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 November 17, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)

From the Inland Register
Volume 20, No. 11
50 Years Ago: October 20, 1961

New church to receive blessing Oct. 25

The most startlingly modern Catholic church in Spokane will receive a centuries-old traditional blessing at 6 p.m. Oct. 25, when Bishop Topel dedicates St. Charles Church.

The bishop will preside at the solemn High Mass following the dedication and the Very. Rev. Oakley F. O’Connor, pastor, will be celebrant. Fathers Frances O’Neil and Donald Schenk, former assistants at St. Charles, will be deacon and preacher, respectively. Father Eugene Glatt, present assistant, will serve as subdeacon. Fathers William Van Ommeren and Theodoric M. deJong will be masters of ceremonies. Servers will be seminarians from St. Charles Parish at Bishop White Seminary.

Among the dignitaries present for the dedication will be the Most. Rev. Joseph P. Dougherty, Bishop of Yakima, and Most Rev. Thomas E. Gill, Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle and a classmate of Father O’Connor’s. The Most Rev. James Byrne, Bishop of Boise, also may be able to attend the ceremonies.

Following the blessing and Mass at 8 p.m., a dinner will be held in the parish hall for visiting clergy.

Into the making of this church, whose form has earned praise from moderns and raised respectful eyebrows from art traditionalists, has gone some of today’s most outstanding engineering and artistic genius.

The design for St. Charles was begun in 1950 and approved in final form in 1958. Construction started in July of 1959 and the final piece of sculpted stained glass was installed in July 1961.

General, mechanical and electrical contracts totaled roughly $350,000.

Most compelling single feature of St. Charles’s design is its hyperbolic paraboloid thin-shell roof of pre-cast concrete which “floats” over the pillarless church.

The concept of this graceful, soaring outer shell was so new to Spokane that the architects – Funk, Murray and Johnson – had to construct a model before local contractors could bid on the project. Consulting genius on this phase of design was T.Y. Lin, Chinese-born professor of civil engineering and director of the Structural Engineering Laboratory, Berkeley, Calif.

Boldness of roof design was made possible through the use of pre-stressed concrete – a remarkable new combination of the two standbys, concrete and steel, which makes normally-brittle concrete doubly strong and supple as a fishing pole, and gives steel seven times its usual strength.

The interior of St. Charles features old, familiar symbols – but executed in the bold simplicity of design that is the “modern” school. Thanks to conferences via airmail, design characteristics of the windows and glass work executed by Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France, harmonized with the metalwork of Spokane artist Harold Balazs.

The technique perfected by Loire – evidenced in St. Charles’s stations of the cross – is world-famous: Thick chipped glass set in cement for translucent, jewel-like color and rugged, compelling line. Loire designed the Last Supper, Lady of Lourdes, St. Joseph the Worker, and St. John Vianney windows at St. Charles – as well as the “sky windows” which give the illusion that the thin-shell roof is floating in space.

Balazs executed the welded copper metal sculpture of St. Charles Borromeo, patron saint of the parish, on the entrance façade, the baked enamel door panels depicting the life of Christ, baptistery gate and grill, main altar frontal fretwork, altar crucifix with its symbols of the four evangelists, side altar frontal and crucifix – and the grillwork of the campanile, or detached bell tower near the church entrance.

Other outstanding features of the new St. Charles are the central free-standing choir loft; amphitheater, sloping-floor seating for unobstructed view of the altar; and open-end “functional” pews. The church seats 800.

Non-Catholics have expressed so much interest in the new structure that an open house for them is planned in the near future.

Those identified with the construction of the north-side church include the following:

Funk, Marry and Johnson, Architects, A.I.A.; C.H. Johnson, structural engineer; T.Y. Lin, consulting engineer; Rice and Strecker, mechanical engineers; Joseph M. Doyle, electrical engineer; Keith L. Hellstrom, landscape architect; Harold R. Balazs, Jr., artist; Gabriel Loire, France, Alois Mojer, regional representative; Vern W. Johnson and sons., Inc., general contractor; Bernie J. Shanks, general superintendent; Peck and Gale, mechanical contractor; and Pacific Electric, electrical contractor.

From the Inland Register
Volume 44, No. 7
25 Years Ago: November 20, 1986

‘He was a grace of God in our midst’

(Editor’s note: The following are excerpts from the homily given by Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle at the Mass of Christian Burial for Bishop Bernard Topel Oct. 28.)

I first met Bishop Topel in the fall of 1939, when I entered Carroll College in Helena, Mont., as a freshman. And during the ensuing years he was to become my teacher, my confessor, my spiritual director, my confidante; my dear, dear friend, one who literally knew me better than I knew myself. After my parents and my immediate family, easily the most important person in my life is Bishop Topel. And so in a way it’s both easy for me to speak of him, because I have so much to share, but in another way it is extremely difficult.

