Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Four years of parish visits reveal communities’ connections, individuality
by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the Dec. 4, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
The Inland Register has profiled nearly all of the 70-plus parishes in the diocese during the past four years. From north to south and east to west, parishioners welcomed this writer from the Catholic newspaper, glad to share stories of their faith life as lived out in their parishes.
Some statistics: the diocese’s oldest parish is St. Patrick Parish in Walla Walla (1859); the newest is Our Lady of the Lake Parish at Suncrest (2002). Our Lady of Lourdes Parish at West End on the Spokane Indian Reservation is the diocese’s only stone church. According to the new diocesan directory, St. Patrick Parish in Pasco is the largest, with nearly 2,807 families. The smallest is St. Bernard Parish, up north in Ione, with 11 families.
Diocesan parishes are similar and yet unique. Some are formal and traditional in style, such as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in downtown Spokane and Holy Rosary Parish in Pomeroy to the south.
Some churches are of a newer and more modern design. Immaculate Conception Parish in Colville up north is one such church; another is St. Thomas More Parish in north Spokane. Some churches are reminiscent of European-style structures, such as St. Francis Xavier Church in Spokane and Immaculate Conception Church in Republic.
Yet formal or informal, there is no question that each parish is Catholic; the signs are unmistakable. Mass is offered on Saturdays or Sundays. There is always a tabernacle and a sanctuary candle. There is almost always a crucifix or figure of Christ on the sanctuary wall and a statue of Mary somewhere in the church.
The parish communities are similar in their structure in that they almost all have a music group and a religious education committee – though sometimes the committee consists of just one person. Even though the very biggest parishes hire liturgists and religious education staff, all the churches have a cadre of volunteers to fully implement those tasks they deem important in making the church present in the world.
One of those tasks is raising funds, which they gladly do, knowing that money is needed to support what they believe so deeply.
Parishes also have many connections with each other. Usually it’s the pastor. As priests take new assignments, they add a link with other parishes in the diocese where they’ve served. With the shortage of priests, many parishes share pastors.
Maybe the connection is nothing more than church furniture finding a new home. The old pews from Sacred Heart Church at Kettle Falls finally found a home at Sacred Heart Church in Wellpinit. Stained glass windows that were once a part of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Cheney are now built into the sanctuary at Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Okanogan.
But the church is more than its buildings, beautiful and unique though they may be. The church is people, living, breathing, building blocks of faith. To visit the parishes was to witness the extraordinary strength and commitment of the people in the pews, no matter what ethnic group.
They care about their Catholic faith and want to pass it on to the younger generation. They care about each other, with nearly everyone describing their parish (even the bigger ones) as “family.” They visit each other, they cook for each other, they take Eucharist to each other, they take each other to Mass.
They hold the new babies and comfort those who are dying. They celebrate the sacraments, the graduations and the anniversaries. They hold coffee hours, potlucks and Christmas programs. They reach out to help those folks who are less fortunate with food, clothing and donations. They share their lives in what Jesus Christ expressly wanted for his followers: community and loving one another.
The people we met know their church isn’t perfect, but they love it anyway and work very hard to hand on what is so important to them. In one form or another, many parishioners summed it up this way: “I love my church, and I just can’t imagine being anywhere else. I find God there.”