Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Tonasket’s Holy Rosary parishioners are self-sufficient, with ‘a lot of parish love’
Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the Oct. 23, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
The lovely brick building that is Holy Rosary Church in Tonasket is the second church for the area’s Catholics.
Jesuit Father Edward Griva, that indefatigable church builder, is credited with building over 40 churches during his lifetime. He was the priest responsible for Tonasket’s first church, in 1914.
That was a white wooden structure, typical for its time, and served as the parish church for 15 years. It was located “up the hill” from the present church, about three blocks to the east.
The Jesuit priest served the area at that time. He offered the first Mass in Tonasket. The date was Oct. 10, 1913; the place was the Tonasket Hotel. Mass was also celebrated in private homes until the church was built.
The second church was built in 1929 when Father D.A. Cronin was pastor. That old building, which suffered a fire in its early history, still stands, now used as a residence. The cornerstones for both churches have been placed in the yard at the newer church.
The church is situated at the corner of First and Whitcomb, on the north side of the city. The church’s design is faintly reminiscent of a mission church, with a false front brick panel at the top with bell and cross.
To enter the church is to find a Bavarian-influenced interior, with a high open-beamed ceiling and hanging glass light fixtures. The ceiling beams are of dark wood. The pews are light oak and the walls are painted a light color. The windows are of frosted glass in white, gold, and mauve. With the blue carpet, the effect is one of light and calm.
There are statues of Mary and Joseph on either side of the sanctuary, and a statue of the Sacred Heart stands near the choir area, which is also in front.
The church has one very special piece of art: an icon of Mary the Mother of God, painted by Benedictine Brother Claude Lane of Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon. At the top of the icon is a rosary shaped like a crown. As he painted each bead, Brother Claude prayed a Hail Mary for the parish.
The icon was a gift from an anonymous donor and was commissioned by Father Kevin Codd when he was pastor. In the church foyer are some information sheets about the symbols found in the icon.
Father Fernando Maldonado is pastor of the parish in Tonasket, as well as Oroville. (IR photo)
Earl and Margaret Pheasant are among the senior members of the parish. Earl, who is over 90, was asked to write a history of the parish a couple of years ago, and many of his memories recall the uncounted hours parish men spent building the retaining walls around the church and also the attractive structure next door that is the parish hall. They also expanded their church to give more room.
Margaret was president of the altar society for a number of years, and she told of the many fund-raisers the group held – dinners and other events. “When we did our first dinner,” she said, “we didn’t even have a kettle of our own or a hall to have it in.” But the women were resourceful. They borrowed some pots, rented a space and the dinner went on as planned.
Eventually the parish men got the hall built and the women were able to hold their fund-raisers there. As is often the case, money raised by the Altar Society paid for parish needs such as the building projects, religious education supplies and church and hall care.
“It’s been a struggle,” said Margaret Pheasant, “as it is with many small parishes. We’ve not had a big financial income.” But Pheasant appreciated how people gave of themselves. “They worked hard and were willing to sacrifice since we were aiming for the same goal.” Even though it was hard times, “it was a good time,” she said.
One event the whole community looks forward to is the Altar Society’s biannual rummage sale. “It’s more than a fund-raiser,” said Beverly Chorey. “We try to price items to enable low-income people to afford them.” The Altar Society collects items between sales, from non-parishioners as well as parishioners.
The parish community numbers about 60 families. Since July their pastor has been Father Fernando Maldonado. The church, as well as the city of Tonasket (population 1,010), is in a state of change. Many families moved away as the apple industry declined and orchards were pulled out. Even so, the welcome mat is out at Holy Rosary Church.
Parishioners developed self-sufficiency during a 10-year period when they were without a priest. Parishioner Betty Kelley sees that as one of the their greatest strengths. “They’ve done everything themselves,” she said.
Deacon Chuck and Estella Wilson served the parish as pastoral ministers starting in 1983. They were followed by two Holy Names Sisters, Mary Ellen Robinson and Helen Garvey, who were parish administrators in separate terms in the early 1990s. Father Codd was assigned in June 1996 and priests have been sent north ever since. It’s a dual assignment, though. Holy Rosary parishioners share Father Maldonado with Immaculate Conception Parish in Oroville, where he makes his home. At 10 years each, the priests who served the longest were Fathers Joseph Brunner and Raymond Klemmer.
In spite of its small size, there is an active parish life. Three women share music ministry for the Sunday Masses. Cheryl Solmenson directs religious education for the younger children. Hector Martínez guides the sacrament class, and Cathy Stangler leads the junior high and high school youth group. The classes are about 50 percent Hispanic and Anglo and bilingual books are used.
One of the more popular events is the Posada, held at Christmas. In a Posada, which is a Hispanic custom, children portray Mary and Joseph. During the portrayal, the Holy Family “visits” various sites, looking for a place to stay in “Bethlehem.” At the end, the children break a piñata, which always creates much merriment.
In February, the children make Valentines which they deliver to residents at the local nursing home. They also enjoy that activity, Solmenson said.
Parishioners were unanimous in their assessment of the parish as a family. “We make an effort to know each other,” Chorey said, which is much easier in a small parish. “We pray for each other,” she said, which is facilitated by the prayer chain.
Margaret Pheasant echoed that thought: “We’re very solicitous of each other.”
Kelley, who tends to the church’s floral decorations during the spring and summer months, said parishioners “are very open and have a spirit of welcome. They’re caring and very spiritually inclined.”
“We have a true faith family,” said Solmenson. “There’s a lot of parish love.”
Confusion reigned over construction bills
Father Griva did not leave the church building project in Tonasket without a little cloud.
He went to Nespelem in 1916 or so and after he left, a couple of unpaid bills for church construction work surfaced. A lien was placed again the new church for one bill which was for $42, a princely sum in those long-ago days. Father Griva wrote Bishop Augustine Schinner that he paid all the bills that were owing by the time he left and wasn’t aware there were others.
However, the bill in question was to have been paid by another party who failed to do so. Father Griva had given this party the money and trusted that the bill would be paid. There was much correspondence between Bishop Schinner, Father Thomas Sherman, who was pastor then, and Father Griva before it was finally settled. Before too many months elapsed, the bills were paid and the lien removed.