Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



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

Parish life in Northeastern Washington: ‘Everyone gets to hold the babies’

Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the May 22, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Bob McNeese is pastor for two of the Spokane Diocese’s far northeastern parishes: Sacred Heart in Kettle Falls and Pure Heart of Mary in Northport, in addition to his responsibilities as pastor of Col-ville’s Immaculate Conception Parish. He could be considered a fortunate man, since the northeast part of Washington state is one of the most scenic. The highway between Kettle Falls and Northport winds along Lake Roosevelt and the Columbia River, providing new vistas and most likely good fishing at every turn.

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Sacred Heart Parish, Kettle Falls

Catholicism has been in the area for well over 100 years, thanks to the Jesuits. In 1838 Jesuit Fathers Francis Norbert Blanchet and Modeste Demers visited the Indians and the settlers to bring the faith, but it would be more than 50 years after their visits before churches were built for worship.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church had its beginnings in the community of Marcus, five miles north of Kettle Falls on Highway 25, in1906.

Jesuit Father C. Caldi was the priest in the area who started the church. The Jesuit priests who followed took their turns in procuring church furnishings and vestments. The church was dedicated in 1914. In 1917 the Jesuits turned the church over to Bishop Augustine Schinner of the newly-formed Spokane Diocese.

When Grand Coulee Dam was built, the town of Marcus had to be moved to higher ground. The church traveled, as did many of the town’s buildings. The government paid $1,858 to “buy” the church, which was then “repurchased” by Father Paul Goergen for $71.

Matt Urhausen, who farmed at Marcus, donated a piece of property on Highway 395 in Kettle Falls. The Marcus church was moved there in sections. The year was 1941. The church was extensively remodeled, with Father Goergen doing much of the remodeling work himself.

The church was replaced in 1957. The elegant A-frame building was constructed directly behind the old church, which itself was torn down. The church cost approximately $40,000, with parishioners doing much of the finish work themselves. Father Cornelius Stefani was pastor then.

Focal point from the outside is a two-row panel of colored glass panes which reach from top to bottom of the A-frame. Wooden strips in the shape of a cross brace the windows from the outside. To the left is a tower with cross. The bell from the old church stands in a metal framework in front of the building, bridging the connection between old and new.

The interior of Sacred Heart Church is light and spacious. A row of narrow colored glass windows on either side admits light. In 2000 a window was built into the top of the sanctuary wall which lets in additional light and also a view of the mountain ridge outside. Sometimes deer can be spotted there.

The generous use of oak gives a warm feeling to the large nave. Statues of Mary and Joseph from the old church stand at either side of the sanctuary. Meals, meetings, and classes are held in the full-size basement.

Margaret Urhausen Hallgreen is a life-time parishioner. She started her faith life in the church at Marcus. Her father was Matt Urhausen, who provided the land for the church when it moved. She recalled the church’s old days when there was no inside plumbing and no central heat, either. “We’d have to build a fire in the stove,” she said.

Sacred Heart has 57 families, described by Hallgreen as a “nice group of parishioners. Everyone works together,” she said. She said some of the children she saw grow up “are coming back” to the parish.

Dianne Skidds uses the word “family” to describe the parish. She is a relative newcomer to Sacred Heart; she moved to the area in 1994. “I like the smaller parish,” she said. “It’s not so large we couldn’t find our niche. We know what’s going on with people and we feel needed.” What she especially likes is how at parish events “everyone gets to hold the babies.”

Mass is celebrated in Kettle Falls on Saturday evenings at 5 and a potluck is held once a month. There is a prayer line and the parish collects food donations for the community’s food bank.

Lisa Kowitz is a catechist in the religious education program for children up to sixth grade. “We used to go to Colville,” she said, “but a group of parents made a commitment to teach at Sacred Heart on Wednesday nights.” Twenty-one children are in the program.

