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

St. Francis Xavier: a parish ‘rich in tradition’

Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Nov. 14, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

• St. Francis Xavier Parish is located on Spokane’s north side. (IR photo)
• A statue of St. Francis Xavier stands on the east side of the church interior. (IR photo)

St. Francis Xavier Parish in Spokane may be the only parish in the Spokane Diocese with a still-active Holy Names Society. In fact, said Father Dan Barnett, the pastor, “it may be the only one in the country.”

The Holy Names Society is a men’s group, described by parishioner Pete Brickner as a “right arm” for the pastor and church. With that goal, it supports all kinds of parish projects.

The projects have been numerous in the parish’s nearly 100 years. St. Francis Xavier started in 1906 as a Jesuit parish. Jesuit Father James Rebmann was the first pastor, celebrating the first parish Mass on Nov. 25, 1906, with 115 people in attendance. The first Sunday school class was held that same day, attended by 45 children.

By 1909 the number of parishioners had increased to 300, with 70 school children. The school was built in 1910 and Ursuline Sisters staffed it for five years.

In 1915 the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration took charge of the school. According to information from the archives, they moved from the parish convent in 1973. For a number of years, St. Francis Xavier School was combined with St. Francis of Assisi School. The combined school closed in 1999.

Father Rebmann was a dedicated pastor, according to a 1959 newspaper article about the church’s history. When the parish’s financial situation would become precarious, Father Rebmann would travel in his horse and buggy to visit wealthy friends in the area who were from his native Bavaria. When he returned, parish finances would be solvent once again.

In 1918 Father Rebmann raffled the horse and buggy to help with finances, and in spite of the economic ups and downs of his parish, he managed to buy the property where the current church now stands.

Father Rebmann served at St. Francis until 1923, when the parish was turned over the Spokane Diocese. Father James Cunningham was the first diocesan pastor.

The new church was started in 1948, when Father Joseph Pineau was pastor. He was pastor the longest. He was assigned in 1938 and served until his retirement in 1968.

The second church, dedicated by Bishop Charles White on April 19, 1951, is of a traditional style. The building, of cruciform shape, is brick with a bell tower and cross on the east corner. Inside five huge arches, one of which is double, span the nave from one side to the other.

The arches, pews and other furniture, wainscoting and the woodwork are all light oak. Some of the woodwork is carved and in the rear wall can be found a panel with a chalice pattern. The Stations of the Cross are also carved of wood and fitted into the top of the wainscoting.

The crucifix hangs high on the wall in front of a red curtain in the sanctuary. The curtain is bordered with light oak panels, each of which has a green and gold patterned strip down the center. On a stand below is the tabernacle. A baldochino, which is like a small roof, hangs over the crucifix. It also has a decorative border of red with a gold design.

With the spacious and soaring height, the hanging lamps and narrow windows with frosted or colored panes, the church gives a deep impression of the medieval and a strong sense of connection to the past.

On the east side of the church near the door is a side altar with a large statue of St. Francis Xavier. He was one of the original seven Jesuits with St. Ignatius and worked much of his life as a missionary in India.

Father Pineau was a hard-working pastor with several parish construction projects to his credit, including the convent, the rectory and an addition to the school. The parish named its activity center for Father Pineau, to honor him for his many years of service.

The present pastor, Father Barnett, was assigned to the parish last summer. He is also pastor of nearby St. Patrick Parish (“exactly 2.4 miles,” said the pastor). He lives in the rectory at St. Francis and divides his time between the two parishes. He was ordained two years ago, making him one of the diocese’s newer priests and younger pastors.

St. Francis Xavier parishioners and pastor describe their parish as solid, loyal, faithful and busy. In addition to the Holy Names Society, the church has an altar society with three guilds. It also has a active St. Vincent de Paul Conference. A number of parishioners volunteer regularly at the St. Vincent site on Trent, and food is collected each week for the organization.

A tri-parish youth group has been organized with young people in grades 7-12 from the parishes of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Patrick and St. Francis Xavier. The youth have wasted no time in looking toward the future.

“They are planning to attend World Youth Day in 2005,” said Father Barnett, “and will be working on fund-raisers.”

As parishioner Dick Barrett sees it, the group is “generating a lot of excitement.”

Father Barnett’s two parishes have also combined their RCIA programs. Candidates will be received in their respective parish church, but come together in the meantime for their formation.

Father Barnett sees his St. Francis congregation as “faithful and loyal, with a strong sense of ownership. They take great pride in parish activities.”

Dick Barrett and his wife, Pam, have only been in the parish a couple of years, but in that short span, know very well what they like in their church family.

“I like the closeness of the parishioners,” Pam Barrett said. “I also like how involved they are with St. Vincent de Paul. They give a lot of time ... to those in need.”

Both of the Barretts agreed that St. Francis Xavier is “strong and very stable, with very loyal Catholics. And we feel good about that.”

All of parishioner Marge Ivanis’ 11 children attended the parish school, and she was very involved with school activities during those years. She moved closer to the church recently and can now attend daily Mass, which she considers a blessing. “About 20 or 30 people come to daily Mass,” she said. “There’s a strong faith.”

She also said the older makeup of the population is changing: “We’re starting to see more babies.”

Ivanis is affiliated with St. Vincent de Paul as a member of the weekly quilting group that meets at the Catholic Pastoral Center. The quilts Ivanis and her group make are taken to the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.

Ivanis remembered how badly the parish needed its new church. “You didn’t want to wear nylons (to church),” she said. “They would snag on the pews.”

Pete and Ruth Brickner are also long-time parishioners. Pete recalled that when they first came into the parish, “we were welcomed, like part of the family.” The couple’s five children also attended the parish school. Pete Brickner said, “For 25 consecutive years, we had children there.”

He said that even though the parish doesn’t have activities like it used to, it is still involved in outreach within the parish and out in the greater community. Pete is president of the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Conference and knows well the dedication of parishioners. “We have a lot of volunteers,” he said.

Deacon Roy Dahl assists in the parish in many ways, with liturgies, with preaching, with visiting the sick and wherever else he is needed. He was assigned July 1, the same date as Father Barnett. He too commented on the reception he and his wife, Carol, received from the congregation.

“They were extremely welcoming and gave us many kindnesses,” said Deacon Dahl. “We were very impressed.”

“The parish is rich in tradition,” he said. “They’re very dedicated, very cooperative and very involved.” He sees the strength of the parish “arising from their spirituality. Everything flows from that.”

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