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

Active laity help make rural parishes vibrant communities

by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff

(From the July 29, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Though city folk might believe that rural parish life is completely different from parish life in the city, parishioners in Newport, Ione, Usk, the Kalispel Reservation and Metaline Falls say that is simply not the case.

“Parish life is the same whether it’s in the city of the country,” said Viriginia Brown, a parishioner at St. Anthony Parish in Newport.

Other parishioners agree. “Even in a large parish, you have those that do, and those that don’t,” said Pat Mendenhall, from St. Bernard Parish in Ione.

But there is one thing these five parishes have in common that makes them very different from a large city parish. They all share one priest. And life for that one priest, though rewarding, is often complicated.

For the last seven years, Father Edward Marier has been the pastor for these five country parishes. Father Marier has a 65-mile route from St. Anthony Parish in Newport to St. Joseph in Metaline Falls, and he drives it almost daily.

“I drive a lot,” said Father Marier, who puts 35,000 miles per year on his cars.

Distance is not the only challenging part of serving five different parishes.

“It’s tricky,” said Father Marier. “Each (parish) is so different in character. You can’t really put them all in one bag because they’re all different.”

But Father Marier has tweaked and fine-tuned his organizational system over the last seven years so that he can serve and be present to all five of the parishes without burning himself out or homogenizing them. The laity, he said, take an active role in determining the parishes’ direction and character. Each one of the five parishes has a group of people who actively serve their parishes, ensuring that the day-to-day needs of the parish community are met and easing some of the priest’s responsibility. These volunteers often find themselves multi-tasking.

Virginia Brown volunteered her services as the parish secretary at St. Anthony for 15 years. She has also served on Altar Society and helped to direct the Catholic education programs at the parish.

“I do it because I want to,” she said. “It’s such a privilege to be Catholic and to have this gift of faith. I always support the priests. I think it’s part of being a Catholic.”

Bob and Rose Kirby also actively serve St. Anthony Parish. They are both members of the parish council and are Eucharistic Ministers. Rose operated their clothing bank until it recently closed and Bob does a lot of the church maintenance. He takes turns with other parishioners mowing and watering the lawn in the summer and builds whatever the church needs, from coat racks to cupboards.

“I love it,” said Rose. “It needs to be done and someone has to do it.”

“I help out because I love the Lord and (the church) is a house of the Lord and it needs to be cleaned,” said Pat Mendenhall of St. Bernard, as she washed vestments and linens. Mendenhall has been a member of St. Bernard since 1955. She has done everything from cleaning, to playing the organ, to teaching Catechism.

Though many rural parish parishioners work hard, their work also builds strong community.

It is difficult for anyone to fade into the background in a rural parish, and perhaps that is the difference. “We’re a pretty close-knit group,” said Rose Kirby. “Service builds parish community and makes a closer parish community.”

Father Marier agrees. “What’s good about (sharing a priest) is that it enlists the people in the parishes to participate. They take the incentive on their own.”

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