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 of Assisi Parish, Harrington: over a century of Catholic community in the Big Bend area

Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 6, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

  • St. Francis of Assisi Parish has been serving Harrington Catholics for over a century.
  • Father Patrick MacMahon, Harrington’s pastor, is also an artist. This icon stands in front of the church’s present altar, painted on wood from the old altar. (IR photos)

    Drive 13 miles south of Davenport through farmland and sagebrush to visit Harrington, one of three parishes served by Father Patrick MacMahon. Follow the highway past the school to find St. Francis of Assisi Church on the southeast edge of this farming community.

    This handsome brick church was built in 1964 but parish history goes back to the turn of the century. Harrington, Davenport and all the communities in a widespread area — including Edwall, Sprague, Ritzville, and Odessa — were part of what came to be known as the Big Bend Mission country.

    In the late 1800s, the Jesuits traveled the area, serving the Indians and the settlers who had begun moving in. Mass was celebrated wherever Catholics could be gathered: in homes, stores and public buildings. Later, diocesan priests served the area’s Catholics, traveling by horseback, train, wagon and even bicycle. Churches, usually small wooden buildings, were built wherever a community began to form.

    One of Harrington’s Mass sites in those early days was the home of Marion Francis Adams. Not only was Mass celebrated in his home; he also donated land for a cemetery.

    In 1902 a church was built just east of the downtown area. The church structure was erected in the style typical for those days: a white wooden building, with steeple and bell gracing one end.

    At one time, said Father MacMahon, Harrington was considered a likely spot for the Lincoln County seat. Native Bob Adams, grandson of Marion Francis, said the community used to be much bigger, with a “sawmill, a brick mill, an opera house and even a business that made combines, including the engines.” Traces of its almost official prominence is evident in the brick buildings in the downtown area. Some of those buildings are still in use.

    The white wooden church was remodeled and updated in the 1940s. According to information in the diocesan archives, the value of the remodeling was $3,500. Father William Brennan, now retired and living in Walla Walla, was pastor then – his first assignment as a pastor. He recalled that a parishioner from nearby Rockland did the remodeling work. “He had a gift for it,” said Father Brennan. “It turned out beautifully.”

    One particular feature that Father Brennan recalled were the alcoves built at either side of the church. Installed in the alcoves were stained glass windows, with lights behind them. The parish celebrated its 50th anniversary in the church in 1951.

    As the years passed, the church building began to deteriorate, but also was beginning to be too small for the parish community. A bequest from the estate of Mrs. John Russell enabled the parish to build its present church. The late Father John O’Dea was pastor then. The new church building was dedicated in 1964 by the late Bishop Bernard Topel.

    The church is made of brick, reflecting the town’s early brick-making days, and sits on a huge lot with ample parking. A basement provides the space for a parish hall and religious education classes. An outdoor entrance to the basement permits handicap access to the potluck dinners and coffee hours. The former rectory next door is rented.

    In the church, the most prominent fixture is the golden tabernacle, which came from the old church. On either side of the sanctuary are colorful wall hangings, made by parishioners Shelley Haas and Jo Gooley. One shows St. Francis receiving the stigmata; the other is a representation of the Blessed Mother.

    The church interior is paneled with wood. Frosted windows down either side allow ample light. New carpet, a soft, dark red, was recently installed. In the back wall are windows with colored panels of red and blue.

    A piece of wood from the old altar with the chi rho symbol carved into it stands in front of the altar. Father MacMahon, who paints icons, painted the board with scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Included in his icon are different symbols, including, in the bottom right corner, a little cherub, getting ready to do what many babies do: play with his toes.

    Last summer the parish celebrated its centennial. Bishop William Skylstad came for Mass and dinner was served afterwards to about 125 people. Parishioners prepared a photo display showing the development of their church from 1901 to the present, bringing back many memories of parish life.

    One of the most intriguing photos in the centennial display was of the sanctuary in the old church, which shows an unusual crucifix on the church’s back altar. The work depicts Jesus being taken down from the cross with what looks to be St. Francis receiving the body. The photo also shows a graceful statue of the Piéta on the left hand side altar. The present whereabouts of these two unusual statues is a parish mystery.

    St. Francis of Assisi has about 36 families. The parish went without an assigned priest in 2000-2001. During that time Msgr. Frank Bach and Father Joe Weitensteiner drove out from Spokane each week to celebrate Mass for the three parishes, until Father MacMahon was assigned.

    After Father MacMahon arrived, he rearranged the Mass schedule so that St. Francis of Assisi would have one Sunday Mass. Their Masses prior had always been on Saturday evenings. With a morning Mass, parishioners, who already know each other well, can join together for coffee and goodies afterwards. Father MacMahon also drives over from Davenport to offer two weekday Masses in Harrington.

    St. Francis has an altar society, appropriately named St. Clare’s. The women take turns each month being in charge of church functions or other needs, such as the coffee hours, receptions, or funeral dinners.

    “It’s a parish joke that the men are members of the altar society, too,” laughed Jo Gooley, who has been in the parish 44 years. Her husband, Jim, is a native, having been in Harrington and St. Francis Parish all his life. His mother, Eleanor Fallert Gooley, was the first child baptized in the Harrington church.

    The parish has enough children for its own religious education program under the guidance of Taunya Van Pevenage. Kids from preschool through fourth grade meet three Wednesday afternoons a month. The middle school and high school children travel to Davenport for their religious education.

    Knapp is a lifelong resident of Harrington and of the parish. She was the second bride to have her wedding in the present church. “I had hoped to be the first, but someone beat me to it,” she said. She loves her parish, finding that “my church activities are important and a big part of my life.” She told about parish activities, raising money, collecting items for St. Margaret Shelter, donating to other charities, and taking part in a community bazaar.

    Gooley said the parish celebrates the feast of St. Francis, Oct. 4, with a potluck dinner as close to the date as they can schedule it.

    Knapp sees her parish’s strength in the members’ commitment to be faithful. “It would be real easy to give up and go to Davenport,” she said, “but we haven’t.”

    Father Brennan had fond memories of his time at Harrington and of St. Francis parishioners, many of whom have descendants in the parish. He said they were very supportive and encouraging during his time there.

    Van Pevange likes the “feeling of family. We used to be ‘the kids,’ but now our own children are ‘the kids.’ Further we all have the ability to feel a vital part of (our parish). We know everyone needs to pitch in.”

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