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

Sacred Heart Parish, Brewster: Diversity in the Okanogan Valley

Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 2, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Sacred Heart Church (left) is located near Brewster’s downtown area. (IR photo)

Sacred Heart Parish in Brewster is located in the Okanogan Valley, where the Okanogan River flows into the Columbia.

The area is noted for its orchards which blossom and bear fruit with irrigation from the rivers. Right now it’s apple harvest time and the trees are quickly being stripped of their fruit. There are also cherries, peaches and pears in their seasons.

The church is located on Fifth and Hanson, in a quiet neighborhood not too far from downtown. Just up the street is the former church, now used as office and classrooms. The rectory where the pastor, Father Jose Hernandez, makes his home is right next door. The neighborhood seems to be conducive to churches; there are at least three other churches within easy walking distance of Sacred Heart.

Father Jose HernandezRight: Father Jose Hernandez has been pastor of the communities in Brewster and Twisp since 2001. (IR photo)

The main thing to be said about Sacred Heart Church in Brewster is that the building is too small for its congregation. The building, constructed in 1962, can hold about 200 or so people. The Spanish-language Masses are packed and many times there is not even standing room. The bi-cultural parish counts over 500 families, including 100 Anglo families. The population of Brewster itself is about half Hispanic and half Anglo. Whenever there is a major event, such as Confirmation, arrangements are made to use the gym at the school.

There are plans for a new church; Bishop William Skylstad designated the gifts he received from his 25th anniversary last year to go into a fund for a new church for Brewster. The bishop and his family lived in the Okanogan Valley, participating in the faith life of the parishes at both Brewster and Twisp as he grew up.

The long history of Brewster's Catholic community is interconnected with the Catholic communities of neighboring towns.

At first, Catholics worshipped at St. Mary Mission, east of Omak, a parish served by Jesuit priests. Later, Catholics would join with their counterparts in the towns of Bridgeport, Monse, and elsewhere. Sometimes the priests assigned to Oroville or Okanogan would come to Brewster to say Mass.

In its early history, priests came to Brewster from as far away as Wenatchee. Priests who served in the valley traveled many miles each month to serve the Catholic communities. Brewster Catholics were few in number until Chief Joseph Dam was built, bringing in new people and jobs.

Nowadays, said Father Hernandez, Catholics from all around the area travel to Sacred Heart Church in Brewster to attend Mass, keeping those long-ago connections alive. Summer tourists add to the mix, as people enjoy the scenic Okanogan Valley and the many outdoor activities, such as fishing and boating.

Even though a Catholic church had been built in Brewster in the early 1900s, a building that now serves as the parish office. Brewster did not become a parish until 1958. Father George Morbeck was the first resident pastor. He was also the pastor when the newly-ordained Father William Skylstad said his first Mass in Brewster. The old school gym was used for the celebration, since the church was too small to hold everyone.

The interior of Sacred Heart Parish is simple in design. The windows are gold, blue and white frosted glass, which gives a warm glow to the nave. Adding to the warmth is the wooden wall and inset panel in the sanctuary on which hangs a large and beautiful crucifix. Father James Healy made the cross when he was pastor; the corpus was donated by the St. Anne Guild in Pateros.

To the right is a statue of Mary and to the left, one of the Sacred Heart. Also on the right, or south side, is a print of Our Lady of Guadalupe with gold angels attached at both top corners. The image was recently given a gold crown.

Father Healy also built the altar and two large podiums when he was in Brewster. Later the podiums were replaced with smaller ones, to allow more room in the sanctuary. Material from one of the large podiums was used to make shelves for the statue of Mary and the Sacred Heart.

Father Healy also made the tabernacle which was later set into the wall to the left of the sanctuary. Built into the wall on the right side, near the statue of Mary, are shelves for the parish’s holy oils.

For three years now, Father Hernandez has been pastor of the two communities of Brewster and Twisp. He describes his parish community as “faithful. There is a rich holiness,” he said. “For a lot of people (in the parish), church is part of their family.” He also commented on how the congregation has “taken ownership of the parish. When something needs to be done, they do it. They don't wait for the priest.”

“Welcoming” is another word Father Hernandez used to describe his parish. He was ordained in 1999; this is his first assignment as pastor. “They are very understanding,” he said, “I feel fortunate (to be here).”

Brad Hagen and his family have been members of the parish for nine years. Hagen is on the parish council and his wife, Linda, teaches religious education occasionally. He sees the strength of his community in several ways. One is “within the congregation. People care about the parish and are willing to work to make it function.”

Hagen also sees strength in the sister parish relationships that Sacred Heart has with St. Augustine and Sacred Heart parishes in Spokane. “That’s been of great benefit to us,” he said.

Finally, there is strength in the parishioners who are long-time members. Their history “gives those of us who are new something to anchor us. It’s a blessing (to have them),” said Hagen.

Jose Aparicio is another long-time member. He has been in the parish for 22 years. He loves his parish, describing it as “beautiful.” He was on the parish council for many years, and now serves as choir leader and lector. He also helps with baptismal preparation.

Aparicio is also the Liderazgo Hispano, which means he is in charge of the happenings of the Hispanic community. One of those events is the Living Way of the Cross, presented during Holy Week. The Passion of Christ is acted out and the cross is carried about half a mile distant for the crucifixion. The man who plays Jesus is hung from the cross to depict the crucifixion. The custom has a long history in the Hispanic culture and was started at Sacred Heart when Father Kevin Codd was pastor.

The parish has potluck dinners, coffee hours and other events. When there is a need, they all pull together to help, Aparicio said. Several teens and adults joined with Spokane parishes last June to travel to Mexico as part of a program called Los Emba-jadores – The Ambassadors. The group worked with members of the Salesian and Franciscan Religious orders, constructing buildings for their various programs with the Mexican people.

Like many bi-cultural parishes, great effort is made to bridge both cultures. Both Hagen and Aparicio see an advantage in the diversity of the parish: Hagen sees the “rich cultural heritage” as a strength, since it provides a “means for learning more about one another” with different backgrounds.

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