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 April 8, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

From the Inland Register
Volume 18 - No. 31
50 Years Ago: March 11, 1960

Diocese will sponsor parish in Guatemala;
Fathers O’Neil, Verdoorn to Form Nucleus of Work

Two full parishes and three missions in Guatemala will comprise a new parish for the Diocese of Spokane, Bishop Topel announced this week after his return from a two-week tour of Guatemala. He said the parish is named Santa Catarina, after St. Catherine.

The action – unprecedented in Spokane diocesan history – makes this diocese the only one in the United States sponsoring a parish in Guatemala, the bishop said.

He said Spokane Diocese has, in effect, inherited full responsibility for maintaining the new parish located in Nahualá, a village in the Catholic Diocese of Sololá.

The agreement, signed with the Bishop of Sololá, takes effect immediately. Two diocesan priests will form the nucleus of missionary activity. They are Fathers Francis C. O’Neil and Cornelius Verdoorn, who have been in Guatemala since July 1959.

Bishop Topel said the agreement is a “good investment” for the diocese.

“If we have concern for the missions we need have no fear that God will take care of our diocese.”

“Besides, the vast inroads made by Communism in South America have caused great alarm to the Church as well as to the United States and free peoples the world over, and have made it imperative that the Church in Guatemala get outside help.”

Bishop Topel said he returned from Guatemala with the “complete conviction that there is a glorious opportunity for the Church there.” He said he was convinced that within two generations Guatemala – which is sorely understaffed with priests – can become a truly Catholic country instead of being only nominally Catholic.

“My prediction about the growth of Catholicism in Guatemala is based, in addition to several other factors, on the accomplishments of dedicated Maryknoll missionaries. A Maryknoll priest, Father William Homrocky, will work with our two diocesan priests for three months or more in organizing the parish,” he said.

Original plans, Bishop Topel said, had previously called for a six month “breaking in” period for the two diocesan priests who were to work with the Maryknoll missionaries.

Giving a breakdown of population within the diocese, Bishop Topel said the two previous parishes and three missions drawn together by the formation of one parish contain more than 35,000 Catholics.

The parishes – Nahualá’s Santa Catarina and the other Santa Catarina, have 18,541 and 9,352 Catholics. The mission population is as follows: Santa Lucia, 5,019; Santa Maria Visitation, 471; and Santa Clara, 1,830.

The population is split into 34,702 Indians and 513 Ladinos – those who belong to other races or Indians who have given up Indian customs, Bishop Topel stated.

All churches within the new diocese, he said, can be reached by jeep.

“The people basically live on tiny farms – unbelievably small farms – and agriculture is the predominant occupation. Some of the natives farm on hillsides at 45 degree angels in this mountainous country and there have been recorded instances where farmers have fallen off their fields and been killed.

“The country itself has a beautiful climate and heat is needed except perhaps for those with northern blood when it gets cool in the evenings,” Bishop Topel added.

He said that native lay men and women catechists will aid the diocese in missionary activities, working with our two priests. “Their help is desperately needed. On one mission located on a coffee plantation, there are 20,000 people and not one priest,” he said.

The parish center in Nahualá is 8,000 feet above sea level while some of the outlying parish territory is 11,000 feet above sea level. Other parts are at sea level.

The Pan-American Highway runs through Nahualá – located in inland Guatemala but near the Pacific Ocean – but is unpaved, Bishop Topel said. Normal procedure in parish work calls for establishment of a “convento” – a rectory much like the adobe missions in southern California which are strung out in a quadrangle and surrounding a large patio.

Recalling the country’s history, Bishop Topel said that in 1971, priests were forced out of Guatemala. In recent years, the Church has been permitted freedom of action.

From the Inland Register
Volume 42 – No. 19
25 Years Ago: April 4, 1985

Pullman Celebrates Community Mass

by Pat Caraher
Special to the Inland Register

Opening his arms wide to figuratively embrace some 850 Catholics who joined in the celebration of Mass as one community, Father J. Severyn Westbrook’s greetings to members of Sacred Heart Parish and other visitors was a simple “Welcome.”

The occasion was the Catholic Community Mass sponsored by Sacred Heart Parish on Sunday, March 24, at 10 a.m. The Mass was celebrated in the theatre of the Performing Arts Coliseum on the campus of Washington State University and sought to gather all members of Sacred Heart Parish together at one time for one Mass.

Other regularly scheduled weekend Masses were temporarily cancelled.

“How great, how wonderful it is that all of can gather at one time, at one table, to break God’s bread and to share one Word,” said Father Westbrook. He pointed out that on this day the church was no longer the congregations of the Masses at 5 p.m. Saturday and 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday, but rather one community.

“Neither is Sacred Heart that great edifice of brick architecture that stands on the corner of Ash and Maple. It is the people,” the pastor said. “Sacred Heart is here because of people. The church is the people who come to know and believe in Jesus. Our common claim is faith and baptism.”

Referring to a reading from the prophet Jeremiah, Father West-brook said Jesus didn’t want a church of too many laws and too many regulations. Rather, he wanted a people whose laws were written on their hearts.

Those assembled for the celebration stood “in a tradition of 2,000 years and beyond,” he said.

At the meditation, Father Westbrook read the homily delivered five years ago by the late Archbishop Oscar Romero on the day he was slain by an assassin’s bullet while celebrating Mass in El Salvador. The late archbishop sought justice for the oppressed and prayed that someday all people might be united in faith and hope.

The members of Sacred Heart Parish usually meet at three separate weekend celebrations. The idea of a Catholic community Mass for all members of the parish at the same time was brought to the parish council by Maggie McGreevy.

“Since Father Westbrook’s arrival, he has preached community and we’ve come to believe it,” she said. “I had the feeling that it was like a parent whose values you suddenly see in your children and realize – by golly, they were listening.

“As an instigator (of the community Mass), I felt I was a bit of yeast added to dough that wanted to become bread,” she said.

Mike Davis, president of the parish council, said afterward he thought Father Westbrook’s message about community, peace and justice was well received, that most of the comments he heard were favorable, and that the special day was easy to organize because of the cooperation of everyone involved, including the 22 member folk group and choir, Eucharistic ministers, readers, ushers and those who helped with the technical aspect of setting up.

Diane Smerdon interviewed a number of long-time parishioners regarding Sacred Heart and her history was included in the printed program.

Joan Menzies, another member of the parish council, said she was delighted with the turnout. “We had no idea how many people to expect. We quickly ran out of the 500 programs we had printed up.”

One of the parishioners told her “we need to start a fund-raising drive to build a new church so we could have this many people every week.”

Sheila O’Rourke, a member of the parish for 20 years, found the whole celebration positive. “I loved the interaction afterward. Everyone I talked to wanted to know if we could do it again in the future.”

“I think the message of community really has been heard,” said McGreevy. “I think the same spirit we have at Sacred Heart was just moved to the Coliseum.”

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane and Inland Register archivist.)


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