From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
PO Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340, FAX: (509) 358-7302

Our Lady of Fatima Parish: ‘a faithful, good-hearted people’

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Aug. 1, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

In 1960 the Spokane Diocese entered into a sister diocese relationship with the Sololá Diocese in Guatemala. In 1965, Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Spokane adopted a sister parish in Sololá, the first parish in the diocese to do so. Thirty-seven years later, Our Lady of Fatima continues to send financial assistance and other kinds of help to Sololá.

That’s the kind of commitment found in a parish described by many of its members and its pastor, Father Jim Kuhns, as “solid and stable.” One of the parish’s outstanding characteristics, said Father Kuhns, “is a strong social ministry conscience.”

Our Lady of Fatima Church was started in 1956 by the late Bishop Bernard Topel. Father (now Msgr.) David Rosage was appointed pastor. The new pastor arranged to celebrate Sunday Masses at nearby Hutton School and immediately went to work to build a parish school.

The congregation worshiped at Hutton School for several months, until their school was built. Masses were held in the east end of the building, with classrooms located at the other end. Father Rosage guided construction, but by the time of its dedication in September 1957, he was starting another assignment, director for the new Immaculate Heart Retreat Center proposed by Bishop Topel.

At Our Lady of Fatima he was succeeded by the late Msgr. John J. Coleman. Father Coleman had the longest tenure as pastor – nearly 12 years. Father Coleman was in charge when the existing church, planned eventually to be the school’s gymnasium, was built in 1959. Bishop Topel dedicated the church Oct. 25, 1959.

The parish grounds cover two city blocks.

Grades 5-8 of All Saints School are situated at Our Lady of Fatima. The school is interparochial, supported by three parishes: Our Lady of Fatima, St. Peter, and St. Ann.

The school building is located on the north side of the church. The parish center, built in 1979-80, when Father Joe Pash was pastor, is to the east. In the lower level “U” formed by the three buildings is a grassy courtyard; doors from the church and the parish center open onto it. A photo in a parish directory shows parishioners enjoying a picnic in the courtyard.

The interior of Our Lady of Fatima Church is spacious, with a high ceiling faintly reminiscent of its intended use as a gym. The walls are brick and the nave has three-sided seating around the altar. Colorful banners, changed with the liturgical season, have been hung perpendicular to the side walls.

The tabernacle sits on the back altar in the sanctuary. On the wall above is a nearly life-size bronze depiction of Mary and Jesus, the work of Holy Names Sister Paula Turnbull, a noted Spokane artist.

Currently the parish is in the middle phase of a master plan that includes construction of a new church.

The first phase, which was completed in 2001, included new boilers, a ventilating system and controls for the school building; independent mechanical building and boilers for the existing gym/church; and new electrical, gas and water lines and service.

The target beginning date for the new church, which is in phase two, is spring 2003. The existing church will be torn down and its foundation will be expanded for use in building the new one.

Until the new church is completed, Masses will be celebrated in the school gym, on the lower level of the parish center.

Phase three will include a new roof, windows, doors, and wiring for the school.

An important component of the master plan has been parishioner input. From the very beginning of the planning process, parishioners were asked to make their opinions known.

“We hung newsprint on the church walls,” Father Kuhns said, “and invited everyone to write down” what they thought should be done in the church, gym and school. That was followed by a survey and feasibility study. From those processes emerged the three-phase master plan.

Father Kuhns said parish opinion “settled on building a new church in the same place as the existing gym-church,” rather than investing funds to renovate the existing church.

The parish numbers about 780 families. Younger families are starting to move in. One way their presence is noticed is during the “quarter call” at Mass. When it’s time for the quarter call, young children in the congregation are invited to come up to the sanctuary to give their donations. Father Kuhns said the idea for the quarter call was “one of those that just came to me one day.”

The kids’ involvement is typical for a parish that believes in getting involved. Father Kuhns said a recent survey showed that over 400 parishioners are involved in some kind of volunteer work.

The ministries are wide-ranging, in the parish as well as outside. Parishioners are involved in such programs as the Companions in Care that arranges visits to the sick and elderly, to Meals on Wheels, to prison ministry. Parishioners take Communion to the sick, assist at Masses as lectors and Eucharistic Ministers, and cook meals for families at funerals.

The parish has two deacons. Their work typifies that which goes on in everyday parish life.

Deacon John Byrne came to Our Lady of Fatima Parish in 1966 and was assigned there in 1978.

Deacon Walt Weid has been in the parish since 1979. He was ordained in 1985 and was assigned to the parish that year.

The two deacons hold Eucharistic services during the week and alternate giving homilies about once a month for weekend Masses. They serve on parish committees and give their time in numerous areas of ministry.

Deacons Byrne and Weid agree on parishioners’ generosity. Deacon Byrne said parishioners are “always willing to volunteer and are very responsive to any need...”

Joan Leeds is a pastoral assistant and long-time parishioner. Her mother was the first altar society president and her father, Francis Conlin, was on the first building committee.

She remembered how, when the parish was started, her family would walk across a field to Mass and how the pastor would come to their house between Masses for a glass of water.

Leeds is an enthusiastic parish supporter. “I just can’t say enough about it. We made a list of (parish) outreach,” she said. “We are everywhere. The people are gifts.”

King and Janice Cole have been members of Our Lady of Fatima Parish for 40 years. King Cole describes his parish as middle class in demographics, but spiritually, “it’s upper class,” he said. “People are very faithful here.”

Paul Mach and his family are among Fatima’s newer parishioners. He and his wife have two small daughters who love the quarter call.

Mach described parish liturgy as “friendly.” One reason is that it includes the children, he said, but also because “the music is very singable. And Father Kuhns and the people are very welcoming. We feel very comfortable there.”

Jackie Weir is the parish office manager and has personally experienced parishioners’ generosity.

“When my daughter was (being treated for) cancer, they were so supportive,” she said. “They donated blood as she needed it and one member even volunteered to do my work so I wouldn’t lose my pay or sick leave. They’re a compassionate people and I think that’s a wonderful strength.”

The parish generously supports its youth program, too. Dan Glatt is youth minister, and he said that the parish is “extremely supportive of everything we’ve done.” Sometimes that includes trips to Mexico, where the youth work with the poor. Other times it’s as simple as helping the teens’ outreach at Crosswalk. This year the parish helped support the youth group’s trip to World Youth Day in Toronto.

What Father Kuhns describes as a “strong social ministry conscience” is what many parishioners see as their parish’s greatest strength. Underlying that, though, is what Deacon Byrne called their “strong sense of faith.”

Said Father Kuhns, “They are a faithful, good-hearted people.”

*****

‘Built to withstand the threat of atomic warfare’

  • Father Rosage made both the altars that were first used at Our Lady of Fatima: one for the chapel for weekday Mass and the other for Sunday worship. In an April 1956 newspaper article about his woodworking skill, Father Rosage was quoted as saying, “I just like to tinker around.” He had made bookcases, shelves and other items for St. Ann, his previous parish, but these were the first altars he had constructed.
  • Joan Leeds recalled the rabbit project in which the animals were taken to Guatemala to be used for meat and fur. “I still have my rabbit hat,” she said.
  • In another project for its sister parish, the parish purchased a 1957 Chevrolet school bus in 1968 for $850. Parishioners drove the bus to Guatemala, where it was used to do what it was designed to do: take children to school.
  • If parishioners are described as “solid,” the existing church can also be described that way. From the newspaper clipping that tells about its construction in 1959: “(the church building) was built to withstand the threat of atomic warfare.”

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