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

Ione, Metaline Falls churches have been meeting parishioners’ needs for nearly a century

Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the May 23, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

(Editor’s note: The May 2 edition of the Inland Register profiled three of the parishes served by Father Ed Marier. This article completes the picture, with a story on the remaining two parishes which make up Father Marier’s rounds: St. Joseph Church in Metaline Falls and St. Bernard in Ione.)

Catholics have worshipped in the parish communities in Ione and Metaline Falls since 1914, though both church buildings were completed in the early 1950s.

Traditionally, the parishes have been served by priests living in Newport. That continues with the pastorate of Father Ed Marier.

St. Joseph Church, Metaline Falls, is on Park Street, a block or so up from the Cutter Theater, which used to be the old school.

The school building also played a role in parish life for many years, since that was where the congregation worshiped before they had a church building of their own. They kept all their Mass furnishings in a box that could be stored, since they shared the worship space with the local Congregational Church.

St. Joseph Church was built in 1950, when Father Maurice Helfenstein was pastor. He guided the building project, which was carried out by parish volunteers.

The church’s design reflects a Swiss style, perhaps because Father Helfenstein himself came from Switzerland. The building’s exterior is painted a light green, and the trim, a dark green, which admirably suits its mountain backdrop. An unusual lattice enclosure on top contains the church’s bell. At the very pinnacle is a cross.

The use of knotty pine for the wainscoting, altar and recessed area behind the altar where the tabernacle stands lends a warm look to the interior. A colorful collage of photos and art of people and symbols, made by members of the parish youth group, hangs on the wall next to the statue of Mary. The artwork changes frequently, depending on what the young people have made in their classes.

While the church itself is small, it meets the needs of the 23 or so families who are members.

One long-time St. Joseph member is Pat Kinney. She appreciates how “everyone pitches in and we all work together.” That is demonstrated outside the parish, too, since she said the town’s church communities “get along really well.”

Delores Rumelhart, another of the St. Joseph Parish old-timers, said, “We can depend on each other. We care about each other.” Rumelhart is 91 and has first-hard experience. She often relies on other parishioners for help – for instance, with rides to Mass.

Said Erin Kinney, also of St. Joseph: “It’s a really strong community. When we need to do something, we get together to talk about it and then get it done.”

That’s also what the parishioners of St. Bernard in Ione did.

They built their present church in 1952 under the indefatigable Father John O’Brien, who was assigned the year before.

Ione Catholics attended Mass in homes, and then in an old hall upstairs from one of Ione’s many saloons. In 1916, after extensive remodeling, the old Ione school became St. Bernard Church.

After his arrival in 1951, Father O’Brien wrote of the old church that a “gaping split in the roof” brought snow right down the main aisle. So the parish hired an architect and got to work on plans for a new building.

The project was made possible by a $15,000 gift from Margaret Spreitzer of Walla Walla. She remained anonymous at first, working through the late Bishop Charles White, and then later came to see the church her gift had helped build. She was amazed that her small gift accomplished so much.

Father O’Brien wrote an account about the St. Bernard building project. He told how he stayed up late reading books and getting information to stay ahead of the carpenters, how they only had a short building season, how they were unable to get the architect to provide plans and supplies in a timely way, how they used materials “provided by Divine Providence,” and the frantic rush to get everything finished in time for the scheduled dedication: Thanksgiving Day, 1952.

Red fir was used for one of the church’s unique features: the arches that support the roof. These were built from an idea Father O’Brien found in a book about Irish architecture after he had studied all he possibly could about roof supports.

Once the arches were in place, the parish held a roofing bee, applying cedar shakes that had been split by the women of the Altar Society. Nearly everyone in town turned out to help and the roof got raised that day.

The church has had some changes in the 50 years since. The roof is metal now, even though the shake roof put on in 1952 was supposed to last indefinitely, “if the nails didn’t rust,” wrote Father O’Brien. The nails didn’t rust, but squirrels and other critters discovered that the roof insulation made wonderful nesting possibilities and began chewing it up.

