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

Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes celebrates dedication centennial Thanksgiving Day

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Nov. 13, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes will observe the centennial of its dedication.

A carpenter’s shop provided the beginnings of what would someday become the parish community of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes.

The parish began its existence, in 1881, as St. Joseph Parish. The first parish church was a former carpenter’s shop, 15x22 feet, in the eastern section of what is now downtown Spokane, near the intersection of Main and Bernard Streets. According to a history of the parish published in 1983, on the occasion of its 75th anniversary, in 1883 five people attended the first Mass in the diminutive parish church. This humble structure served for five years, by which time the population of Spokane was about 1,000. The first few pastors of the parish were all Jesuit priests.

In 1882 the pastor, Jesuit Father Louis Ruellan, began a fund drive to support construction of a larger wood frame church, but progress was slow as the parishioners were poor. In 1883 a new pastor, Father Aloysius Jacquet, another Jesuit, began collecting money from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The great Spokane fire of Aug. 6, 1884, destroyed 40 blocks of Spokane but the church was untouched by the flames.

The second church was completed in 1886.

Finally, in 1886 Father Jacquet saw the completion of a new brick church, 35x120 feet, which was dedicated by Bishop Aegidius Junger, Bishop of Nisqually, to Our Lady of Lourdes. This brick structure served the parish until the present church was built on the southwest corner of Riverside Ave. and Madison St. Father Aloysius Verhagen, a Dutch-born missionary priest who became pastor in 1901, purchased four lots at this location in December of that year. “The idea,” said Father Steve Dublinski, current rector of the cathedral, “was to be close to the downtown area, but not right in it, and close to Browne’s Addition. Of course, today the cathedral is thought of as being in the downtown area.”

In 1908, on the day after Thanksgiving, Spokane’s daily newspaper carried a rather lengthy article describing events of the day before. At the time, Our Lady of Lourdes was a regular parish church in the Diocese of Seattle. Still, there had probably been, for some years, behind-the-scenes talk of Eastern Washington becoming a new diocese. In fact, given the size and grand appearance of the new church, it’s difficult to believe that the Diocese of Spokane was anything but a foregone conclusion, and that Our Lady of Lourdes would become its cathedral.

“St. James Cathedral in Seattle had been under construction,” said Father Dublinski, “and fund raising for St. James had happened in the Spokane area, too, since Spokane was a part of the Seattle Diocese. Catholics in Spokane gave a lot of money to help build St. James Cathedral, this being a fairly wealthy mining area. But I’m sure the Seattle Diocese didn’t want to jeopardize fund raising in Spokane by talking publicly about Eastern Washington becoming its own diocese.”

The only extant eye-witness account we have of the dedication of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, on Thanksgiving Day, 1908, was written by an anonymous newspaper reporter:

Students of Our Lady of Lourdes School, 1953.

“With most impressive ceremonies the new Catholic church, Our Lady of Lourdes, was dedicated yesterday in the presence of a number of distinguished prelates and a great congregation. A thousand people stood in the cold outside the doors of the parochial school, next to the church. At 10 o’clock, their number swelled to double the original size, they saw the doors of the school open and the procession of clergy file out, to begin its dedication of Spokane’s greatest Catholic church.”

The reporter doesn’t seem to have been entirely familiar with Catholic terminology, a characteristic not uncommon among secular journalists assigned the Religion beat even in our own time. Nevertheless, he continued:

“Headed by a long line of youthful acolytes in their red and black robes, the procession, including in its ranks the foremost prelates of the church in the northwest, marched slowly on its line of consecration up the steps of the great church, down again, and around its walls before entering, Bishop Edward O’Dea of the diocese of Seattle sprinkling every step with consecrated water (sic). Entering the church, the first ceremonies were quickly concluded and then surged in a congregation that packed the auditorium to the doors.”

The article describes in some detail the progress of the dedication liturgy, a “pontifical high (M)ass,” and its “beautiful music.” The “enlarged choir,” including “some of the best solo voices in the city, answer(ed) the intoned sentences of the celebrant, Bishop O’Dea, and the other clergymen…”

“The scene before the altar,” the article continues, “was one calculated to stir the blood of a loyal churchman. The great marble altar, beautifully carved in the images of Christ and his mother, the yellow candle flames against the white of the carved stone and in front the priests and prelates with their goreously (sic) colored ceremonial robes, made an effect worthy of the occasion.”

In addition to Bishop O’Dea, participating were Father J.P. Vermilgen, Father Theophilus Pypers, Archbishop Alexander Christie of Portland, Ore., Bishop J.P. Carroll of Helena, Mont., and Bishop Glorieux of Boise, Idaho. According to the writer, Archbishop Christie “deliver(ed) a dedicatory address” based on Matthew 8:16, “I have founded my church upon a rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The archbishop “pointed out the ancient origin and changeless perpetuation of the Catholic faith, naming the principal tenets of its belief. ‘No doubt your pastor has labored day and night to complete this temple,’ he said, ‘and now we see the fruits of his toils in an edifice that any city might well be proud of.” (It is noteworthy that the author of the 75th anniversary history of the cathedral gave more credit to the laity than did Archbishop Christie: “It bears witness to the earnestness and enthusiasm of the members of this parish from the earliest days…”)

“Here will your pastor, from this pulpit, give to you the message commissioned to him by the successor to the apostles, here he will administer the Body and Blood of Christ in the holy sacrament. This is a place destined for the saving of souls,” said the archbishop.

Father Rebmann, a Jesuit, shows off his new Studebaker buggy, powered by his horse, Fanny.

“‘I ask the blessing of God on the bishop of his diocese, on the clergy, particularly your pastor, and on every one of you, Catholics or non-Catholics, who has given to help the erection of this great temple.’”

That afternoon a banquet was held in the Davenport Hotel’s Hall of Doges. This was billed as a congratulatory event for Father Aloysius Verhagen, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes. “Although the banquet was an informal one, short talks were made by many of those present.”

The Cathedral’s interior has seen significant renovations and changes. This photo dates from about 1966. (Inland Register photos courtesy of the Cathedrdal of Our Lady of Lourdes)

Five years later, on December 17, 1913, at the decree of Pope St. Pius X, the Diocese of Spokane came into existence. The next year the church at the corner of Riverside and Madison became a cathedral and the official seat of the Bishop of Spokane.

In October of 1931, Bishop Charles D. White led a 50th anniversary celebration. This included a solemn consecration of the cathedral presided over by Archbishop Edward D. Howard of Portland and Archbishop Edward J. Hanna of San Francisco. Twelve bronze crosses, representing the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, were installed on the interior walls and blessed. Relics of saints were also placed in the altar stone, and the altar was blessed with holy oils.

The cathedral’s rectory building was completed in 1911, and in 1924 the interior of the church was completed and redecorated. In 1939 the baptistery was added and dedicated to the memory of Father Verhagen. In 1971 the interior of the cathedral, in particular the sanctuary area, was remodeled to bring it into compliance with liturgical principles established following the Second Vatican Council, in the mid-1960s. From the early 1980s through the 1990s extensive renovations were carried out during the tenure of Msgr. James Ribble as rector. This included restoration of the stained glass windows, new bronze bas-relief doors, a new heating system, and the installation of an air conditioning system.

Reflecting on the centennial of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, Father Steve Dublinksi remarked that the present cathedral stands as “a symbol of Faith, of Unity, of Truth, of Hope, and as a symbol of the Immaterial/Transcendent Beauty. The cathedral church shapes our soul, but we are the temple.”

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