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


A new Bishop White Seminary: Questions and answers

by Father Darrin Connall, for the Inland Register

(From the May 21, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Q. Now that you have moved into the new seminary, what remains to be completed?

A. Although we are now occupying the building, several tasks remain. Trees and shrubs continue to be planted in the yard area, bark is being spread and irrigation is being installed. The old “Astor House” has been demolished and construction on a three-car garage has begun. After some final asphalt paving and adjustments to the building systems we expect the contractor to be completely finished with the project by June 1.

Q. What happened to the old Bishop White mansion?

A. The former Bishop White mansion, which housed seminarians for 53 years, was given to Gonzaga University and moved across the street to make room for our new building. The university is in the final stages of restoring the mansion with the intention of using it for offices and university relations functions. It is clear that the old house holds some nostalgia for many of our active and retired priests. As a way of preserving our history, an original print of Bishop White Seminary hangs above the fireplace mantel in the Bishop White Room of our new seminary. This original print is from a limited edition of 200 black-and-white prints by Spokane artist James F. Lavigne and will serve as a reminder of our roots for years to come.

Q. What other historical pieces have been preserved in the new seminary?

A. It was very important to us that we respected the past when constructing the new seminary. Several pieces of art, furniture and liturgical items were preserved for use in our new home. The most recognizable item would be the metal and enamel statue of St. John Vianney, patron saint of diocesan priests, which graced the entrance to the old seminary chapel. Local artist Harold Blaas designed the statue to highlight three important aspects of the saint’s life: the purple stole for his devotion to the Sacrament of Penance, his folded hands for his commitment to personal prayer, and the stark look on his face reminiscent of his acts of self-denial. The statue now has a prominent place on an outdoor pedestal at the east end of the new seminary chapel. The statue is bathed in light at night and is one of the distinguishing features of our new building.

In addition to the statue of St. John Vianney, several works by Holy Names Sister Paula Mary Turnbull have been preserved and are on display. One of the largest pieces would be the crucifix and depiction of the minor orders leading to priesthood, which hang in the seminary dining room. This impressive work was commissioned in 1959 and donated to the seminary by Mr. and Mrs. Merritt Ribble, parents of our own Msgr. James M. Ribble, a former rector of Bishop White Seminary.

The new seminary chapel boasts two hand-carved wooden statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, from Oberamergau, Germany. These exquisite wood carvings were a gift to the seminary from the Dominican Sisters of Spokane and are approximately 80 years old. Before being donated to the seminary several years ago, they were used in the hospital chapel in Tonasket and the Mt. Carmel Hospital chapel in Colville.

In the vestibule of the new seminary stands a statue of the Blessed Mother depicted as Queen of Heaven. It was a gift from the Poor Clare Nuns of Spokane, where it had been displayed in their monastery for some time. The statue was later restored by the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church, for display and prayer in our new building.

Q. Are there other ways in which the history of Bishop White is being preserved?

A. Yes. A time-capsule has been placed behind the concrete corner stone at the main entrance to the seminary. The capsule contains current issues of the Inland Register, Gonzaga University publications, and other records of this time period as they relate to the construction of our new seminary. Our intention is to have the capsule opened in the year 2056, which will mark the 100th anniversary of Bishop White Seminary. Although I will be 90 years old, I would love to be “wheeled in” for the event!

Q. How many seminarians will the new building accommodate?

A. The seminary was built to allow for the maximum amount of flexibility. Some of the rooms are designed for single occupancy and some for double. The current configuration will allow for 20 seminarians, three priests, and two guests. We are planning for a completely full seminary when we begin the new school year in the fall.

Q. Who are the other priests living at the seminary?

A. Father Kenny St. Hilaire and Msgr. Robert Pearson are the two other priests currently living at the seminary. Father St. Hilaire serves as House Spiritual Director and Msgr. Pearson serves as Senior Priest in Residence.

Q. How much did the building cost?

A. The cost of the building was $5.1 million. Some people may remember that this number is higher than we originally planned when we began the fundraising campaign in 2002. The increase in cost flows in part from the construction delay which we necessarily experienced when the Diocese of Spokane filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2004. That delay, combined with increases in some of the construction materials, led to the increased overall cost. The reality, however, is that we now have a solid building that many people speculate costs more than it actually did. We got a lot of building for the price.

