at Mass that it’s time for them to go to their classes, it’s awesome to see how many there are.”

Julie Tylman is a parishioner who has returned to the parish of her childhood. She and her husband, Dan, added to the parish census with the birth of their son. Tylman said it was like “coming home” to be back at St. Peter. She appreciates the friendliness and its sense of family. “There seems to be a nice mix of people of all ages and financial status.”

Jack and Schotzie O’Brien said whenever there was an event, such as coffee and doughnut time after Mass, the hall and narthex are “overflowing with people, who just stay and stay.” Both O’Briens were happy to note the many babies in the parish, calling the phenomenon “very encouraging.” The O’Briens see a great strength, a sense of cooperation and generosity in the people of St. Peter Parish. The parish, they said, has been blessed in its priests and deacons.

Franciscan Sister Joanne McGoldrick attests to the parish’s continuing spirit of caring. She helps with several ministries in the parish. She terms the community “an exciting parish with a lovely spirit. People are enthusiastic and willing to help. It’s like family.” There are still many organizations and events for all ages, including music groups at each of the weekend Masses.

Mike Miller has been a member of St. Peter Parish for about 10 years. “There’s a rich deep faith which blossomed with RENEW,” a community and faith enrichment program conducted throughout the diocese several years ago. That faith, he said, is very much alive.

Window designer Smith agrees. She said there’s “a youthful spirit” of life into which people of the parish enter. “The place is alive and people can tell when they walk in the door.”

Father Joe Bell is now pastor. Associate is Father George Haspedis, who was pastor at St. Peter from 1973-1980. Three deacons serve in the parish: Roy Dahl, Steve Prawdzik, and John Ruscheinsky.

Christmas 1956, St. Peter Parish: a not-so-silent night

St. Peter Parish’s Christmas Mass at the Lincoln Community Center that first year of 1956 had an unintended ecumenical dimension. Parishioners moved in an old pump organ so they could sing the songs of the season. Soon after Mass started, they realized their singing was being overpowered by the Baptists holding a service upstairs. So instead of trying to compete, the Catholics decided to sing along with them instead.


As soon as the parish acquired a rectory in August 1956, Father LaVerdiere outfitted a chapel in the unfinished basement and within 10 days of moving in, was able to offer daily Mass.

A description written by Marky Cooper shows the devotion of parishioners in furnishing the chapel for their daily Masses:

“Raw basement studdings had to be left open so that everyone could be crowded into the chapel.

“(Father LaVerdiere) managed to beg or borrow an altar, altar linens, a missal ... and mis-matched cruets. Two men mounted the altar on a carpeted platform they had made. Two red chenille bedspreads were hung to cover the cement wall behind the altar. Lovely flowers ... filled the mismatched vases and brightened the atmosphere.

“There were old chairs, benches, and folding chairs that were a bit wobbly. One bright yellow lawn chair was pressed into use and it became a favorite of the little ones who liked to get in it, two at a time, and hear it squeak.

“Our humble chapel will remain dear to the hearts of those charter parishioners who came daily to worship God.”

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