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

Volunteers are ‘the heart’ of St. Patrick Parish, Pasco

Story and photos by Mitch Finley, Inland Regsiter staff

(From the March 16, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Catholics who live in the Spokane area, where the Catholic population of the diocese is largely concentrated, sometimes assume that the largest parish in the diocese must be in Spokane, too. But a quick look at the statistics reveals that the diocese’s largest parish, in terms of population, is St. Patrick in Pasco. (It’s right up there in terms of area as well.)

Msgr. Pedro Ramírez (second from right, standing) meets with the finance council of St. Patrick Parish, Pasco. (IR photo)

Msgr. Pedro Ramírez, the pastor, smiles and shrugs his shoulders. “All you have to do is look at how much our parish is asked to contribute to the Annual Catholic Appeal, and you can see that we must give more than any other parish because we have more people than any other parish.”

Spokane-area Catholics also often assume that Pasco’s Catholics are divided about equally between Hispanics and Anglos, but that’s not entirely true. Pasco’s parish now counts among its nearly 3,000 households a significant number of Vietnamese-Americans, Laotian-Americans, and Filipino-Americans. The parish even includes a few recent immigrants from Russia.

Msgr. Ramírez describes his parish as “very alive. There’s not a day in the week that there is not something going on. It is a very catholic parish, in the secular sense of the word. We have people from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds, all social and economic positions. We have religious education for children in both English and Spanish. We have youth ministry for both Anglos and Hispanics. We have close to half of the baptisms that take place in the whole diocese. There are hundreds of people being confirmed when we have Confirmations – 500, 600, 750. The bishop really gets busy when it’s time for Confirmations here!”

Msgr. Ramírez is in his 15th year as pastor of St. Patrick. Jesuit Father Tom Bunnell is parochial vicar and, Msgr. Ramírez says, “is very instrumental in getting things done. He has been very important in the Catholic schools here, too.”

Saturday evenings and Sundays are busy times, to put it mildly.

“We have a five o’clock Mass Saturday evening in English,” Msgr. Ramírez explains. “At 7 p.m. there is a Mass in Spanish. Sunday we have an English Mass at 8 a.m., 9:30 in Spanish, 11 in English, 1 p.m. in Spanish, and 7 p.m. in Spanish. That’s not counting the Saturday morning Mass,” plus those Saturdays that might have weddings in both the morning and the afternoon. “We end up having about eight Masses on a weekend,” he said. That’s heavy schedule for two priests, “but we can manage.”

For a Vietnamese Mass every other Sunday, a priest visits from Yakima.

Having distinct language groups in one parish sometimes brings its challenges, but Msgr. Ramírez doesn’t want to overemphasize those challenges. “We become so used to not seeing colors, but people. There have been times when there have been conflicts, because of conflicts in scheduling facilities or meeting rooms. But in a parish as large as ours it is bound to happen, but not necessarily because of discrimination. My heart is here to minister to all. If an Anglo comes and needs my help, I’m here to help. If a Laotian comes, and I am able to help...”

The parish has a program for marriage preparation, coordinated by Deacon Gary Franz, that brings engaged couples into the company of experienced married couples. Msgr. Ramírez himself takes care of the one-on-one component of the process, using a pre-marriage inventory that each couple completes. “Right now,” he says, “I have 25 or 30 engaged couples scheduled for weddings that we’re helping to prepare for marriage. That’s within the next seven or eight months.”

The Pasco area is growing to the point that it could easily accommodate another two parishes, he said. “These facilities are becoming too small for what’s needed here. We need to be looking at, if not building a couple of other churches, at least building some kind of a satellite system where we could go and celebrate Masses in the surrounding areas. I would like to see another church being built, but right now with the situation with the Chapter 11 bankruptcy, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But the need is there, it’s an urgent need to build another church to accommodate all the people who are coming.”

Msgr. Ramírez has much praise for the many volunteers who give of their time and energy to Pasco’s Catholic community. “Volunteers: To me, that’s the heart of our parish. It’s the heart, the soul, and the life of the parish. I think that our parish is a beautiful community. We have a lot of people who give of their time, their talent, and their treasure. We have people who are very dedicated, very lively examples of Christian faith when it comes to evangelizing. We have all kinds of people in the parish that I’m very fond of. We welcome the sinner as the saint, and we welcome the ethnic backgrounds that come here, and it’s truly a blessing to this community and to the diocese to have such a wonderful parish here.”

Peggy DeBord (left) and Jackie Keyes direct the English-language religious education and youth ministry programs, respectively. (IR photo)

Jackie Keyes is Youth Ministry Coordinator for the English-speaking youth of the parish. Prior to coming to St. Patrick 19 years ago, she held a similar position for 11 years at St. Patrick Parish in Walla Walla.

“When I think of the parish 19 years ago,” she said, “it had a very different makeup than it has now, and obviously it was a lot smaller than it is now.” She deals with about 65 registered seventh and eighth graders, and also meets with around 115 high school youth for weekly meetings.

