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

Wheelchair access just one part of St. Anthony Church renovation project

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 20, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

The remodeling project at St. Anthony Church, Spokane, involved a new lighting design. Pictured: Father Joachim Hiên, pastor, and project manager Jim Schwarzer. (IR photo)

In the late 1980s, Spokane’s St. Anthony Parish conducted a parish survey to see what was on parishioners’ minds. One consensus that revealed itself was the need to provide the church, built in 1909, with a wheelchair access ramp.

Parishioner Jim Schwarzer, the project manager for the recently completed construction and renovation done on the church, explained that years ago the parish had plans drawn up which would have placed a ramp on the west side of the church. That idea received a thumbs down, however, because the west side of the church is its most visible side. Also, the cost of placing a handicap access ramp on that side of the church was prohibitive.

The project ended up on hold while deliberations continued for more than a decade. Enter current pastor Father Joachim Hiên, in June, 2004, who called architect and parishioner Henry Swoboda and asked him to start thinking about how he would design a wheel chair ramp for the church.

During this time, a family called Father Hiên to give an ill family member the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Later, when the family member passed away, the will left a condominium to St. Anthony Parish. With the family’s approval, the parish sold the condominium. Not long after, another person left the parish a bequest of about $74,000. Now the parish had enough money to think seriously about having an architecturally appropriate wheel chair ramp added to the church.

“At this point,” Jim Schwarzer said, “we called on Hank and told him that we were going ahead with construction on the ramp. So Hank started doing the drawings, and we harassed poor Hank ’til he just about had a nervous breakdown,” Schwarzer laughed, “but he got the job done.”

“The main concern,” said Father Hiên, “was to have a ramp that would fit in with the mission style architecture of the church.”

“There were quite a few challenges to building this ramp,” said Swoboda, the architect. “We went through various designs before deciding on what would work best.”

Last spring, an architecturally innovative ramp was constructed on the east side of St. Anthony Church, one that lent itself beautifully for a handicapped access ramp. At the same time, the ramp was built so that it became much easier for funeral home personnel to bring caskets into the church for funeral liturgies.

Charles Hennessey, Jr., of Spokane’s Hennessey Funeral Home, was so impressed that he sent a letter of praise to the parish. The letter reads in part: “The new entrance is long overdue, but will be a Godsend to us and all disabled persons.... The new structure is the best solution I have seen at any church in town....”

The excavation and concrete for the new ramp were donated by the Keegan family in memory of their wife and mother, Betsy Keegan. The parish added the railing and roof for the ramp to make it complete.

Part II of the major remodeling of St. Anthony Church affected the entire interior of the church.

Back in the mid-1990s, the pastor of St. Anthony Parish was the late Msgr. John Donnelly. During this time it became evident that the church was badly in need of a new roof, so the parish undertook this project.

Unfortunately, while the roof was off the church, an unexpected thunderstorm occurred, and the lath and plaster walls of the church’s interior were seriously damaged. “Through the generosity of several benefactors, the parish was able to make repairs to the interior walls of the church, with almost no funds left over,” Father Hiên said.

During this time the parish community also decided that as soon as it was possible, financially, the whole interior of the church needed renovation, including the basement social hall.

The work on the interior of the church progressed without any major difficulties. An interior decorator was consulted about color choices, and all the electric lights in the church were replaced with new fixtures that are more appropriate to the environment. The door on the east side of the church – which is the entrance that the new ramp connects with – had to be enlarged. This job turned out to have significant engineering issues. The interior of the church is now conducive to contemporary liturgy, while retaining the historic character of the church.

The renovation for the basement social hall didn’t go so smoothly, however. The handicapped access ramp had been built, but the roof for it hadn’t been installed yet, when the heavy rains of spring ’05 came along and – you guessed it – flooded the basement social hall, newly installed carpet and all. Fortunately, the carpet was saved when pumps were brought in right away to remove the water.

“The whole remodeling, outside and inside, was a blessing for us, and the efforts of all the contractors were coordinated so well,” Father Hiên said. “It was unbelievable how smoothly it all went. The whole renovation went along with a renewal of spirit for the entire parish community. It’s just tremendous.”

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