Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Compiled by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the May 21, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

From the Inland Register – Volume LIV, No.1
Fifty Years Ago: May 2, 1965

Rt. Rev. Msgr. Stephen Buckley: St.Augustine’s pastor to mark 50th year of service to diocese in July, 1965

by Ellen Ewing, Inland Register staff

The Rt. Rev. Monsignor Stephen Buckley, pastor of St. Augustine Parish, starts his 50th year of continuous service as a priest of this diocese in July.

His parish dates back to 1913, a full half-century and is just as durable. The original church still accommodates classrooms and its elderly façade peers over the streamlined school addition blessed in 1954.

Msgr. Buckley now is baptizing third- – and sometimes fourth- – generation Catholics, and the files of his remarkable memory contain the genealogy of most of Spokane’s “old” Catholic families. And the new ones. Mention a name and he can tell you whether the family is a “newcomer” of only 10 or 12 years standing, or whether the couple’s lineage goes back to families prominent in Spokane’s early years.

The monsignor, whose assignments have included the Cathedral Parish, Walla Walla’s St. Patrick, Kennewick’s St. Joseph, Sprague’s Queen of Heaven and Spokane’s Sacred Heart, has had many honors. He has served as a diocesan consultor for 35 years, a pro-synodal examiner for 33, a synodal judge and synodal examiner for 26 years, and since 1940 has been a member of the diocesan administrative council and Dean of the Spokane Deanery. Five years ago, after serving the diocese for almost 45 years, he was invested as a domestic prelate.

He remembers vividly the first bishop of the newly formed Spokane Diocese – the Most Rev. Augustine Francis Schinner. On Dec. 17, 1913 some 30,192 square miles of Eastern Washington were set aside to form the new diocese, and Bishop Schinner became its prelate March 18, 1914.

It was during Bishop Schinner’s tenure that the parish of St. Augustine was formed (“The similarity of names is no accident!”) and five parochial schools erected – St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Ann.

In recent years, St. Augustine has had one of the largest school enrollments in the diocese. It was different in those early days. “Our first eighth grade graduating class in 1915 had three members,” Msgr. Buckley said. (And he remembered their names!) “Just 75 families lived in the area south of 12th avenue, west of Grand.”

He remembers Bishop Schinner as a very kindly, scholarly man. He resided at the cathedral rectory, as did Msgr. Buckley in those early years, and the two often took long walks in the evening.

“The bishop was very democratic. He would turn his episcopal ring around when he traveled....” He also was very approachable, very intelligent, and very progressive.

He was also controversial. Old-timers still remember Bishop Schinner’s pastoral bombshell on Martin Luther, and his equally explosive pastoral on venereal disease among Spokane teenagers.

“Conditions were very bad to Spokane then,” Msgr. Buckley said.

Bishop Schinner was “enthusiastic about Catholic education,” and had great admiration for both the Jesuits and the Franciscans. It was he who invited the Franciscans to take charge of the newly-created northside parish of St. Francis.

The anti-German sentiments of those World War I years made life difficult not only for Bishop Schinner, but for two diocesan priests who also were of German extraction – Fathers Loeffler and Metz.

“If the U.S. Attorney hadn’t been a Catholic,” Msgr. said, “all three would have been in concentration camps. That’s how high anti-German feeling ran in those days....”

The Church and its prelates and priests also were much harassed by the Ku Klux Klan movement in the post-World War I era. The monsignor remembers the public lectures against Catholics, the dozens of vicious pamphlets, and a particularly virulent anti-Catholic newspaper called The Menace.

As he said, “There was not much ecumenicity then. The lines were pretty sharp.”

During his years as assistant pastor at Walla Walla, the monsignor remembers one well-publicized “anti-Catholic” lecture – and the Catholic physician who, with the tacit approval of a certain Irish cop, decided to do something about it. The good doctor prepared stinkballs to disrupt the audience and the program, but the speaker, sensing trouble, came out to see what was cooking. The doc and a Catholic friend grabbed the rabble-rouser and “really knocked him about.” The monsignor chuckled, remembering: “The two were fined $500, but both said it was well worth the money.”

In all his long years as a priest, one day stands out as the toughest. While stationed at Walla Walla, he also served as prison chaplain at the state penitentiary, and part of his job was to witness hangings.

The night of April 1, 1921, was his first experience in the death chamber, and it cost him several sleepless nights. The man to be executed had killed on three separate bouts, four lawmen. The killer was an orphaned New York immigrant boy from Germany, and he spoke with a thick German accent.

“Times were good, then,” the monsignor remembers. “But this man had been insulted, called a ‘hun’ or a ‘kraut’ when he sought work. On the grounds of his national origin, he had been rejected for military service. Eventually, he stole two revolvers, selling one for breakfast money. He kept the other….”

The man was a loner, and bitter. He had been a Lutheran, but he liked the Catholic Church because of its stand on marriage, and confession. Msgr. Buckley baptized him, and gave him First Communion. He offered to stay with him during that long night before the execution, but the man declined.

And then came the morning and that long, long walk to the gallows. The monsignor asked the condemned man if he wanted him to walk in front of him, behind him, or alongside. The condemned chose “alongside.” It wasn’t dying he minded, he told the monsignor, but he had hoped to live “to prove I wasn’t the monster the newspapers painted me.”

The monsignor admits to having mixed feelings about capital punishment....

Such an innovation at St. Augustine as father-son Mass servers has earned the southside parish nationwide publicity. But other parish accomplishments are more important: daily communicants during Lent number about 500 there.

“If you get them to Communion, other things take care of themselves.” And to get them to Communion, the pastor gives his parishioners every chance for confession – Sunday before all Masses, Lenten Wednesdays and First Fridays.

He feels strongly about mixed marriages. In his first years at St. Augustine, 12 of 17 marriages were mixed; and he “talked strongly from the pulpit.” With the exception of 1964 (“A bad year!”), most years have seen a 7-1 ratio in Catholic-mixed marriages. The monsignor thinks too many young people view marriage “just like getting a fishing license,” but he does not disapprove of early marriages, all things being equal.

“The sooner we start anything important, the better,” he said. “The older we get, the harder it is to change. We’re too set.”

He admitted that marriage is “pretty much a grab bag affair.”

Assessment of a couple’s chances for marital happiness he deems a risky business. “I was very wrong once about two couples, and it took a lot of conceit out of me.”

One young couple, both parties Catholic, had “everything in their favor.” But their marriage was on the rocks within two years.

The other couple not only involved a mixed marriage, but a 24-year age difference. The bride-to-be was an Austrian girl of 24 who wanted to marry a 48-year-old Lutheran-Scandanavian. She was polite and respectful of the monsignor’s admonitions, but she married the man anyway.

“And it was a wonderful marriage,” he said. “The husband became a staunch convert, and they raised two of the finest girls you ever saw.”

Msgr. Buckley, fourth pastor of St. Augustine, came to the parish in October 1939, after the previous pastor, Father William J. Condon, had been named Bishop of Great Falls, Mont. The first pastor was the Rev. W.V. Fitzgerald. Second pastor was the Rev. John Cronin.

The present St. Augustine Parish, with its bas relief over the main entrance of the saint and St. Monica, his mother, was built in 1950, with the site of the high altar blessed by Bishop White late in 1949. In October of 1959 the last of the via dolorosa blanca marble stations was installed on the high rockery that marks the northern boundary of St. Augustine.

If the aging but active monsignor has officiated at hundreds of marriages and baptisms, he also has officiated at countless requiems – many of them his “early parishioners.” As one old-timer put it when a friend was laid to rest recently: “Monsignor, you’re tucking all of us away, one by one. . .”

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


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