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

Sacred Heart Parish, Othello: ‘When we celebrate ... it’s like a family’

Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 24, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

  • Father Miguel Mejia, the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Othello, describes the people as “a prayerful community.” (IR photo)
  • The shrine honors the parish’s namesake. (IR photo)

    In the space between the rectory and the church of the Sacred Heart in Othello stands a beautiful shrine. It features a white granite statue of the Sacred Heart with a triangular arch over it. Colorful flowers have been planted around the base and there is a bench for anyone who might want to sit for a time of reflection. The shrine is dated 1968.

    Sacred Heart Parish in Othello officially became a parish in 1956, but its Catholic roots go back to 1915, when Father Herman came over from Odessa by train once a month to say Mass in Catholic homes. According to a parish history, there were about 20 Catholic families at that time.

    The first church, a white rectangular building with a steeple on top, was of the traditional style, typical for that time. It was dedicated in 1923. The building, which became a residence, still stands on Pine Street in Othello.

    In 1941 Father Charles Depiere, pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Ritzville, was assigned Sacred Heart in Othello as a mission. When he arrived to say Mass, he found only four Catholic families attending regularly. In 15 years the number grew to 60.

    The Columbia Basin Irrigation Project had a huge impact on the area, drawing in a growing number of people. In anticipation of this, the Othello Catholic Church purchased three lots in 1950 for future development. These three lots are where the current church stands. Currently it owns half a block at that location.

    The present church was built in stages. Parish volunteers built the basement in July 1954, which was used for worship for almost 10 years until the church was built. Sacred Heart Church officially became a parish on July 26, 1956, and Father John J. Kelley was named the first pastor.

    Father William Dugan became pastor in 1961 and it was under his guidance that the church was built. Construction began in June 1963 and was completed in December of that year.

    Even after this project was completed, the church still wasn’t finished. It had been designed to allow for expansion as needed and it was 20 years before the addition was constructed. The addition, which included the main vestibule and entrance, was finally completed in 1980 and Bishop Lawrence Welsh dedicated the addition on Oct. 25,1981.

    The church building may be too small for its congregation, but its interior is spacious, with a high ceiling that comes to a peak over the center of its cruciform shape. Pews are placed in three sections and there is a large gathering space. On either side of the horizontal “arm” are ceiling-height red and blue colored-glass windows which give off a lovely glow on a sunny day.

    The interior is painted white. The crucifix behind the altar is centered between two wooden panels that have been sectioned in darker wood. On either side of the crucifix are huge white banners with loaves and fish done in tones of brown. The tabernacle is located to the left of the crucifix. A bronze risen Christ stands at one place near the sanctuary.

    Now, more than 20 years later, the church once again needs expansion. On many occasions it is full to overflowing. The parish has 600 registered families and more than half that many who are not registered. About 60 percent of the families are Hispanic. When they do have a gathering, it’s usually held in the basement, but it’s crowded. Father Miguel Mejia, the pastor, said they have the land for expanding; they lack the funds for building.

    With so many families, the parish is a busy place. The religious education program counts 445 children from grades K-12. Anna Salmeron and Angie Kirkwood direct the religious ed program together.

    The two women, who started together about six years ago, share a small office in the rectory. Salmeron coordinates the Hispanic track and Kirkwood, the English. They are trying to find a bilingual program so both groups will be doing the same work but with little success so far.

    Father Mejia teaches adult education. The church is looking for a place to hold their classes since their own facility is less than satisfactory.

    Also having an office in the rectory is Ramona Garza, the parish secretary. She, too, is busy, with many duties and many people coming and going. She has worked for the parish for 14 years and feels very blessed in the work she does.

    Behind her office is that of the pastor, Father Mejia; he also lives in the rectory. He has been at Othello since July 1. This is his first parish assignment as a pastor and he finds himself very busy, he said. He was ordained Aug. 11, 2000, and served his first year at St. Patrick Parish in Pasco.

    Deacon Antonio Beraza assists at Sacred Heart as his work schedule permits. Three parishioners are candidates in the diaconate program, and Father Mejia said they also help out in the parish.

    The church building may be too small for its large congregation but its spirit is a happy one. That might be because they are a people of prayer. “They’re a prayerful community,” said Father Mejia. “They’re always wanting more spiritual activities.” So far, the parish has a prayer group, Cursillo, and Eucharistic adoration on First Fridays.

    The congregation is active in other ways, too. The parish sold tamales after Sunday Masses all summer long and had a booth at the Adams County fair where they sold tamales and pies. The parish recently started a gift shop that is open after the Sunday Masses and on Tuesday evenings.

    The parish offers outreach. Ramona Garza, the secretary, told about collecting food for those in need. “In the winter,” she said, “we get calls for coats and blankets.”

    The parish has worked through its struggles as an Anglo-Hispanic community, and for a time in the early 1980s, there were some deep divisions. Time heals, and now, said Father Mejia in talking about parish life, “they work together very well.”

    They also worship well together. “When we celebrate,” said Salmeron, “it’s beautiful. We’re like a family.”

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