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

Reardan parish to celebrate centennial July 15

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the July 5, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

St. Michael Parish, Reardan, celebrates its centennial on July 15. (IR file photo by Bonita Lawhead)

On Sunday, July 15, St. Michael Parish in Reardan, Wash., following the 10:30 a.m. Mass, will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the parish’s establishment. There will be a picnic dinner in the city park across the street from the church, and souvenir memorial coffee mugs will be available.

“We’re having barbecue pork sandwiches and beverages,” said parish Religious Education Coordinator Joanne Schultz, “and all former pastors are invited.”

Parishioner Lynn Hein researched and wrote an essay on the history of St. Michael Parish, which will be included in a booklet to be distributed at the centennial celebration.

“In 1899,” Hein wrote, “the Catholics in Reardan first celebrated Mass together in an upstairs room of the Empire Hotel, which was located at the corner of Broadway and Oak Streets. This was eight years before the church building existed.”

In the early days of Reardan’s Catholic community, Mass was celebrated only when a priest was able to make it to town and when an appropriate place could be found. “The faith was passed on within families,” Hein wrote, “and parents were the religious education teachers for their children. Our celebration today is in memory of those dedicated Catholics who created and maintained the Catholic Church in Reardan.”

Conditions in Reardan for the first priests who served the community there were often “nearly unbearable,” Hein wrote. These priests were “dedicated to establishing the Catholic Church in the rugged and unsettled area of the Sacred Heart Missions of the Big Bend. A story told by Father Forhan of a trip he made in 1898 illustrates this point: ‘On Christmas day I traveled from Davenport to Fort Spokane in a blinding snowstorm without gloves on my hands or overshoes on my feet in an open wagon. A distance of 25 miles getting to the Fort at 7 p.m. I left a few days later to catch the train to Davenport.’

“There are many stories like this one,” Hein wrote, “telling of priests enduring extreme hot or cold weather and a dangerous lack of accommodations. Many slept outside or in tents enduring the elements.”

The Catholics of Reardan still gather for liturgy in the original church that was built in 1907. “However,” Hein wrote, “Father Wilfred Druffel, our first priest, and his parishioners might not recognize the building as it now appears.”

In its original condition, St. Michael Church had a wood-burning stove for heat, and the floors were bare wood. No choir loft graced the interior, and an altar rail separated the sanctuary from the assembly, and priest and congregation all faced the same direction during Mass.

If the circuit-riding priest stayed in Reardan for the night, he might sleep in the sacristy located on the north side of the altar. The wood stove helped keep the priest from freezing, and near the church stood an outhouse. “These accommodations,” Hein wrote, “however harsh, were better than many places offered.”

In 1928, during the pastoral tenure of Father Gerald Feisst (d. 1962), the choir loft was added at the west end of the church. Construction was done by a Mr. Sullivan, and parishioners varnished the new structure.

In 1966, the parish bought seven lots on the south side of the church so a new building could be constructed for religious education classes and social gatherings. This hall was completed in 1968 during the pastorate of Father John Rompa (now retired). The church floor was covered with carpeting and the altar rail was removed.

In 1987, while Father John Sand (now retired) was pastor, members of the parish renovated the interior of the church. They also installed new stained glass windows. Work included removal of the wall between the church and the hall, and a sliding door was installed in order to increase the seating capacity of the church.

Recently, the current pastor, Father Pat MacMahon, painted murals that surround the altar. “The work took several months,” Hein said. The murals “add a great deal to the beauty of the sanctuary.”

The look of St. Michael Church has changed over the years, Hein concluded, “but the simplicity of a small church remains. It is more comfortable and more beautiful now than it was in 1907, and we love our church. However, it’s those people who have worked so hard to build and maintain our small parish over the years that we are really celebrating…”

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