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

Republic, Curlew parishes: ‘It is so much easier to be
alone with God in such an environment’

Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the July 4, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

The women of the altar society of Immaculate Conception Parish, Republic, were at the parish hall May 7 preparing for a rummage sale. They sorted through boxes and ironed garments as needed, getting ready to open later that week. The pastor, Father George Morbeck, came over to visit and said he knew of a couple of bicycles that he thought would be good sellers.

The Society holds two rummage sales a year: one in the spring and one in the fall. The money raised is used for maintenance and other projects at Immaculate Conception Church next door.

The church and hall are located on Creasor Hill on the east side of Republic. Their location affords a panoramic view of the city and valley below as well as the mountains beyond. Conversely the church with its extremely high steeple and gold cross are visible nearly anywhere in Republic.

Immaculate Conception is another of the many parishes founded by the Jesuits in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s. Jesuit Father Etienne DeRouge came monthly by horseback from St. Mary Mission near Omak, some 70 miles away, to say Mass for the growing number of Catholics in Republic.

A small chapel was built in 1898 but this building soon grew too small. Gold had been found in the area and people were quickly moving in.

To first see Immaculate Conception Church is a surprise. Instead of the white wooden church so common in that era, the church looks as if it had been transplanted directly from Europe. The imposing structure, built of specially designed gray cement blocks made on site in 1913, has a distinct European appearance. Perhaps its style can be attributed to Jesuit Father Celestian Caldi, who was pastor when the church was built. When it was first built, a dozen or so steps led up to the front door, but eventually a porch that was level with the parking lot and the church’s front door was added, making access much easier.

The interior, painted a light cool green, is bright and spacious. Two rows of pillars support a high domed ceiling, which contributes to the spaciousness. One historical note is that the church interior, which had white plaster walls, was not painted at all until about 1950. The carpet is also a later addition.

The ornately-designed back altar and tabernacle are still in place and a statue of Mary stands on top. Three steps lead up to the sanctuary with its simple wooden altar and gold candlesticks.

A bolt of lightning struck the steeple in 1949, which destroyed its supporting timbers. The steeple’s damage was covered by insurance and men of the parish rebuilt it, using scaffolding and ladders to accomplish the work. Louis Walter had the singular honor of climbing the long ladder to regild the 10-foot-high cross.

In 1999, the whole steeple was rebuilt. Interior wooden beams had rotted, making it unsafe. Dramatic photos in the newspapers at that time show a crane hoisting the steeple into place. Cost of the project was almost $40,000 which was paid by parish savings.

Like people in most smaller churches, Immaculate Conception parishioners like their parish “where everyone knows everyone.” Most of the women in the parish either belong to the Altar Society or help with its projects. One looked-forward-to project is the annual St. Patrick Day card party, a tradition that has been held for more than 50 years.

“We always hold it on St. Patrick’s Day,” said Altar Society president Lou Pritchett, “no matter what day of the week it is.” Parishioner Nellie Bacon, who is 70, said she remembered her parents attending the card parties when she was a girl.

Pritchett heads the parish religious education program for children in grades 1-8, meeting with a different grade level each week. Her children are long since grown, but Pritchett continues her teaching ministry. She believes it is important and wants it to continue.

The congregation of 82 families, with Father Morbeck, as pastor carries out Catholic faith life in one of the most beautiful parts of Washington state, and yet one of the toughest economically. Clear back into its early history, letters from the pastor to his bishop tell of the hard economic times the congregation was suffering. Mining, logging and farming were not the most dependable sources of income. Booming economic times were interspersed with times of depression, and people were often without work.

In spite of that, parish needs have been provided. Marianne Bremner describes her parish as “a busy one” with parishioners who are faithful. People are willing to help however they can, and she told about one parishioner in her 90s who helps out as she is able.

Said parishioner Karen Walsh, “It’s a beautiful church and it feels like home. The people take a lot of pride in maintaining their parish.”

Bacon likes how everyone “watches out for everyone,” saying the parish was very supportive when her son was taken ill.

Jim Connor affirmed Bremner’s description: “Our greatest strength is our faith.”

Perhaps the people draw part of that strength from the land. After a visit to Republic, the late Bishop Bernard Topel wrote that he liked the country because it reminded him of his Montana home. But he also liked it because, he wrote, “It is so much easier to be alone with God in such an environment.”

*****

St. Patrick Parish in the small town of Curlew, 19 miles north of Republic, is a mission of Immaculate Conception Parish. Father Morbeck drives up each Sunday to offer Mass for the parish’s 13 families at 11:30 a.m.

Rosalie Dunn, a Curlew native, is the unofficial church sacristan who prepares the church for Mass each week. The church is small, holding a maximum of 60 to 70 people at a time. Part of the nave is taken up with a room heater. The parish does not have a hall, so social functions are held with the church in Republic.

“We join them (in Republic) at Christmas,” said parishioner Caroline Pooré, “and when we have Confirmation, or when the bishop comes, we go down there.” Pooré likes her church, calling it “spiritual,” because it’s “secluded and peaceful.”

The Jesuits served the Native American community when St. Patrick Church was started in the late 1800s. The first church was built of logs and was damaged beyond repair when a tree fell on it. Private homes were used for a time and then Father Caldi encouraged his Native American parishioners to build another church. An acre of land was for sale at $100 and the congregation raised $70. At a meeting about the matter, a parishioner donated the remaining $30 in memory of his deceased mother.

After this church was built, it was discovered to be on railroad right of way and it had to be moved back several feet.

In Curlew, to get to St. Patrick Church, one has to turn onto Church Street.

*****

Some bits of Republic history

Father Caldi was pastor at Republic the longest, serving a total of 15 years. The first diocesan pastor was Father A.E. Novicki who succeeded him. Father Raymond Riedner served 13 years.

Immaculate Conception Parish had its own Michelangelo. The late Frances Wisener, a parishioner who was an art major and Republic’s second grade teacher, painted several works on the church ceiling at the request of Father Arnold Schoffelmeer, who was pastor from 1962-65. He provided a small photo for Wisener to paint by. Her daughter, Karen Walsh, recalled that tall scaffoldings were put up. “It was hard,” Walsh said, “because she worked with her neck at an angle.”

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