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

Volunteers help build parish communities in Ford, Wellpinit, West End

Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the July 31, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Jesuit Father Jake Morton serves the three parishes on the Spokane Indian Reservation in one of the most beautiful parts of the Spokane Diocese. He is pastor at St. Philip Benizi at Ford, Sacred Heart in Wellpinit and Our Lady of Lourdes at West End.

Father Morton is also pastor at St. Michael Church in Inchelium, about 60 miles to the northwest across the Columbia River on the Colville Indian Reservation. That parish was profiled in the Inland Register’s Sept. 13, 2001 edition.

Father Morton spends many hours a week on the road to minister to the area’s Catholics. He makes his home in Fruitland, about 10 miles north of Our Lady of Lourdes. He chose Fruitland, he said, since it’s a little more centrally located between the four parishes. Sacred Heart Parish in Wellpinit and St. Philip Benizi in Ford are to the southeast, the opposite direction from Inchelium.

The oldest Catholic church in the area was built at Ford in 1912 and named St. Joseph. A new church was built in 1970, about half a mile or so to the east of St. Joseph. The property was donated by parishioner Millie Abrahamson and a handsome plaque noting her generosity hangs in the foyer of the new church. It was renamed St. Philip Benizi.

The old St. Joseph church, now owned by the Spokane Tribe, is still used occasionally. Father Morton said the parish uses it at least once a year on Good Friday. “We start the service at the new church, have a procession to the old church and finish the service there,” he said. Occasionally someone will want to be married in St. Joseph Church.

The interior of St. Joseph is very historic and traditional, with its ornamental tin ceiling and walls, ornate back and side altars and communion rail. A huge crucifix with a nearly life-size corpus hangs on the east wall, dominating the whole space.

St. Philip Benizi Church is very different in structure and style from St. Joseph. It is built of concrete blocks, making it low-maintenance. An overflow area and the sacristy are on the east side of the building; the hall, a long, narrow space, is on the west.

The interior of the church is simple in its design and furnishings. Colored glass blocks have been built into the back wall of the sanctuary in a random pattern, giving a bright mosaic glow on a sunny day. The tabernacle is also built into the wall and to one side of it are three red glass blocks. Larger glass blocks with a pattern are built into the south wall of the nave.

The altar is covered with an Indian-patterned blanket. There are the traditional statues of Mary and Jesus and also a statue of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. The pews are made of solid wooden beams.

According to the diocesan directory, there are approximately 60 families in St. Philip Parish.

Currently they are working to raise funds to add on to their hall since, said Father Morton, “We need a bigger one. When we get together for a dinner or wake,” he said, “there just isn’t enough room.” One popular fund-raiser is the parish rummage sales held twice a year. “They have a pretty good name (in the area),” said parishioner Ellen McCurdy.

The church in Wellpinit, built by Jesuit Father Edward Griva in 1943, is named for the Sacred Heart. The style is typical for those years, a white rectangular building with steeple and cross and arched windows of frosted glass on either side.

Father Morton said the church is a twin to the one located at Rogers Bar on the Colville Reservation, most likely also built by Father Griva, a hard-working priest who, according to one source, is credited with building 16 churches during his lifetime.

Sacred Heart is unique in that it is one of the few churches in the diocese with a cemetery. The cemetery, which is used, is located right next to the church. Flowers and crosses decorated many of the graves.

Another unique feature is the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe that stands in front of the church. Father Morton said it was donated by a man who was not a parishioner, yet had a deep love for Mary. The man traveled the country, giving away statues to promote Marian devotion.

The parish is small, with about 120 families all told. A small shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, donated by a parish family, stands in the foyer. A large handmade panel of two-inch cedar strips forms the backdrop for the sanctuary’s crucifix. The tabernacle is built into the wall below the cedar panel. Hanging on the wall at either side are panels of blue, white and brown striped fabric; they are backdrops for the church’s statues of Mary and the Sacred Heart. The same fabric covers the altar. The stations of the cross are three-dimensional plaster of Paris that have been painted.

The pews came from the Colville Catholic Church via the Kettle Falls Catholic Church. They are built in a solid, old-fashioned style, which includes the old-time hat hooks. The baptismal font also came from the Kettle Falls church.

The parish hall is in a separate building next door.

Marie Samuels is a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Wellpinit. She remembers when St. Joseph Church at Ford was the main church where everyone attended. “We’d go there by horse and wagon,” she said. “In the winter we’d use sleighs.”

Her nephew, Jim Wynne, also remembers going to St. Joseph, mentioning in particular the Feast of Corpus Christi. “People would camp over there,” he said. “There were three or four cabins and people would just stay.” Wynne is a Eucharistic Minister at Sacred Heart, and leads Communion Services as needed.

