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
Family atmosphere at St. Mary of the Rosary Parish, Chewelah: ‘When needs are
identified, people respond’
by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the March 21, 2002 edition of the Inland Register
To the unaware motorist driving north on Highway 395, the copper steeple on St. Mary of the Rosary Church in Chewelah off to the right may go unnoticed. For those who know where to look, however, the steeple is quite visible, standing high above its surroundings, a shiny indicator of the Church’s presence.
The Chewelah church is another on the long list of those started by the Jesuits in the late 19th century. Jesuit Father Aloysius Folchi started a church in the area in 1885 to serve the Native American population. White settlers were starting to move in, but in those days, the Catholic congregation was mostly Native American. The word Chewelah, which comes from a Native American language, means “water snake.”
In 1885 Father Folchi offered Mass in the Patrick McKenzie log home for a year before there was a church building. The first parish structure was a converted mercantile, located at the corner of what is now Park and King streets. The church was enlarged in 1901 with a 16-foot addition.
Some historical records state that the Chewelah church was called Holy Rosary Parish, but historical writers surmise that Father Folchi may have changed the name to St. Mary of the Rosary when he made plans to build a new church. Even though Father Folchi did not get to build a new church, the name remained.
The job of church construction fell into the capable hands of another Jesuit, Father Aloysius Van der Velden, who was pastor from 1905-1907. In 1906, on a large piece of land donated by immigrant Irish farmer James Monaghan, construction was started on a white wooden church with a tall wooden spire. It was dedicated in 1907.
Historical documents tell of dissension in the congregation when the church was built, but Father Van der Velden managed to calm all factions to get the project accomplished.
The parish continued to use its former church building as a school. In 1916 the school was relocated to a site behind the new church. A new school was built in 1926 and eventually the old church building was torn down. In 1969, due to a decline in students and teachers, the school was closed, although the school building is still used for religious education classes and other events.
The first resident pastor was Jesuit Father Balthazar Feusi, who came in 1909 and served until 1916. During Father Feusi’s pastorate, the church interior was renovated and decorated, with art created by Jesuit Brother Joseph Carignano, who created the world-renowned frescoes at St. Ignatius, Mont. A 1920s photo in the parish’s centennial book from 1985 shows the frescoes, one on each side of the wall behind the altar.
In 1914 the Spokane Diocese was formed and in 1916 the Jesuits withdrew from the Chewelah parish, giving it to the diocese. The first diocesan pastor was Father Emil Frederick, who replaced Father Feusi in 1916. At 19 years, the pastor with the longest tenure was Father Joseph Knecht, from 1937-1956.
Chewelah Catholics continue to worship in the simple wooden church built by Father Van Der Velden. But there have been a number renovations.
The quiet simplicity of the sanctuary was the work of Father George McCabe, pastor from 1972-1981. He guided an interior renovation project which included new art work and sanctuary furniture.
The placement of the crucifix and tabernacle is one of the more unusual elements of Father McCabe’s renovation. An area was cut out of the wall behind the altar and the tabernacle installed at the bottom. The crucifix hangs in front of the wall over the tabernacle, with nearly-invisible wires suspended from the ceiling that give it the appearance of hanging in mid-air. The cut-out area has been covered with gold-leaf.
Another piece of art installed during Father McCabe’s renovation was a window of the Gospel writers. A five-panel translucent window was built into the wall at the left of the sanctuary, and it holds four black metal depictions of the symbols of the Gospel writers.
The steeple gained its distinctive copper cover in the mid-1990s in a project that replaced deteriorating wood.
St. Mary of the Rosary parish has 230 families with a good mix of ages, and a good mix of activities. A few facts:
• The parish is a major supporter of the area’s food bank.
• There are more children in the RCIA program than there are adults.
• There is an active youth group. Ten students will travel from Chewelah to Toronto this summer for World Youth Day.
• A parish nurse program is expected to begin soon.
• The parish operates a preschool in the old school building.
• There is an active Knights of Columbus council. One of their recent projects was to install a memorial to the unborn in Chewelah’s cemetery.
• The parish participates in ecumenical events throughout the year.
Dominican Sister Judith Nilles is a Chewelah native. She returned to her hometown in 1998 to serve her parish as director of religious education and as a pastoral minister. She describes St. Mary of the Rosary parish as “growing and family-oriented.” There’s a “big emphasis on welcoming and hospitality. People are friendly.”
Parishioner Lori Larsen attests to that personally. When she and her husband, Paul, moved into the parish, she said they were “identified and welcomed right away. In fact, we became really good friends” with the people who greeted them.
Larsen said about 10 years ago, she and her husband visited several towns and cities in Washington state. One of the places they visited was Chewelah and “we fell in love with the church,” Larsen said.
Gloria Davidson, another parishioner, is also a native of Chewelah and has witnessed all the changes in her parish. She describes her parish as “comfortable. We can join any group we want to, but there’s no pressure. We work well together.”
Father Al Grasher has been pastor since 1993. He is currently leading the parish in a “Year of the Family,” emphasizing the church family, the community family, and the world family. A large poster showing a family at table with bread and cup has been hung on the front of the altar. One activity for the church family is that parishioners have prayer partners.
Perhaps “family” would be the best word to describe the strength of St. Mary of the Rosary Parish.
One family quality mentioned by Sister Judith is that of helping out. “When needs are identified,” she said, “people respond.”
Larsen liked how parishioners “experience liturgy,” coming together in their worship. She also said there was a “good sense of connection” between the Chewelah church and Father Grasher’s other three parishes in Springdale, Valley, and Jump-Off Joe.
Davidson mentioned one other important quality of family: “It’s nice how we can just be ourselves. I enjoy my parish very much.”
Quick Chewelah facts
• St. Mary of the Rosary Parish has undergone all kinds of renovations and changes in its 117-year history. The newest is the parish hall addition to the church, built last year and blessed last month by Bishop Skylstad. About 200 people attended the event, which included a prayer of blessing and a dinner. Father Al Grasher, the pastor, said it was a record attendance for a church social.
The new hall is about 6,000 square feet, with many large windows that allow light and permit expansive views of the surrounding countryside. The addition is attached to the church and has a handicapped ramp entry to the church inside. The center has offices and a huge fellowship hall with a large commercial kitchen.
• Chewelah homesteader James Monaghan, who donated the land on which St. Mary of the Rosary Church was built, later moved to Spokane. He and his wife, Margaret, had a son while they lived in Chewelah, John Robert, who, as a soldier, gave his life defending a comrade in the Battle of Samoa in 1899. A statue of John Robert Monaghan stands in the triangle formed by the configuration of Riverside and Monroe streets in downtown Spokane.
• A large number of vocations have come out of the parish. Among native sons who became priests are Msgr. Arthur Mertens, Jesuit Father Wilfred Schoenberg, and Benedictine Abbot Nathan Zodrow of Mount Angel Abbey, St. Benedict, Ore.
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