The theme for the English-speaking high school youth program is “The Kingdom of God,” she said. “It tries to get the kids to realize that they are a part of building the kingdom, and they need to contribute their gifts, and talents, and abilities, and faith to the church, just like anybody else.”

The youth of the parish are also very involved in planning and being involved in special liturgies such as Ash Wednesday, All Saints Day, and the liturgies for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and Good Friday, trained to be liturgical ministers. The youth programs also benefit from the participation of several dedicated adult volunteers.

Peggy DeBord has been Director of Religious Education for the English-speaking programs at St. Patrick for 13 years and, she says, “a parishioner forever.” When DeBord started she recalls that there were “maybe 100 kids in K through 6 religious education, and now there are 325 or so. Of that 325, at least 80 percent are from a Hispanic background, but they speak primarily English. Sometimes people have the perception that because the program is in English all the kids must be Anglo, but that’s not so. Some kids are bilingual, but not most. Often the older kids do better in English than in Spanish.”

The English-speaking religious education program meets weekly in the evening. It thrives on the enthusiastic involvement of some 40 volunteer catechists.

“The challenge, for both of us,” said Keyes, “has been in the growth of the parish. We had a hard time fitting into facilities when I came here 19 years ago, and as we continue to grow, and there are more groups wanting to use rooms, it’s just really difficult. On the Sundays when the Vietnamese Mass happens here they have religious education in Vietnamese, too. It’s good, but it’s complicated. We really need a lot more space.”

As with all the parishes in the diocese, Jackie Keys and Peggy DeBord have felt the effects of the closing this year of the diocese’s Parish Services Office.

“For me it was drastic,” said Keyes, “in that I ended up taking on the diocesan Youth Council because if we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have the Catholic Youth Celebration (CYC) March 24-26, in Spokane, and if it dies, it’s gone. I get e-mails and calls from people all the time who need the support that the youth ministry person in the Parish Services Office used to provide.

“The reality is,” she said, “that there are five fulltime youth ministers in the diocese, and all the rest are volunteers, or part-time, and the direction and support aren’t there for them. As a result, I think youth ministry is going to take a nose dive.”

Maria Aguirre (left) coordinates the Spanish-language religious education program. Marciela Rodriguez coordinates the Spanish-language youth ministry. (IR photo)

Maria Aguirre has been coordinator for the Spanish-speaking religious education program at St. Patrick Parish for 10 years. This program focuses largely on sacramental preparation for First Communion and Confirmation, currently serving over 300 children.

“There are 60 volunteer teachers” whom Aguirre provides with training and ongoing formation. The parish also has a baptism preparation program for parents of infants, which is held almost every Sunday afternoon.

Maricela Rodriguez became coordinator for the Spanish-speaking youth ministry program late last year. Because of the shortage of facilities at St. Patrick, Spanish-speaking youth activities are held in a hall located in a nearby nondenominational church, which is available to the parish at no cost. The Spanish-speaking youth ministry program serves teens in grades 7-12. A total of about 150 Spanish-speaking youth participate in these programs, most of them “very faithfully,” Rodriguez said.

The Spanish-speaking youth program includes preparation for the Quinceañera at St. Patrick, a Hispanic celebration of the young girl (la Quinceañera) at age 15, and a recognition of her journey from childhood to maturity. This highly festive celebration highlights God, family, friends, music, food, and dance. Any girl who wants to celebrate a formal Quinceañera must attend the parish youth program for at least one year. This year more than 40 girls are enrolled.

Also on the parish staff at St. Patrick is Deacon Gary Franz, who first joined the parish in 1974.

He had lived in Richland with his parents, and came back to the area “after moving to Seattle, getting married, becoming Catholic at age 25 or 26 – and I bought a house out in west Pasco and started coming to St. Pat’s then. In 1977, when Father (Charles) Skok was pastor, they had the first appeal here, that I remember, for men with interest in the diaconate. That was the first time they were willing to do anything outside of Spokane, and this past summer I celebrated 25 years as a deacon.”

In 1988, Deacon Franz’s work required he and his wife, Patricia, and their family to move, first to California and then to Idaho. They returned in 1994 and he took up again his ministry in the parish. Over the years, Deacon Franz’s ministries have included coordinating the parish’s young adults group and a marriage preparation program which he and Patricia continue to be responsible for today. After his return in ’94, Deacon Franz also helped organize a Third Order Franciscan group.

“We also got involved in 2001 with the diocese’s mission in Guatemala,” he said. “So now I’m the diocese’s person for Guatemala. I don’t really do a proper job of that, but I work on it. That’s good for a couple of trips a year down there.”

In a nutshell, Deacon Franz says, “St. Pat’s is a wonderful place, with lots of challenges and lots of opportunities for service and community. You can find something to do no matter what your interest is, and you can be fed, spiritually, in lots of different ways. It’s not a modern, high-priced, high-tech community. We’re pretty down-to-earth, and you can’t be afraid of a little racial difference, because there is a little bit here, but that’s part of the richness of it all. It’s just a wonderful place, especially if you’re interested in serving one another.”

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