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

Immaculate Conception, Davenport, traces history to Big Bend Missions era

Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 27, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Immaculate Conception Parish, Davenport, was originally named St. William. (IR photo)

One of the best things about Immaculate Conception Church in Davenport, at least according to long-time parishioner Betty Beebe, is the presence of a resident priest.

Immaculate Conception Parish had no resident priest for a time and parishioners are grateful for the presence of Father Patrick MacMahon, assigned in July 2001.

Jesuits traveled the mid-section of Washington state in the mid- to late-1800s, ministering among the Indian tribes and bringing the sacraments to the increasing number of Catholics settling the area. Slowly diocesan priests began to replace the Jesuits.

The first diocesan priest to serve Catholics in the northeastern part of the state was Father William Dwyer, who came to the region in 1888. He earned the distinction of being called the “Founder of the Big Bend Missions,” a geographic designation which stretched north and south through the middle part of the state, from Davenport to Sprague, to Odessa, and to Othello.

Father Dwyer erected the first church in Davenport and christened it St. William, perhaps enjoying the privilege of naming it for his own patron saint.

Father J. Faust (he of the “beautiful black beard which he wore with permission from Rome”) arrived to serve in the Big Bend territory in 1896. He is the priest responsible for finishing the inside of the Davenport church; up to that time, it was a shell, with simply a floor, walls and a roof.

The church was dedicated by Bishop Edward O’Dea in 1901. It was during Father Faust’s time in the parish that the church was renamed Immaculate Conception.

Father (later monsignor) Theophilus Pypers followed Father Faust. He arrived in 1903 for ministry lasting three years. He wrote eloquently of his time in the mission, telling of traveling everywhere by horseback. Travel was one of the hardships of serving in the Big Bend territory.

As near as can be determined, Father Murtaugh Shiel served Davenport Catholics the longest, from about 1918 to 1935.

The church became an official parish in 1941 with Reardan as a mission. The first resident priest was Father Wilfred Druffel. He received a financial report about the Davenport church which stated that the church had “no money on hand; no unpaid bills.” On the advice of the Spokane Diocesan Synod, Father Druffel opened a checking account for the new parish. By the end of his first year, Father Druffel could report a bank balance of $253.21.

Father Druffel is the priest who built the first rectory in Davenport.

Father Aloysius Breznik was assigned to Davenport in 1972, and he stayed nine years. He worked on collecting historical information on Immaculate Conception Parish and other churches in the Big Bend territory.

The current church was built in 1970 (cost: $110,000) when Father James Grant was pastor. Funds came from parishioners, the Catholic Extension Society and special donations.

One very special donation came from the estate of a non-Catholic who was not connected with any church. Four churches benefitted from the estate, with the Catholic portion totaling nearly $31,000. The money paid off the debt on the building and enabled purchase of an organ and other needed items.

Bishop Bernard Topel dedicated the church in June 1971. The old church was torn down that same year.

In the summer of 1992, Deacon David Schutt moved to Davenport and was assigned by Bishop William Skylstad to assist in the parishes of Davenport and Reardan. The late Father Cornelius Verdoorn was pastor then. Father Verdoorn had moved to Harrington, since he not only served Davenport and Reardan but also Harrington and Odessa. The move allowed him to be more centrally located.

Father MacMahon now serves the parishes of Harrington, Davenport, and Reardan, and makes his home in Davenport. As with Father Verdoorn, it puts him geographically in the middle of his three parishes.

The 37 families that make up Immaculate Conception Parish worship in a bright and spacious nave. The ceiling is high and the eye is immediately drawn to the huge crucifix on the back wall of the sanctuary. The crucifix is outlined with strips of white, which stand out boldly against the wood background. It is mounted on a wooden panel which consists of thin vertical pieces of wood that are set into the wall. A wooden canopy at ceiling height accents the sanctuary area.

At the bottom of the panel is a curved section of dark rock, anchoring the panel and giving a sense of solidity and permanence. A small table in the center of the curve holds the tabernacle. Since it is ordinary time, a bright green cloth covers the altar and matching green banners hang on either side of the sanctuary. The walls are white and the ceiling, which reaches to a high peak, is covered with wood paneling.

The parish structures include a roomy rectory and large hall. The latter is used for religious education classes, coffee hours, potluck dinners, and all the various events of a Catholic parish. A movable panel on the north side of the sanctuary opens to allow extra seating in the hall for overflow crowds. A recent bequest from a parishioner provided funds to enlarge the hall and add some much needed storage.

The parish celebrated its centennial in 1993. The bell from the old church, built into new housing, was dedicated that day.

Like many small parishes, especially in the rural areas, Catholic life at Immaculate Conception Parish is stable and solid. Parishioners know each other well and the “Catholic family” becomes an extension of their natural families.

On the Sundays after Mass, a coffee hour is usually held afterward, said parishioner Betty Beebe.

One custom parishioners have is a “Shrove Sunday” dinner and wine-tasting, held the Sunday before Lent starts. This is an adult get-together for parishioners, not a fund-raiser. Beebe said the first dinner was held to celebrate paying off the church mortgage “more than 25 years ago, and we just continued.”

Davenport and the surrounding area has a number of other churches and Immaculate Conception Parish is involved with some of the other denominations in ecumenical events. It joins with other churches for a Thanksgiving service in November and for the World Day of Prayer in March.

The parish also has a religious education program which Beebe said brings vitality to the community. She praised the volunteers who educate the children. “They do a real nice job,” she said.

Charlie Kuhns was born in Wilbur and came to the Davenport parish in 1928. He remembers the old church and has lots of memories, but, he said, “I like the new stuff.” He sees the stability of the parish as one of its strengths.

Parishioners care for their parish inside and out but, said Beebe, “they also reach out to the community to help with whatever might be needed.”

Joyce Schutt compiled a parish history for the parish centennial and much of the information in this article comes from that publication. One of her sources was Father Breznik’s historical information.

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