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

St. Patrick School: remodeled, reconfigured, renovated – and educating

Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the April 8, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

St. Patrick School, Spokane

The staff of St. Patrick School in Spokane works to acquaint people with the school’s mission. (IR photo)

St. Patrick School at 2706 E. Queen in Spokane is one of the Spokane Diocese’s oldest schools. Its founding date is Sept. 14, 1914, the year after the diocese itself was formed.

The parish itself was founded by the Jesuits in 1890. The simple wooden frame church was replaced in 1909 with the handsome Romanesque structure that is now St. Patrick Church. The old church building was used as a social hall and also as the school. Two Holy Names Sisters came from their convent to teach the 50 children who were in grades 1-4.

By 1921 the number of students had more than tripled, making the old church building too small to hold everyone. According to the school’s 75th history booklet, the class of 1921 held its graduation in the furnace room.

Jesuit Father Charles Mackin was St. Patrick’s pastor at that time. He secured a loan of $35,000 to build a school. Father Mackin also saw to it that the Sisters got a convent. He gave them the rectory and moved into a smaller building the parish owned.

The result was the brick building on Queen with 10 classrooms. The building’s full basement became the parish’s new social hall. The new school opened in 1922 with 190 students and eight Holy Names Sisters as teachers.

According to a school history, enrollment reached a peak of 510 in 1960 but has since dropped to 191, the current number. Holy Names Sisters no longer staff the school, but their dedication is commemorated in a sign over an outside entry door to the school’s basement that states “Holy Names Hall.”

The school has been remodeled, reconfigured and renovated during its 90 years of fluctuating enrollment. In 1956 a separate facility was built for the primary grades and the preschool south of the original school.As such, it was the first cluster-style school building in the diocese, with classrooms at each corner and the utilities and bathrooms in the center.

Even with the new facility, says the school’s history booklet, space forced the school to send its first and second graders to public school for a time during the early 1960s.

A typical day finds most students in most of the grades bent over their desks at their work.

The sixth graders were gathered around a globe, getting a geography lesson about Norway.

In the primary building, the pre-schoolers were not bent over desks at all; they were learning how to march as they played rhythm sticks, not an easy task for three- and four-year-olds.

The first graders were having a poetry session. One little boy gave a well-inflected rendition of a poem about hating homework. “I’d rather fight two sharks than do homework,” declaimed the young man, who knew his poem perfectly.

Rosemary Procunier was subbing in the kindergarten class, a task she often does since she lives only two blocks away. Procunier taught kindergarten at St. Patrick School for 19 years, retiring in 1997. Not only did she teach there, she was a student at the school herself, graduating from eighth grade in 1941. All her brothers and sisters attended, as well as her children and their children, too.

When Procunier isn’t filling in for an absent teacher, she is volunteering. “I love being with the kids,” she said. She loves the school, too, and admits her whole life has been centered there.

The student body at St. Patrick School is one of the more diverse. Many students come from single parent homes. Many are low-income. Forty percent of St. Patrick’s families are not Catholic.

In a spirit of evangelization, St. Patrick’s staff works to acquaint people with the school’s mission. Every couple of weeks or so, a group of people led by Father Daniel Barnett and Principal Randall Wallace meet in the large faculty lounge next to the office. The guests have been specially invited, usually by staff members, and they are offered fresh coffee and muffins or some other refreshment.

What the guests will hear is a presentation called “Faces of the Future.” It is given by Dr. Wallace and Father Barnett, along with development director Marcia Parks and a parent who gives a testimonial. In their presentation, the group explains the mission of St. Patrick School.

Dr. Wallace talks about the educational benefits of the school, saying that 97 percent of St. Patrick graduates go on to complete high school.

Father Barnett explains the spiritual dimension of the school, saying that the school is no longer a mission for the parish, but “a mission served by the parish. We want to make it known that the services we provide to students will help them become thoughtful, reverent people.

“We are able to address the needs of the whole child,” Father Barnett said. Education at St. Patrick is “not only about learning, it’s also about virtues, morals and learning how to love. The thirst for knowledge is enlightened by faith.”

At one recent presentation the parent was Lisa Woodard. She well remembers coming to visit the school four years ago and talking to school families. “I felt at home right away,” she said. She also remembered visiting the first grade classroom where students were reciting poetry.

There was more for the Woodards, though: “We wanted a Christian environment for our kids and we liked the diversity we saw.” St. Patrick School was the match they were looking for, she said.

Parents such as Woodard are following a long tradition. Another devoted alumna like Procunier is development director Parks, herself a student at St. Patrick. She was baptized at St. Patrick Church and not only did her parents live close to the school, her grandparents did, too.

“There was no question,” she said, “that we would go to school at St. Pat’s.” Parks still lives near the school and her children all attended classes there as well. As development director, she still comes to school four days each week.

Tammie Fabien is a relative newcomer; her oldest son started attending St. Patrick five years ago. Her second son is also a St. Patrick student. What she finds important for her family is the acceptance her sons receive. “They’re biracial,” she said, “and we thought maybe we would have to move elsewhere. But they were completely accepted here.”

As happens in many Catholic schools, the students, parents and staff become an “extended family” and Fabien, along with Woodard, likes that. “All the teachers know all the kids and the families all know each other,” she said. Procunier agreed, and laughed to tell how “students can’t get away with a thing without being called by name.”

Another equally important factor for Fabien, and other parents, too, is that their children can “learn about God and their faith.” There are prayer times each week and Mass every Friday.

St. Patrick School has graduated over 4,500 young people from its hallowed halls. The school has an Alumni Association with over 3,000 people in its 14-year-old database. “We (the alumni) did the first auction,” Parks recalled. “We continued to do them until it got too big.” The association continues to sponsor the auctions, but now, said Parks, “the school parents help.”

The 14th annual auction was held last month with proceeds a little higher than previous auctions. Other fund-raisers held throughout the year include a “run-a-thon,” which Fabien said was “a lot of fun,” a candy sale and a pizza event.

As with all Catholic schools, finances are a constant source of concern. But Dr. Wallace made it very clear in his presentation at the “Faces of the Future”: “We never turn anyone away because they can’t pay.”

“We want everyone to send their students here,” said Fabien.

Glimpses of history at St. Patrick School

St. Patrick School’s 75th history booklet had a page of memories titled “Remember When?” Among the memories listed was this one. (The names have been omitted.)

“A young man accidentally pulled off a Sister’s veil, revealing her flaming red hair.”

The next entry reads thus: “The boys, who dearly loved the Sister, tied the young man to a tree in front of the school where he stayed until his parents found him.”

Alumna Rosemary Procunier shared this memory from her student days:

When they would come in from recess or lunch, she said, they marched in to music. The music was the Notre Dame fight song coming from a “big tall Victrola” with one of the Sisters playing a triangle in time to the music.

Her memory, along with a host of others, can go into a new “Remember When” list that will be able to be compiled this summer. The school’s Alumni Association is planning an all-school reunion at the end of July to celebrate its 90th anniversary.

One special guest is alumnus Father Anthony Via who is coming from Italy to attend. Persons who are already members of the association will receive information about the event, but other people interested in the reunion events can call Marcia Parks at the school: (509) 487-2830.

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