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

Reardan parish boasts family bonds forged over decades

Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Jan. 16, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Photo
St. Michael Church, Reardan, was built in 1907. (IR photo)

Of Father Patrick MacMahon’s three parishes, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in Davenport is the oldest. According to the diocesan directory, it was founded in 1893.

Father MacMahon’s other two parishes — St. Michael in Reardan and St. Francis of Assisi in Harrington — are somewhat newer, but only by a few years. St. Francis Church was built in 1906 and St. Michael in 1907. However, both Davenport and Harrington built new church buildings, giving St. Michael the distinction of having the oldest church. It may be small and old, but it is structurally sound.

That is not to say, however, that the building has not had some renovation. Gone is the original potbelly wood stove; in its place is an up-to-date furnace. A parish hall was added to the south side of the church sometime in the 1960s, and the church modernized.

Insulation was added and the electrical wiring brought up to date. New wallboard was installed since the plaster of the original walls was cracked and in need of repair. The original woodwork was retained.

The pillars that supported the choir loft were removed and replaced with a hidden beam. Taking out the pillars unified the space in the nave, giving more room and better sight to people in the pews. All the remodeling work was done by volunteers under the guidance of a hired supervisor.

The sanctuary is on the east side, delineated by the arch shape that forms the wall. The original tabernacle is on a stand behind the altar. Above the tabernacle is one of the new stained glass windows; it depicts Jesus. A large crucifix hangs on the left side. The original pews are of a warm-finished wood; they were refinished when the church was renovated.

On the north wall are four stained glass windows that match the one in the sanctuary. The four depict momentous events of Christian history. Christmas shows a Rose of Sharon; Eucharist and Christ’s death shown with a cross and wheat; Resurrection with a butterfly; and one with three connected rings, depicting the three persons of the Trinity. This window’s design is repeated in the foyer window.

A common theme for all the windows, besides their rosy pink color, is a dove that is depicted in each window with graceful, swooping lines.

The stations of the cross are antique and unique. They’re made of plaster with the scenes of Christ’s last hours painted in full color. A statue of St. Michael in the traditional pose of overcoming the devil stands on a shelf just inside the parish hall.

The Jesuits were the first to come and say Masses in what was called the Big Bend Country, but it wasn’t long before diocesan priests began traveling the territory.

According to information found in the diocesan archives, a Father Faust “offered the first Mass in Reardan in 1899 in an upstairs room of the Empire Hotel, now Sully’s Cafe.” (Also according to the information, Father Faust had “a beautiful black beard, with permission from Rome.”)

Father Theophilus Pypers, fresh from Belgium, succeeded Father Faust. Father Pypers came to the area in 1901. He offered Masses monthly in Reardan “in the Driscoll house, later owned by Carter Amundsen.” He lived in Cheney first, then in Davenport, and traveled by horseback to the seven Catholic churches and other gathering places for the Catholics he served in the Big Bend Missions.

Another note found in the archives states that a church was built in Reardan in 1907. Father Charles O’Brien was the priest then, succeeding Father Pypers. Other information states that in 1941 Davenport was made a parish with Reardan as a mission.

In 1941 Father Wilfred Druffel was named the “first totally resident pastor” of the combined Davenport-Reardan parish.

Father MacMahon follows the custom of many of the priests who served before him by making his home in Davenport. He drives the 12 miles to Reardan (and 13 miles to Harrington) for Sunday and weekday Masses and other needs as they arise.

Sunday Mass is celebrated at St. Michael at 8:30 a.m., except for the first Sunday, when it is at 10:30. The congregation will often have a brunch after their late Masses and often have coffee hours to enjoy parish fellowship.

If there is an overflow crowd at Mass, a folding divider between church and hall can be pushed back to give additional seating. In fact, there are two dividers which allows the hall to also be used for classrooms.

As with nearly all small parishes, the community of St. Michael Parish describes itself as “family.” Some parishioners are related, with some being third and fourth generation.