One important event in parish life is a weekly prayer service held at the different churches. The service includes singing, Scripture reading and sharing, and the rosary.

Our Lady of Lourdes Church in West End is a stone church, the only one in the diocese. It was built by Jesuit Father Pat Savage in 1938, a work that took three years. A parish history relates that Father Savage hauled rock from around the area in a 10-ton truck with hard rubber tires. Parishioners, area residents and a Swiss stonemason by the name of Placidus Petshew, assisted Father Savage. They used a tripod and winch to put the stones in place: large ones on the bottom, smaller ones on top.

The church exterior is very definitely red. The mortar between the stones is painted red and the metal roof is red. The church originally had a red clay tile roof but it was not moisture-proof and had to be replaced.

Over the church entry are the Latin words “Aula Dei et Porta Coeli” – “House of God and Gate to Heaven.”

The church may be unique in its rock construction, but parishioners and pastor say it used to be very hard to heat. The job is easier now with a modern furnace. In the heat of summer, though, the church interior is cool.

There are two half-circle windows at either end of the church. At one time they held stained glass windows that came from a theater in Spokane. In one of those occurrences that people no longer remember clearly, the windows were taken out and replaced with white and gold plexiglass. Worked into the windows’ design are three crosses, with the center one larger than the other two.

The sanctuary’s crucifix hangs on a backdrop of green fabric which is bordered by hangings of gold fabric. At either side are traditional statues of Mary and the Sacred Heart on some very beautiful stands painted gold. A statue of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, somewhat smaller than the other two, stands next to the Sacred Heart.

The altar, which is covered with an Indian-patterned blanket, rests on a huge gnarled cherry tree stump. The pews are solid beam knotty pine. Nothing hangs on the walls except for the stations of the cross.

The hall is on the north side of the church. Our Lady of Lourdes also has a cemetery located out back. It too is used and has many wreaths and memorials.

The 15 or so families at Our Lady of Lourdes are active in their faith community. Parishioners started a toy drive two years ago for area children, called Santa’s Toy-shop. This is a community project involving other churches and organizations and the Spokane Tribe. Last year over 200 children received gifts through the drive.

An Altar Society was recently restarted, with four women as members. Long-time parishioner and altar society member Lola Gumm lives near the church and keeps an eye on what needs to be done there.

The three parishes are similar in many ways. Volunteers care for their church (including St. Joseph), hall, cemetery, and grounds. One Sunday a month, each of the parishes will have a Eucharistic service. Each parish has coffee hours after their services on Sunday. All three congregations greatly appreciate their hard-working pastor, finding strength in his dedication. Father Morton was assigned to them in 1989.

Occasionally during the year the parishes will join together for a service, such as the Good Friday liturgy at St. Philip Benizi. A recent event was the Song Fest, held in Wellpinit July 19-20. This community-wide event draws families from all over the area to share music, food, and fun.

Many families are related, not only within a parish, but in all three churches. Most like the smaller size of their parishes where everyone can know everyone. McCurdy of St. Philip Benizi expressed it this way: “When one of us hurts, we all hurt.” The opposite is also true: when one has joy, everyone does.

Linda Abrahamson, also of St. Philip Benizi, has many memories of growing up Catholic. She is the daughter of Millie Abrahamson and has been in the parish, first St. Joseph and then St. Philip, all her life. She likes the “family atmosphere and the friendliness. We help out one another, especially with prayer. (The church) serves as our spiritual base.”

Gumm at Our Lady of Lourdes said the same: “We get support from each other. If we’re in trouble, we’re really supported and we can count on it.”

Charlene Hayes is a member of Sacred Heart Parish at Wellpinit. She is a Eucharistic minister and does other duties in her parish as needed.

She likes the fellowship of her church but also between the churches. “We used to keep to ourselves, but there’s a good relationship now.” She gives Father Morton much of the credit for that.

The words of Kathy Felsch at Our Lady of Lourdes sum it up for the congregations in all Father Morton’s parishes: “They’re a great bunch of people.”


Who was St. Philip Benizi?

Who is St. Philip Benizi? According to the Catholic Online website he was born about 1233 to a noble family in Florence, Italy, and earned a doctorate in medicine and philosophy. He joined the Servite Order in 1253 and became a renowned preacher, reformer, and peacemaker. He reformed his order and helped bring peace between warring Italian factions in Italy. At the possibility he might become pope, he went into hiding until the election was over. He died in 1285, and was canonized in 1671. His feast day is Aug. 22.

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