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


Compiled by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the July 2, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Inland Register: Volume 17 – No. 47
50 Years Ago: July 3, 1959

St. Ann Parish Had Humble Beginnings

When St. Ann Parish, Spokane, was launched in October of 1902, it included the whole eastern half of the city south of the river – an area of few graded streets and fewer sidewalks, and the scattered, humble homes of working people. A cinder path for bicycle riders meandered through the area, and when the early spring rains came, Sprague Avenue was an ankle-deep sea of mud.

Mired in rain in spring, the Sprague Avenue street car, farm wagons, cabs and carriages buried the new parish in clouds of dust during summer.

First pastor of the new parish was Father L.W. Ferland, who searched out his new parishioners via bicycle. Before the first church-school building was blessed in September, 1904, parishioners assisted at Mass in the Nolan Hall on the southeast corner of Sprague and Pittsburg – later home for a hardware company. Formerly a dance hall, the second story was rented by Father Ferland, scrubbed, cleaned, and furnished with a temporary altar, confessional, pews and benches.

The new two-story church-school, made of lumber salvaged from the defunct Sacred Heart Church for German-speaking people at Fifth and Bernard, rested on brick piers. Thanks to the creek bed running through the property – dry except when warm Chinook breezes and melting snows made it a roaring river – water often stood seven feet deep under the sacristy and sanctuary, with backwaters surrounding everything but the front entrance. A storm drain built in the early ’20s solved this problem.

By 1904, the congregation of St. Ann numbered 540. Father Fenland, promoted to Bellingham, Wash., was succeeded by Father James Rebmann SJ, of Gonzaga, lately of Our Lady of Lourdes, and old-timers still remember his reasons for canceling Midnight Mass on Christmas 1906:

Lack of street lights in Union Park made it too dark, there were no sidewalks, which made walking at night hazardous – “and besides the choir could not sing very well anyhow.”

The choir also was to concern the first resident pastor of St. Ann in September, 1906. A number of choir members, disturbed by the way one of their members went flat on sharps, told him they would quit if the guilty party were not removed. Given a night to think things over, they quieted down and showed up for practice.

Confronting them, Father told them that had they quit, he would have made this announcement from the pulpit: “Since some singers broke up the choir, the church organ is now for sale. It is a small one, and will look well in your parlor. Who wants to buy it?”

No choir trouble has been recorded at St. Ann since!

The advent of World War I delayed school building plans at St. Ann from 1916 to 1925. Solemnly blessed on October 4 of that year by the Most Rev. A.F. Schinner, D.D., and staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, enrollment in the first six grades reached 108 by the end of the opening week.

And then, on the silver jubilee of the parish which had weathered hard times, with World War I and the devastating flu epidemic, came disaster. On Dec. 7, 1929, an arsonist’s work destroyed all vestments, brought the burning roof and frame walls tumbling down onto the first floor. The arsonist was also a thief and a vandal. The crucifix and a relic of St. Ann were stolen, the two holy water fonts broken and discarded. Appraised fire damage ran to $10,896.01.

The new St. Ann, of mission-type architecture, and costing in excess of $35,000, was dedicated by Bishop Charles D. White on December 21, 1930 – with the old church bell, cracked by the fire, re-cast and transferred to the new building.

Vocations from St. Ann have been hearteningly numerous. By 1956, one bishop, 15 priests, and 32 nuns were numbered among St. Ann “alumni.”


Inland Register: Volume 42 – No. 3
25 Years Ago: Aug. 7, 1984

Bishop Bernard Topel is known as a man who takes the Gospel message of poverty seriously.

The man who led the Spokane Diocese from 1955-78 captured the eyes of this affluent nation when he sold his bishop’s residence in 1969 to move into a $4,000 home in an impoverished section of Spokane.

CBS newsman Charles Kuralt, a Time magazine reporter and countless other secular and religious newsmen all filed stories on the pauper-bishop, whose fame spread throughout the world.

The stories told of the shepherd of the Spokane Diocese who lived on vegetables grown in his garden along with staple donations from friends; who wore a thick coat and a couple pairs of pants in his home during winter so he could save money on heating oil, to donate it to the poor; who never bought a new suit of clothes or a new pair of shoes for the same reason; who drove a 1965 car rather than spend money on a newer model; and who thwarted a burglar when the thief found only $1 (a donation for garden seeds) after he broken into the bishop’s home.

Bishop Topel, who will celebrate the 29th year of his episcopacy, is being cared for at St. Joseph Care Center after suffering a stroke five years ago.

The 81-year-old bishop once explained why he opted for a life of poverty.

“During the Vatican II Council, bishops often spoke of the Church as the ‘Church of the poor.’ This troubled me because I did not see that we were....

“I feel it is vital – absolutely important – that all of us show a Christ-like compassion for the poor and others....

“I firmly believe that unless there is true sacrifice in our lives the blessings of God will not be very abundant....”

In a 1978 column, Bishop Topel quoted Mahatma Gandhi in one of his stronger statements on poverty: “Gandhi was right when he said that a lower standard of material living is an essential prerequisite to spiritual well-being,” the bishop wrote. This was the point of the Lord’s parable of the wealthy man who built larger grain bins only to die suddenly in the night. “A lower standard of material living will mean more for Christ and for the poor. Our spiritual well-being will be better for it.”

When asked the greatest stumbling block for Christian witness, Bishop Topel replied, “Self-indulgence.”

“Every place you go, you will see people acting on their personal desires rather than following our Risen Lord,” he said. “We need humility; we need to think little of ourselves. In that way, we are not looking for the things that the world offers.”

(Father Caswell is archivist and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane, and a regular contributor to this publication.)


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