He touched my life profoundly. He touched all our lives – by his words, his witness, his very presence among us. It’s not an overstatement to say that he was a grace of God in our midst – a blessing, a gift. And often, and certainly this morning, we give thanks to God for him.

No matter what was going on with his life, he found a way to be alone with God, to talk about God; God was everything to him, his single love. I don’t hesitate in saying that Bishop Topel was a contemplative. In the world, yes; but a contemplative nonetheless.

I remember years ago when he would speak frequently of his desire to join the Trappist community. And this was still a matter of discernment for him when he was asked by the Holy Father to become the bishop of Spokane. For him, this invitation, this appointment – this was God’s answer. And though his human preference would have been to remove himself even more completely from the world, he accepted the office of bishop with joy and total commitment. This was clearly God’s will for him. And that’s all he lived to do – to do God’s will.

His letter to young men studying for the priesthood in this diocese is known to all of us. His statement to those who might be considering priesthood – that if their prayer was not an intimate part of their lives, if they could not give upwards of an hour to prayer each day – there was no real point in their applying.

He carried out this commitment to prayer so clearly in his own life. And while he spent time each day in formal prayer, he offered all things to God. So often he would speak to me – and, I know, to many of us here – about living in the presence of God. When he dealt with matters of concern in this diocese, he would pray about them. He would put them before the Lord; he would consult; he would pray again; and then he would decide, and he would give the matter over to God.

So many times I remember him telling me – and I know others – “Do your best. Pray about it; put it in the hands of God. God doesn’t ask any more than that from you. What really is success in the sight of God? Isn’t it to strive to do his will? Statements like that. He knew how hard that was for the rest of us, because he had discovered how hard it was for himself to put aside worry and anxiety, to put all things in the hands of God.

We know so much about his own poverty and his own interest and love for the poor. We know less, I suppose, about his recent years and about his suffering.

All of this came from his abandonment, his life of prayer. Poverty, suffering made sense to him because there was nothing else but God for him. Everything comes from God and so everything should return to God. He spoke often about attachments. Those whom he counseled he would warn against attachments – to material things, or beyond material things.

He wrote often about his garden – you know that. Try to imagine how hard it was for him to give up his garden. You may be surprised how hard it was for him to remain under constant care and away from that little house which most of us wouldn’t dare live in. He gave that up, gladly and with love, because God asked it of him.

He even gave up his health. Many were privileged to visit him in the hospital in these late years. Statements throughout his room, in the bathroom – “Your will, not mine, be done,” “Everything is yours, Lord; yes, even my mind.”

And the Lord took him at his word and drew back to himself all that was Bishop Topel.

But that was the way he wanted it. This was the kind of person he was. Those of us who knew him well remember him so often speaking of self-denial, self-abandonment, continual forgetfulness of self, to be free to love God, to be untroubled by fears and regrets or anxieties; again, we all know how hard that is because most of us don’t live that way. And yet he also knew how undue care and worry can stand in the way of our total commitment to God and his will.

When you love another person you simply forget yourself and think about the other person. This is what God asks of us. He will do the thinking about us. He loves us more than we love ourselves, and we don’t have to think about ourselves; he’ll do it for us. To have God as the whole content of one’s life; to forget oneself and not to care or worry about oneself: Bishop Topel lived this way, daily striving to give more control, total control, of his life, to God, so that I think I can say he came to see God working in everything; the world, as it were, becoming transparent, no longer opaque, hiding God.

He used to observe that life is really this simple. The world is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time, if we can only forget ourselves. So often he would talk about dying to self and living totally to God. God manifests himself everywhere and in everything – in people, in things, in nature, in events. It was obvious to him that God was in everything, that it was impossible to be without God.

I could go on, my friends, but I think I should close. And how to do that….

Bishop Topel’s life – his ministry among us – I know has been to proclaim with great joy the happy fact that God is living in the world; that God is concerned about us, his children; that the Lord is with us; that we are tending toward the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God; that we are here on this earth to seek God, but not to believe that he is at a distance; to know that it’s possible to see God, to behold his face at least to a degree while we are here; to speak of him and his love to others: That, it seems to me, is what he did. And I am grateful for his having done it in my life. I can only wish I had been more receptive.

“I know that my Redeemer lives. My own eyes, not another’s, shall behold him, and from my flesh I shall see God. My inmost being is consumed with longing.”

Bishop Topel’s eyes do truly see now. His longing has been fulfilled.

Peace, my friend.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

(Father Caswell is archivist for the Inland Register, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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