On the outside of the church, hanging on the west side next to the windows, is a life-size depiction of Jesus. The figure’s arms are extended and underneath are the words, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will refresh you.”

Today, St. Bernard lists 11 families, but like Father Marier’s other parishes, the number is higher in the summer months.

Metaline Falls and Ione Catholics have been linked from the beginning. Not only do parishioners share a pastor, they also share their churches. Father Marier has an alternating Mass schedule between the two sites, with Mass in Ione one Sunday and in Metaline Falls the next.

They have a combined religious education program and one faith-sharing group has members from both places. The music group is sometimes made up of members from both churches.

The two parishes have regular potluck dinners. These and other combined parish social events are usually held at St. Bernard, which has a larger hall, built in 1968, when Father Sean Donnelly was pastor.

Long-time St. Bernard parishioner Dolly Whitehouse came from a big parish and she prefers the smaller size of St. Bernard. “It’s cozy and intimate,” she said. “Most people are closer since everyone knows everyone.”

Whitehouse particularly remembers that many non-Catholics helped build St. Bernard Church. “Even the stations of the cross, which were etched in copper, were done by a non-Catholic,” she said.

Pat Mendenhall compiled St. Bernard’s parish history book. She said her parish “is a very caring community,” describing it as very supportive, especially when there is a need.

Parishioners in both towns show a can-do spirit, caring for their church buildings as well as for many of their spiritual needs. But they also care for each other, in their churches and in their communities, showing, as Pat Kinney said, that “the faith of the people” is their strength.


‘... And played yodeling songs as he drove’

  • Father O’Brien wrote a complete account of the construction of St. Bernard Church for a publication that he puts out called Arms of the Cross. Much information in this article came from the publication.
    In that publication, he tells about getting a “good deal” on the rebar (steel rods) needed for the church foundation and footings. Since the company couldn’t deliver, he hauled them in his station wagon. He tied the short ones on top and “slung the long ones underneath, but they stuck out five feet on each end.” So he spent the night with his mother and sneaked out of town at 2 a.m. “I took it easy, avoided bumps, and had no problem.”
  • Father Helfenstein asked two priests to come to Ione and give a mission. During their visit, the jug containing the coal oil to start the furnace got mixed up with the jug of holy water. The result was that coal oil was put in the holy water fonts. During Mass the odor of the coal oil got stronger and stronger, which gave some parishioners the giggles.
  • Apparently Father Helfenstein was one of the first to drive a car from Newport to make his rounds. A passenger recalled that the priest also played Swiss yodeling songs as he drove.


    An early arrival by the bishop discovers an unfinished church

    The dedication date for St. Bernard Church, Thanksgiving Day 1952, was chosen by the late Bishop Charles White. Father John O’Brien, who was pastor, was unable to be in Ione to meet the bishop, as he had drive down to Spokane to pick up the blind Father Patrick Moffatt, a former pastor who would celebrate the dedication Mass.

    The bishop and his companion arrived unannounced at the church to find everything in an uproar. Father O’Brien wrote that they entered the church just in time to hear one of the volunteer workers say he wished the bishop “would have waited a little longer to dedicate the church.” Immediately a voice was heard: “I am the bishop,” and a dead silence descended. According to Father O’Brien, one of the women volunteers quietly slipped out, went home to clean up, and returned to invite the bishop to her house for lunch and to await the absent pastor.

    When Father O’Brien returned, he found his bishop “fuming” about the unfinished church, saying he should have been told, that they could have waited for the dedication. Father O’Brien calmly took his superior to the church, which by that time was cleaned up and presentable. Father O’Brien wrote that he took the bishop around to the west side, because he knew that when the lights were on, shining through the church’s full wall of windows on that side, the bishop would be impressed with its beauty.

    Father O’Brien’s hunch was right. After the bishop saw how beautiful it was, outside and in, he was happy to proceed with the ceremony.

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