Tom Schultz is a parishioner from the third generation, and he remembered how his grandparents farmed in the area at the turn of the century. He likes the connections to the past in his church, recalling “the ladies who donated (church furnishings) as memorial gifts.” The stained glass windows are also memorial gifts and donations from parishioners, he said.

He described the parish as having “a lot of fourth generations plus ... newcomers. But we are friendly and fairly close-knit.”

His wife, Joanne, guides the religious education program. The youth program has about 45 young people. All classes are led by parent volunteers and Father MacMahon said the program “is very well organized.”

While many parishes successfully have their classes on Sunday mornings, St. Michael Parish holds classes on Wednesdays after school, a more traditional time. That’s because the students are all in one place (school), making it easier to get them together.

One of the parish highlights is the traditional Christmas program. Joanne said St. Michael has a 20-year tradition of holding a Christmas pageant. She commented that children in this year’s pageant were wearing the “same stuff” that young adults in the audience had worn when they were in the pageant years earlier. “In the little churches you can see the connections between the generations,” she said.

There’s a connection between all of Reardan’s churches, too, for together they host Vacation Bible School in the summer, which has a good turn-out, Joanne said. Since St. Michael Church is small, the preschoolers meet there.

The ministerial association in the area has been active for many years, and Father MacMahon will lead the group next year.

Joanne plays the organ for Sunday Masses, sharing musical duties with Chris Huffman, who plays the guitar. “Musically we’re very strong,” Huffman said. St. Michael parishioners take part in an ecumenical community choir which performs a Christmas cantata and sings at local nursing homes.

The parish council meets quarterly and the altar society is a “pretty loose-knit organization,” said Dorothy Hauenstein, who is listed as the group’s president. She likes St. Michael Parish: “It’s old and small, and everyone who comes here is impressed. There’s a feeling (in the church) that you’re in the presence of Christ.”

Hauenstein likes how parishioners refer to each other as “my church family. We’re very connected and very bonded, which is possible in a small church.”

Out of that family bond flows a desire to be of service. “Everyone uses their gifts for the church,” Huffman said. “Whether it’s for music, or banners or whatever is needed, everyone pitches right in.”

*****

Memories of Reardan

Father Theophilus Pypers, who became Reardan’s pastor in 1901, hailed from Belgium. He had this to say in his memoirs about his new home in America:

“When in Europe, what did he hear of the American North West? The worst country on the face of the earth, a dreary desolate desert, the camping (?) ground for wild scalping Indians, the hideout for outlaws and desperadoes with a finger constantly on the trigger of their six-shooters.”

Then he had this comment:

“The virgin soil was scarcely touched by the hand of man, and, thank God, it was not yet desecrated by ugly factories and industries. The roads were primitive indeed and human habitations were far apart, and out of sight from each other. In the open country there was scarcely a bachelor for a square mile. I scarcely ever saw a man carrying a gun. About the only shot they carried in their hip pockets was a shot of whiskey, and, I must admit, they took many a shot of this.”

Father Pypers wrote in his memoirs about Sam, a Puerto Rican friend he had in Reardan. “He worked in a restaurant. He was remarkably well posted on his religion, and at my monthly Mass at the Driscoll home he would be sure to request a prayer for his departed mother.

“The man at the poolroom liked to tease him about religion, but Sam had the answer at his fingertips, much to their surprise and embarrassment. One day a farmer died and was buried without any religious services whatsoever. The boy told Sam: ‘That’s the way to do it. Why bother about a priest or preacher?’

“‘That’s right,’ said Sam softly. ‘That’s the way they bury dogs in Puerto Rico!’ Nothing else was said, but there was plenty of thinking.”

*****

Chris Huffman recalled the music group at St. Michael when Father John Rompa was pastor. Huffman said the group was quite active, singing at folk Masses and at their own gatherings. “We made a record,” she said. (The younger generation will have to ask their elders what a record is.) “We called ourselves ‘Rompa’s Raiders.’ I think we sold about 650 copies.” She still has hers.


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