Thanks to the generosity of our Catholic people and the hard work of the Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Spokane, we have been able to pay 85 percent of the total construction costs. The remaining 15 percent will be covered through a construction loan which will be paid off over time through donations, bequests and special gifts. People have been very generous and supportive of priestly formation in our diocese, which gives me great confidence that we will be able to retire this debt in a timely manner.

Q. Will the building have other uses?

A. Yes. A variety of Catholic organizations, such as the Serra Club of Spokane and the Catholic Foundation, have asked to use the seminary for board meetings and other gatherings. In June, Bishop Skylstad will host the members of the Washington State Catholic Conference here at the seminary for deliberations and dinner. We also hope to make the seminary available for Presbyteral Council meetings and meetings of the Priest Personnel Board.

Q. How will the new building enhance priestly formation?

A. Our new home has all the latest equipment in terms of fire detection and suppression, communication, internet availability, and kitchen service apparatus. These safety and service conveniences, combined with the increased space, are a definite improvement over the old facility and will serve to enhance the work of priestly formation.

The most important feature of our new building, however, is the chapel. Built on the corner of Sharp and Addison, our new chapel presents a clear and prominent message about what we are meant to value most in this house – our relationship with Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd and model High Priest.

Our new chapel is designed in the clerestory fashion with walls that rise above the roof line and contain windows which allow natural light to wash over the chapel interior. All of the windows in the chapel were intentionally designed without stained glass. With the beautiful stained glass already present in our neighborhood (St. Aloysius Church and the Gonzaga Student Chapel) any attempt at matching that beauty would have been futile. Instead, this clerestory design borrows concepts from Roman basilicas, which rely on high windows to provide natural sunlight which helps to raise our hearts and minds to God.

Unlike the old chapel, which was a separate structure, our new chapel is contained within the seminary building itself. This allows for easy access from the residence portion of the building and encourages seminary residents to visit the chapel at all hours of the day and night.

The chapel contains a fair number of alder wood panels, natural stone and green marble. The Byzantine-style crucifix comes from Italy and the brass and marble tabernacle was commissioned in Spain and is a gift in memory of Arne and Velma Pearson. The green marble and alder wood altar was donated by Bernie and Mafalda Levernier in memory of the Levernier family. It was created by Coeur d’Alene craftsman Tom Husby. The stations of the cross complement the altar furnishings and were framed in marble and wood by Jim Sever.

The acoustics in our new chapel could be described as “live” and therefore enhance our singing at Mass and our chanting of the Divine Office. An organ donated by Father Pedro Bautista Peraza and the people of Holy Trinity Parish in Washtucna will definitely enhance our music program.

Our new seminary chapel is both truly noble and truly simple. I trust that the prayerful environment which seminarians encounter within these walls will allow them to deepen their relationship with Christ as they seek to discern their call to the priesthood. I am confident that this sacred space will serve to enhance our priestly formation program for many decades to come.

Q. Will there be some kind of open house for the public?

A. There are several celebrations which will commemorate this important event in the life of the diocese. We have already had the celebration of the dedication of the altar with Bishop Skylstad on May 4. Looking ahead we will hold “targeted” celebrations for deacons and their wives, special benefactors, and women Religious. On Aug. 4, the Feast of St. John Vianney, the priests of the diocese will gather for the formal blessing of the building. Finally, when school resumes in the fall, we will host a diocese-wide Open House on Sept. 13.

The only other comment I would make is to express a deep sense of gratitude. After the first full day of living in the new seminary the entire community prayed Evening Prayer and exposed the Blessed Sacrament for all-night adoration. Our primary intention during those hours of prayer was one of thanksgiving to God for allowing this project to come to fruition. I am truly grateful to the Lord for his providential guidance and blessing upon this new seminary.

I am also thankful to those thousands of parishioners throughout the diocese who made financial contributions to the seminary campaign. Those sacrifices of treasure have been powerful signs of support and for that I am humbled and grateful.

And so I end with a heart-felt “thanks” to each and every person who offered a prayer, volunteered some time, or wrote a check to make this dream come true. We are truly blessed by your goodness.


Projected seminary enrollment: September 2009

Archdiocese of Seattle: 6
Archdiocese of San Francisco: 1
Diocese of Boise: 1
Diocese of Yakima: 3
Diocese of Spokane: 9

Total: 20


(Father Connall is rector of Bishop White Seminary and Director of Seminarians and Vocations Director for the Spokane Diocese.)


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