Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Holy Rosary Parish, Pomeroy: ‘There’s a strong nucleus, and a strong faith’
Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the Aug. 21, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
Even though it is old – it was built in 1917 – the beautiful brick building that is Holy Rosary Church in Pomeroy is the third Catholic church to be built there.
The parish was started in 1878, which makes it one of the oldest in the diocese. That was the same year that papers were filed for the township of Pomeroy. Jesuits and others had traveled through the area before that time, though, offering Masses in people’s homes.
Father Peter Paaps was the priest-pastor who formally organized the parish and built the first church, in 1878, on land that had been donated by Joseph Pomeroy, the founder of the city that bears his name, and Charles A. McCabe. The original wooden structure lasted nine years, until it literally blew down Jan. 9, 1890, in a storm that had 80-mile-an-hour winds.
The second church was built that same year at a cost of $3,500. Pictures of this church show a rectangular wooden building with steeple, located just south of the present church. When construction was finished on the present church, this second structure was razed.
Today’s solid brick church at the corner of Sixth and High streets cost a little more to build. At completion the price was $26,000.
The building has a steeple on the west corner, topped by a cross. The exterior has several crosses decorating the steeple and there’s another on the front peak of the building.
A handicap entrance on the east side allows easy access. The rectory is also on that side and there is a small rose garden on both sides of the sidewalk up to the rectory’s porch.
The interior of Holy Rosary Church is a traditional style that is rich with color. Much of the color comes from the stained glass windows which were installed when Father D. Brendan O’Connor was pastor. Fifteen of the windows depict the mysteries of the rosary; the others depict the Sacred Heart and various saints.
The nave is spacious, with a high ceiling and dark-stained, open wood beams. There is a large formal choir loft in back with a pipe organ that still gets played on occasion.
The sanctuary is delineated by a white arch that has gold trim and electric candelabra on both sides. The walls have a dark blue covering with a gold metallic pattern. Above the back altar is a three-panel stained glass window. Mary is depicted in the center window, and the windows on either side show praying hands with rosaries.
The side and back altars are painted white with gold trim. A motif of wheat and grapes adorns all three altars. There are three-dimensional gold emblems on the arches over the crucifix and the statues of Mary and the Sacred Heart. Statues of kneeling angels grace each side of the back altar. On either side of the sanctuary are statues of St. Joseph and St. Théresè, the Little Flower, on either side of the sanctuary. The baptismal font, also in front, features statues that depict Jesus’ baptism by John.
The church has a large foyer where a quilt has been displayed since the parish children’s summer retreat. The children made the quilt, decorating it with their handprints, and raffled it. The proceeds from the raffle ticket sales will go to the Heifer Project, which the children chose for their retreat project.
The parish completely renovated the church for the 1978 centennial celebration. Pomeroy native Tom Herres was in charge of the project. “We restored the brick and we completely repainted and put in new carpet,” he said. The pews were redone, too, refinished by Father John Sand, who was pastor, along with Francis Walters and John Harris. “They put in uncounted hours working on them,” Herres said.
Father Tom Connolly is the current pastor. He started July 1, and noted the irony of his new assignment. He said there are more people in St. Mary Parish in Spokane, where he was a parochial vicar (his first assignment after ordination), than in the whole city of Pomeroy. The city of Pomeroy has about 1,450 people. St. Mary Parish has 1,791 families. Holy Rosary Church has 150 families.
Father Connolly’s assignment also includes the parishes of St. Joseph in Dayton and St. Mark in Waitsburg. He spends part of Sunday and Monday and Tuesday in those two communities.
Since he has been in the parish just over a month, Father Connolly is still getting acquainted and settled. “They’ve been very gracious and welcoming,” he said. As he works on his schedule, he said the weekend Mass times will be changed. Come the first weekend of September, Holy Rosary Parish will have Mass on Sundays at 10:30 a.m.
The pastor who was at Holy Rosary the longest was Father O’Connor, who served 28 years. He came in 1942 and retired in Pomeroy in 1969. He continued to live in Holy Rosary’s rectory until his death in 1973.
Activities at Holy Rosary are typical of parishes in rural areas. The former school-convent, located south of the church on Sixth, is used as the parish center. The children’s summer retreat, Holy Rosary’s equivalent of Vacation Bible School, was held there. Father Connolly said there was a good turnout of children, including some from his other two parishes.
The Altar Society and women’s committees host funeral dinners and weddings as requested. They also arrange the parish potlucks and care for the church. An ice-cream social was held Aug. 14 after the Vigil Mass to welcome Father Connolly and to draw the name of the lucky person who wins the children’s quilt. There is an active religious education program and also a prayer chain. One popular fund-raiser is the Octoberfest, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 11.
An active Knights of Columbus council, founded in 1914, holds fund-raisers to keep the church, center and cemetery in good condition. One of the KC fund-raisers is a crab feed held the weekend before Lent. The Knights built a lovely shrine to unborn children at the cemetery, located on the west edge of the city.
Tom Herres described his parish as one having “unity. Everyone works together,” he said. “We have good volunteers in the parish and the Knights.”
Ann Heitstuman was emphatic: “I love the church and our church family.” She came to Pomeroy from Uniontown in 1959 and all her children grew up in Holy Rosary Parish. She has witnessed all the changes, including those from the second Vaticn Council and some more recent.
“We’ve had many pastors the last few years and we’ve hung together,” she said. “There’s a strong nucleus, and a strong faith that we’re going to stick it out.” She credits that to Eucharist. “That’s the reason we stay together.”
Another parishioner made the journey from County Cork, Ireland, to take up residence in Pomeroy. “I came in 1955 when I was married,” said Kathleen McKeirnan. She too loves the parish: “The church is so beautiful and so devotional. There’s a warmth about it that one couldn’t help but like.” McKeirnan even loves the name of her parish.
What McKeirnan sees in her parish is a willingness to give assistance: “There’s a spirit of cooperation, a lot of willing, willing people to help” no matter what the project is.
Julie Claassen grew up in Pomeroy and has lived there almost all her life. Claasen has a deep appreciation for the heritage of her church. She recalled that a couple of years ago, Holy Rosary Church was included in Pomeroy’s annual home tour and parishioners had to do some research on the building and furnishings.
The parish has a number of antiques, and many of them came from New York, Claassen said. They were taken by ship around South America and then brought up to Pomeroy from Oregon.“We were glad that the material (on it) had been kept,” she said.
The church is more than the furnishings, though. Claassen said she enjoyed the closeness of her parish. “We’ve had several priests” in the last several years, she said. “It was hard but with each one, our parish has grown. Each one brought something unique and good.
“The people are really dedicated to their faith,” she said, “and that has been a good example for me. People here spend a lot of time to make sure that their church and their faith continues. I want to pass that on.”
Holy Rosary Parish in Pomeroy will hold its annual Octoberfest Saturday, Oct. 11. The fest begins with Mass at 4:30 p.m. in the church, located at the corner of Sixth and High streets. This is followed by a German-style meal with homemade sausage at the parish center further south on Sixth. Local entertainment will keep the evening lively and a silent auction will entice shoppers.