Kowitz and her family came to the parish in 1992. Husband Todd is president of the parish council. She likes the sense of community in her parish. “People are looking for that,” she said. “Because it’s a small parish, everyone can get involved.”

The involvement is important. Father McNeese finds it “encouraging and hopeful,” he said, “the presence of the young families (in the parish) who have put into place faith formation for their children.”

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Pure Heart of Mary, Northport

Pure Heart of Mary Church in Northport was built in 1900 and dedicated in 1914. The original church, a small white rectangular building with bell tower in front, typical of the style of those years, is still used for worship. The parish celebrated its centennial in 1998, since that was when Catholicism came to the area.

The interior of the Northport church is colorful and bright. Golden draperies are arranged behind the statues of Mary and the Sacred Heart. The crucifix is mounted on a wooden panel with the tabernacle centered underneath.

One unique feature in the church is the display of photos of priests who have served in the parish. Another is that the church still has its communion railing.

On the church’s west wall are 14 marble memorial plaques, a project started by Father Stefani. Parishioners purchased the plaques, either in memory of loved ones or in thanksgiving.

Northport parishioners are as solid as the marble plaques. They are “extremely dedicated to their faith,” said Father McNeese. The congregation celebrates Mass at 12:30 p.m. on Sundays with a Eucharistic Service held once a month.

No matter which, parishioners go over to the rectory next door afterward for coffee and doughnuts and sometimes a potluck lunch. One recent Sunday they enjoyed smoked trout, caught by a parishioner in the Columbia.

Lucille Paparich Tibbets was born in Northport. One of the memorial plaques in the church is dedicated to her parents. She likes everything about her church. “We have wonderful people.” She and her husband, Charles, go south for the winter, but, she said, when she gets home, the church “is where I find the most peace. I love my church.”

Kay Paparich is Tibbet’s sister-in-law and she likes her church for the same reasons: “the nice, friendly people.” She herself is one of them, offering cookies to welcome visitors. Paparich came to Northport when she married, more than 50 years ago, and she remembers when Northport was a “big place with 17 saloons.” One of the area’s major industries was mining and when that declined, so did the fortunes of Northport. Now the town’s population is 300 people. There are 25 registered families in the parish.

Even with small numbers, parishioners take care of their church. “We do whatever is needed,” Paparich said. “The flowers, the lawn...someone sees a need and will call someone else. It always gets done.”

Deacon Dick Malone of Spokane makes the drive up north each month – “usually the first weekend of the month”– to help Father McNeese in his three parishes, and has done so for almost three years. He preaches at all the weekend Masses and then holds a Eucharistic Service at Northport. The people “really appreciate me coming,” Deacon Malone said. “They’re really wonderful, great people.”

Father Ambrose Meyer was the priest who served the parishes the longest. In fact, he served twice, for a year in 1931 and then for 12 years, from 1944-1956. Parishioners have fond memories of the “jolly priest who always wore a tam and drove fast.”

Father Meyer loved children and would fill bags at Christmas with oranges and candy to deliver to them, Paparich said. “He’d play baseball with them, too. He was really good to them.”

Holy Names Sister Carol Qualley served in the parishes in the late 1980s, and clearly remembered her time there. “Parishioners had a deep appreciation of their faith,” she said. “They were practical, positive and productive, very faithful and loyal.

“I was so blessed to get to experience such rich spirituality,” she said.

That spirituality is lived out in faithfulness to parish life. Skidds sums it up: “In the spirit of the Lord, we are at the service of our brothers and sisters. It’s important to us to feel connected.”

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Colville-area church history

The most historic note regarding the Colville area is that in 1838 the first Mass in what would become the Spokane Diocese was celebrated by missionaries at Fort Colville on the banks of the Columbia River. The first two priests in the area were Jesuit Father(later Archbishop) Francis Norbert Blanchet and Jesuit Father (later Bishop) Modeste Demers. A centennial was celebrated in 1938 with Bishop Charles White.


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