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

Rural Catholic parishioners all ‘pull together’ to create welcoming communities

Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Dec. 19, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

St. Catherine Church serves the Catholic community in Oakesdale. Holy Rosary is in Rosalia. (IR photos)

Eleven miles separates the towns of Oakesdale and Rosalia in north Whitman County. Despite the miles, the two communities which have much in common.

Both are small farming towns (Rosalia is the larger); both have their own schools; both, despite limited populations, have several churches.

The two towns are also connected another way. The Catholic churches in both communities share a priest.

Father Eugene Glatt served Holy Rosary Parish in Rosalia and St. Catherine Parish in Oakesdale for 17 years, from 1985 until July 1, 2002. As such, he is the pastor who served the two churches the longest. Even though he is officially retired, he continues to drive down from Spokane each week to celebrate Mass at both places, as well as his former parishes in St. John and Tekoa.

At first, however, Jesuits began coming to Rosalia to say Mass. That started in 1879, after they had established a mission at Desmet, Idaho. The Rosalia parish was founded in 1892 and a church built on the west side of the fledgling town, along Pine Creek.

A number of priests served Rosalia’s Catholics in those early years. In 1905, Father Brucker was appointed the resident pastor. Historical records indicate there were about 30 families then. Father Brucker left in 1907, to be succeeded the next year by Father W.V. Fitzgerald. It was in 1908 that the first rectory was built.

In 1963-64 a new church was built at 622 N. Plaza, on the north edge of town. The former church building was sold. The new structure was dedicated April 19, 1964. Later construction, completed in 1975, when Father Charles Skok was pastor, included a parish hall and apartment.

The parish celebrated its centennial in 1992.

The building could be described as “a church of many colors.” On the southeast corner are nearly sky-high panels of colored glass panes — frosted, red, blue and gold — which are the church’s most prominent feature. OUtside in the center of the panel is a white sculpture of Mary. If one knows where to look, the window and the sculpture can be seen from Highway 195 to the east.

Inside the church, the tall colored glass panels make up the exterior walls of the baptistry. Two open metalwork panels divide the baptistry from the rest of the gathering space.

The colored glass windows are repeated on three of the church’s other walls in the nave. Several years ago a strong windstorm blew in some of the windows, necessitating their replacement. The windows were made smaller and more secure to protect against future storms. Even though they are smaller, on sunny days they reflect a brilliant pattern of color into the worship space.

The church structure could also be described as “soaring.” The church’s modern design features two sides, one northeast and one southwest, that “soar up,” leading to high ceilings and windows on those sides.

The sanctuary at Holy Rosary spans the high southwest corner of the nave. The crucifix hangs on a high full-length metal grill work, similar to that of the baptistry, which is flanked by tall liturgical banners. The tabernacle is located in the sanctuary, on a stand in front of the grill work. On the south wall of the nave is a bas relief sculpture of Mary, the baby Jesus and a kneeling St. Dominic, the saint responsible for the rosary.

Today the Rosalia parish numbers approximately 20 families. An active altar society cares for the cleaning and decoration of the church. Members of the altar society also serve wedding receptions and provide funeral dinners. A recent event was the annual Christmas dinner and bingo games when Santa came to town.

Long-time parishioner Marie Dowling describes her parish as “a good parish. We’re a friendly group.” She is involved in the altar society, and commented on how changing the meeting date to Sunday brought greater participation. The parish is very caring, too, she said, and always responds when there’s a need.


The Oakesdale parish was named for St. Catherine of Alexandria, the patron saint of philosophers, preachers and wheelwrights. Born of noble parents, Catherine denounced the Roman emperor Maxentius, who not only had Catherine tortured and killed, but also his wife, who converted to Christianity after hearing Catherine. The saint is customarily depicted with a spiked wheel, since that was the instrument of her death.

The quiet community of Oakesdale is far removed from the intrigues of ancient Alexandria. The parish population has always been small — right now it stands at about 12 families — and the church has always been a mission of other parishes.

In its early history, priests came from all around the area to offer Mass in Oakesdale on a semi-regular basis, usually once or twice a month. Parish families used to take turns cooking breakfast for the visiting priests.

Father John Lyons was the priest serving Oakesdale in 1917 when the church was built. Its total cost was $3,000, “which included the statues.” Historical records state that the Extension Society donated $1,500 toward the cost, with parishioners raising $750 in a fund drive. The church took a mortgage for the rest of the expense.

That original church is still used for worship. It is located at the corner of Fourth and Steptoe, directly across the street from the Community Presbyterian Church. The church has been updated with a couple of remodelings, including installation of a different heating system. The steeple had to be removed when the roof began sagging. The building is small but adequate for parish needs.

The interior reflects a quiet simplicity.

The sanctuary area is covered with blue carpeting, a color that is repeated in a recessed area behind the altar where the crucifix is hung. Prints of Jesus and Mary hang on either side of the sanctuary. A statue of St. Catherine stands on the left side of the sanctuary and the tabernacle is on the right. Oakesdale did not have a reserved Blessed Sacrament until a few years ago.

In one of the remodelings, a reconcilation room was built in the southeast corner of the nave. A closet on the other corner holds supplies. Paneling was installed on the north and south walls, making the room seem warmer. Colorful banners depicting the various seasons and feast days hang from special rods.

Perhaps a deep hospitality is one gift of smaller parishes. Marguerite Dube of Spokane is a former Rosalia parishioner. She and her husband, Ron, were in Holy Rosary Parish for over 50 years. She remembers how the parish welcomed her and her husband when she came to the area as a young bride. “They just took us in,” she said.

The Dubes reciprocated, carrying on the custom of making new members feel welcome: “We always tried to invite them for a meal.”

Marilyn Pittner of Holy Rosary Parish knows about parish welcomes. She is relatively new to the parish; she moved to the area seven years ago. She likes how people in smaller parishes are not so remote from each other.

“I was just amazed when we first came, how we were welcomed and how people would ask if they could help,” she said. Marilyn and her husband, Larry, have a son.

The other quality Pittner finds in her parish is that of acceptance, and she sees that as Holy Rosary’s greatest strength. “They were so accepting of us,” she said. Parishioners are accepting of each other, too.

“We know it takes all of us to pull together,” she said.

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