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 in Tekoa: small in numbers, but plenty of participation

Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Dec. 5, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

Sacred Heart Church serves the parish community in Tekoa. (IR photo)

The white building that is Sacred Heart Church in Tekoa sits on a hill on the north edge of the city, on two-and-a-half acres of property surrounded by wheat fields. Tekoa Mountain is to the northwest, and the mountains of Idaho rim the landscape in a scenic view to the east.

The goal of most churches after they were built was to start a school. However, Sacred Heart Church was an exception: the Catholic school was built first and the church was built afterwards.

In fact, the school was the impetus for building the church. Mount St. Joseph Academy, a boarding school, operated by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, was built in Tekoa in 1892, just three years after Tekoa was incorporated.

Tekoa-area Catholics attended Mass at the school and also at the Jesuit mission at nearby Desmet, Idaho, until they had a church of their own.

The church was built in 1898, at a spot down the hill and across the street from the present location. Father W. Amschwand, who came in 1895 was the first resident priest, and the chapel was built under his guidance. In 1903 the church was moved up the hill to its present location, which was closer to the school.

The building was later enlarged and remodeled. The parish is planning to celebrate this centennial June 22, 2003.

At its peak, Tekoa’s population numbered about 3,000. Once the railroads quit sending trains through Tekoa and pulled the crews who made their homes there, the population went into a rapid decline. That was the major reason for the school closing and for a decrease in parish families. Today Sacred Heart Church counts about 30 families.

The church building is of a style typical for those built in the late 19th century. A white wooden rectangle-shaped building with steeple and bell dated 1903 reflects its era. Steps lead up to the entrance doors into a small foyer and from there into the nave. A handicap access ramp is a recent addition to accommodate parishioners and guests with special needs.

Hanging on the back wall of the sanctuary is a risen Christ, bought by the parish in the late 1970s. While it may seem out of keeping for the Victorian style of the building, the Christ figure has made a home in the country church.

The rest of the nave and sanctuary is simple in design and color. The pale green walls pick up the color of the nave’s green carpet. Wainscoting adds an another textural dimension. The stations of the cross were recently refurbished and hung lower so that they could be seen better.

The tabernacle is situated at the right side of the sanctuary. Above the tabernacle is a white satin banner with gold braid embroidery of a chalice and wheat, fashioned by parishioner Mary Jo Heffron. Hanging in the space on either side are liturgical banners, purple now for the Advent season.

A traditional statue of Mary stands at the left side of the sanctuary. The congregation decided to use the former back altar as its main altar. That altar features a design which includes a representation of the Sacred Heart.

One special parish feature is the prayer garden on the north side of the church. Two years ago, Bishop William Weigand of Sacramento gave a donation to the parish for a memorial to the Sisters who staffed the school and also to his late parents. The bishop lived in Tekoa for several years and he and his brothers attended Mount St. Joseph Academy.

The parish used his gift to build the prayer garden. It has a statue of St. Francis at the entry, along with a memorial plaque. A winding path leads visitors past the stations of the cross and a handsome fountain which has been wrapped against the storms of winter.

Their numbers may be small, but the congregation is an active one. There is a full complement of religious education classes. Adults recently began a series of classes on Catholic apologetics. The parish prayer group celebrated its 25th anniversary last spring. Lay leadership in the parish is strong, and nearly everyone participates when and as needed.

One project that called forth the talents and muscles of just about everybody was the parish center. Parishioners did part of the work to remodel the former rectory into the center. They raised half the money through a pledge drive. Another interesting note is that every single pledge was paid.

The congregation uses the center constantly; one recent event was a potluck dinner Nov. 30 following a Hispanic Mass. (Tekoa has about 15 Hispanic residents.) An upcoming event is the Holiday Fair, a lunch and Christmas crafts sale now in its 20th year. The parish also ministers by serving funeral dinners at the center when the need arises.

Father Patrick Moffatt served as pastor the longest, 13 years. Eugene Glatt was the last official pastor; he retired last summer. He continues to serve the parish, driving from Spokane each weekend.

Bishop William Skylstad served in the parish as a priest for about six months in 1961.

Like most small parishes, everyone knows nearly everyone else, lending creedence to the belief that the parish is “like family.”

Rita Smith is one of the parish’s long-time members. She likes the closeness of her parish family.

“It truly feels like a second home,” she said. She credits some of that closeness to what she called the continuity of parish life. “People born and raised here are now married and raising their children here.”

She sees a strength in people’s “willingness to take responsibility for what goes on in the parish.” She also praised the parish council for its work, saying that “frees the priest to minister the Gospel.”

Mary Heitt has been in the parish since 1968. She and her husband, Jerry, chaired the parish center remodeling project, and she definitely loves her church. “It’s like coming home when we return from somewhere else,” Mary said. She thinks parish volunteerism is “great, because otherwise we might not have a parish at all.” She also likes the “friendliness and commitment” of the parish.

Carol Fischer grew up in the parish. She moved away 20 years ago and returned last summer. She sees the parish as being as committed as it ever was, only in different ways. “I see them working together for the good of the parish and its community, even though what they do is different, according to the times,” she said. She, too, likes the friendliness and sees a strength in its “good leadership.”

Parish council president Steve Haxton and his family are among Sacred Heart’s newer members. He sees the parish as being “spiritually active with a lot of involvement” in all parish happenings. One of the things he likes is a little thing: the parish custom of singing “Happy Birthday” and its companion blessing song to the identified birthday person at the end of Sunday Mass.

Haxton sees the strength of his parish in their “strong community involvement. People want to grow in their faith.”

Sacred Heart Parish is one of the few churches in the diocese to have its own cemetery. The cemetery itself is located further out in the countryside, some distance from the church. The founders of Tekoa, several of whom were Catholic, are buried there.

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