Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

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 May 16, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)

From the Inland Register – Vol. XXXI, No. 31
Fifty Years Ago: March 8, 1963

Gonzaga U. to honor bishop with degree

Bishop Bernard Topel will be given an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the Gonzaga University commencement exercises scheduled for Sunday, May 26, at the Spokane Coliseum.

In making the announcement of Bishop Topel’s selection, Gonzaga University’s president said, “In his letter of response, Bishop Topel indicated that in honoring him we are, in a sense, honoring all the priests and faithful of the diocese. I think that is true.

“However, it should be evident to all who have watched Bishop Topel over these eight years that he has given of himself unstintingly to the cause of God’s kingdom here in our own region. He has been immensely resourceful in figuring out how best to help the unfortunate and he has spared no energy in giving of his time and of himself in areas of expansion, the foreign mission (Guatemala) which the diocese has assumed, the establishment of a seminary, the House of Charity, Morning Star Ranch, and St. Margaret ‘s Hall.

“His accomplishments sound like a litany, and I know he is embarrassed at the mention of these things as meriting praise for himself. Nonetheless, God has used him as an instrument and the university is most happy in recognizing the role he has played in the spread of the faith in the Diocese of Spokane.”

In the years since Bishop Topel took office on Oct. 13, 1955, six new city parishes have been established and with them five new parochial schools. Four new out-of-town parishes or missions also have been established.

Both seminaries, Bishop White and a building Mater Cleri post-date the bishop’s regime in the diocese. The House of Charity has grown from a hole-in-the-wall meal stop for homeless men to an institution with its own chapel, kitchens and 60-bed dormitory. Complementing the hostel is Mt. St. Charles rehabilitation farm.

Among the most splendid monuments to Bishop Topel’s tenure of office is Immaculate Heart Retreat House, on Moran Prairie, directed by Father David E. Rosage. IHRH has become a mecca for Catholics within and without the diocese seeking spiritual refreshment.

Under Bishop Topel’s auspices a second home for unwed mothers – de Porres Manor – was launched, as well as the Marian School for Retarded Children.

Bishop Topel received nation-wide news coverage – and the gratitude of thousands of Catholic parents – when he promulgated diocesan regulations for social activities of grade and high school children, which spelled out, officially, the ages at which it was “legal” to date.

Bishop Topel, born May 31, 1903, at Bozeman, Mont., attended high school and college at Mt. St. Charles (now Carroll College) and was ordained at St. Helena Cathedral Jun 7, 1927. Until his appointment as bishop he was an instructor in mathematics and physics at Carroll and in his last four years there was in charge of all students preparing for the priesthood and also headed the college athletic committee. During his own student days he played both basketball and football – as well as piano in the college orchestra.

Bishop Topel holds an MA degree in mathematics from Harvard University and a PhD in mathematics from Notre Dame University.


From the Inland Register – Vol. 45, No. 16
Twenty-five Years Ago: May 26, 1988

History comes full circle as Chilean nuns begin ministry in Spokane Diocese

by Father Robert Turner, for the Inland Register

Bishop Lawrence Welsh welcomed Sisters Clara Enriqueta Estay and Myrta Iturriaga, Sisters of Providence from Chile, and Sister Linda Brown of the Spokane Province, to their new ministry in the Catholic communities of St. Vincent Parish, Connell, and St. Paul Parish, Eltopia, at an 11 a.m. Mass of Thanksgiving May 7 in Connell.

Sister Clara will work in baptismal and marriage preparation, the development of ministries, and adult education. Sister Clara was a school administrator, teacher, and former novice mistress in Chile

Sister Myrta will work with elementary and high school religious education. Most recently she was the administrator of a vocational school for girls and has much experience working in youth ministry.

Sister Linda will also work with youth as well as young adults and young married couples. She has worked in health care, been a part of the youth ministry team for the city of Great Falls, Mont., and spent the last seven months in Chile.

This new ministry for the Sisters will be an experience of bicultural Religious life as well as ministry to a bicultural parish community.

Founded in 1840 in Montreal, the Sisters of Providence had spread to South America and the Northwest by the mid-1850s. Even before the Second Vatican Council there was a renewed desire for collaboration between the provinces. Internationalism became a priority for the Sisters and three years ago a search was made for an assignment where Sisters from Chile and a North American province could live and minister together in either the United States or Canada.

This search brought the Sisters of the evaluation team to the Diocese of Spokane. After the invitation of the bishop and the provincial of the St. Ignatius Province, a decision was made in April 1987 to begin a ministry in the Columbia Basin where the evaluation team saw a clear need for the ministry of Sisters and where the local parishes welcomed their ministry.

The Chilean Sisters’ arrival in the Northwest is actually the continuation of the earliest chapter of their history.

In 1852 Bishop A.M.A. Blanchet, the missionary bishop of Nesqually, invited a group of Sisters of Providence from his home region of Quebec to work in the pastoral development of his newly-formed diocese.

The evangelization of the Northwest had been big news not only in the United States but also in Europe. Native Americans had sent four delegations to the East in search of Jesuits. When Father Desmet investigated he found that there were already established groups of Native Americans who had begun to learn the Christian faith from Iroquois traders who had immigrated to the area with their families.

Enthusiasm and interest rose quickly, but disappointment at slow progress and competition with the pastoral needs developing in California after the discovery of gold killed much of this interest and enthusiasm.

After a trip that included crossing the Isthmus of Panama on donkeys, the group of Sisters of Providence that were to arrive in Vancouver, Wash., were taken instead to St. Paul, Ore. They were taken not to Bishop Blanchet’s mission but to the mission of his brother, Bishop Francis Norbert Blanchet. Bishop Francis was sick and his brother was still in Mexico, raising the funds for the support of the new community of Sisters. By the time Nisqually Bishop A.M.A. Blanchet arrived, the Sisters had come to accept the general feeling of the missionaries of that area that the region could not use the services of Religious Women.

Just as the bishop arrived, the Sisters left to return to Montreal. They had no money and had no contact with the Mother House. In San Francisco they took passage on a Chilean vessel bound for Montreal. The ship’s captain was abusive and openly threatened the Sisters once they set sail. Their situation became even more life-threatening. They were adrift for over a month. They finally arrived, nearly starved, in Valparaiso, Chile. Local authorities quickly insisted the Sisters stay and work with their country’s orphans.

The pastoral needs of the Northwest initiated the journey that led to the establishment in Chile of the province that has sent two Sisters to serve in the Diocese of Spokane. These Sisters will share in the life of the Sisters who carry on the ministry of the second group of Sisters of Providence sent to help Bishop Blanchet. This group, led by Mother Joseph, spread throughout the Northwest, California, Alaska, and Western Canada. The need for a joint ministry of Hispanic and American Sisters could not have been imagined by Bishop Blanchet nor the people of Mexico who generously supported the establishment of the new group of Sisters in the missions of the Northwest.

(At the time this article was written, Father Turner was the pastor of St. Vincent Parish, Connell, and St. Paul Parish, Eltopia.)

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


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