Welcome to the Catholic Diocese of Spokane. Established in 1913, our diocese stretches 24,356 square miles, spread across the 13 counties of Eastern Washington State.
In the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, there are more than 80 parish communities; elementary and high schools; a Jesuit University; a college seminary for priestly formation, and a program for deacon formation; centers for spirituality and retreat; and Religious communities of women and men.
The love of Christ impels us: Our mission is to preach the Gospel; to teach and equip present and future generations to continue Christ's work on Earth; and to minister to the needs of all of humanity, as stewards of the gifts entrusted to us by God. We hope you find this site a helpful resource. Map of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane
A Short History of the Diocese
When the Most Rev. (and later bishop) Francis Norbert Blanchet left Montreal in May of 1838, little did he realize the many hardships and vicissitudes he and his group of followers would experience before they reached the great Oregon Territory. In a letter written in March the following year, he stated that after numerous hardships and fatigues, dangers by land and water, and the loss of 12 members of his party by drowning in the Columbia River, he and his party had finally settled at Fort Vancouver, Washington Territory.
It was in October of 1838, during the first journey of the Black Robes into the Northwest, that Mass was held for the first time in the State of Washington, at a point near Kettle Falls on the Columbia River. Two years later, in 1840, in response to several requests by the Flathead Indians, Jesuit Father Pierre DeSmet made his first journey west of the Rocky Mountains. On this and several successive trips to the Northwest, Father DeSmet and his companions laid the foundation for the establishment of several missions, including one in the Flathead country, one in the Colville Valley, and the mission just east of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
The devoted labors of these early missionaries and their successors throughout the century following that first Mass at Kettle Falls were in a large measure responsible for the present healthy religious development in the Inland Northwest and the establishment of the Spokane Diocese in 1913.
The three bishops whose names are irrevocably linked with the history of the Church in the Spokane country are Bishop A.M.A. Blanchet, Bishop Norbert Blanchet of Vancouver, and Bishop Modeste DeMers of Victoria.
Bishop Augustine Magloire Alexander Blanchet was born in August of 1797 in Quebec, Canada. After a number of years of parish work he was called to become a missionary bishop on the rim of the Pacific, to the episcopal see of Walla Walla. In March of 1847, the new bishop set out for his unseen diocese. He finally arrived in Walla Wall with two priests, four clerics and one lay brother.
His field of labor extended from the summit of the Cascades to the Great Divide of the Rockies and from Fort Hall on the Snake in the south to the Canadian Kootenay country in the north. Because of the sparse population and Indian trouble, in 1850, by Papal Brief, the Diocese of Walla Walla was suppressed and the Diocese of Nesqually, south of present-day Seattle, was created. Bishop Blanchet began again, on the coast, his task of shepherding the Catholic Church for nearly 30 years.
At the urgent and repeated appeals of the missionary bishops for more vocations, a young Father Aegidius Junger was ordained in 1862 and immediately volunteered for the Nesqually Diocese. In October 1879, he was consecrated the second bishop of Nesqually. To serve the Indians and settlers in the interior, Bishop Junger sent Fathers Emile Kauten, John DeKanter, and Aloysius Verhagen to Spokane; Father Meuwese to Sprague; and William Dwyer to the Big Bend country.
Catholicity in the City of Spokane and Eastern Washington is interwoven with the coming of the Jesuit Fathers and their early missionary work. Father Adrian Hoecken started St. Ignatius Mission among the Kalispel Indians, near Cusick, Wash., in 1844, and two years later St. Paul Mission at the Kettle Falls of the Columbia was founded by Father Anthony Ravalli. After Walla Walla comes Oroville to seek the honors for having a church mainly by and for the settlers in 1862.
Coming closer to Spokane, Jesuit Father Joseph Cataldo built St. Michael Mission on Peone Prairie, north of Hillyard, in 1866. From here, the Jesuit missionaries visited the little settlement at the Falls and other camps along the river. In 1881, Father Cataldo bought an old carpenter shop on the corner of Main and Bernard streets in Spokane, and thus, the first Catholic Church in Spokane Falls. This original shop-church was later converted into a school where boys were prepared for college, which was then being built north of the river. The first scholastic year, 1897, opened with seven pupils, the humble beginning of Gonzaga University.
The United States Census of 1880 reported Spokane Falls' population at 15,000. It was a booming city with a railroad, three parishes -- Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Joseph, and St. Aloysius -- and Sacred Heart Hospital served the ill and the infirm. The Holy Names Sisters opened their academy in 1888.
Bishop Junger served the Inland Northwest from 1878 until his death in December 1895. Bishop Edward O'Dea was consecrated in 1896, to lead the Church in the Washington Territory into the new century. He had 37 secular priests and 20 members of Religious orders, with 46 churches and a Catholic population of about 30,000.
Bishop O'Dea kept abreast of the times. He moved his headquarters from Nesqually to the bustling little seaport town of Seattle. He enriched his diocese with an increase of many resident priests to look after the ever-growing churches, chapels, hospitals, orphanages, and schools. Because of distances to the Inland Empire and its growing population, it became evident that a new diocese must be formed in the interior. Thus the cycle from Walla Walla to the coast and now back again.
When the Sacred College of Cardinals has elected a new successor to the throne of St. Peter, a monsignor appears on the balcony of the Vatican and announces to the world, "Habemus pontificem" -- "We have elected a pope." That same expression was heard over the telephones in Spokane March 18, 1914, but this time it meant that the Holy Father, Pope St. Pius X, has appointed the Right Rev. August Francis Schinner the first bishop of the Diocese of Spokane. The diocese has been established by papal decree dated Dec. 17, 1913. By happy coincidence, this news became officially known to the people on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the following Feb. 11, the patronal feast of the diocese's cathedral church.
Seattle, the mother diocese, formerly known as the Diocese of Nesqually (1850-1907) and, in turn, formerly the Diocese of Walla Walla (1847-1950), was divided, and some 30,000 square miles of Eastern Washington was set aside for the new Spokane Diocese, comprising 16 counties.
Over this vast field of Eastern Washington, Bishop Schinner was appointed with the fullness of apostolic power and authority. Born in Milwaukee, Wis., on May 1, 1863, Augustine Schinner was ordained in March 1887 for the Diocese of Milwaukee. After some 20 years of pastoral and administrative work, he was appointed bishop of Superior, Wis. His health failed, forcing him to retire, but the pope called him out of retirement and gave him the bishopric of the new Spokane Diocese.
Bishop Schinner arrived in Spokane on June 16, 1914, at the Northern Pacific depot. Clergy and laity met him and were surprised because the bishop appeared without his ring, cross, or any other episcopal distinction.
Catholicity in Eastern Washington was well-matured by the missionary priests and Sisters long before the new diocese was formed. As far back as the 1840s, missions were established in Cusick, Kettle Falls, and Wallula. By the 1870s, the Church and its schools were flourishing in Walla Walla, Colville, Uniontown, and Pomeroy. And by the turn of the century, Colfax, Sprague, Cheney, Spokane, Omak, Dayton, Colton, Davenport, and Republic all had well-established Catholic communities.
Both the secular clergy and the Jesuits served this vast area. The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, who came west via the Horn from Montreal, cared for Native American boys and girls and later children of the settlers, teaching the commandments of God and the sacraments of the Church. The Sisters of Charity of Providence erected St. Vincent Academy in Walla Walla in February 1864. These nuns felt their calling to nurse the sick and needy, and built a number of small, efficient, vitally needed hospitals in Spokane and Eastern Washington territory towns. The famous Mother Joseph was the builder par excellence, and her indomitable spirit permeated the frontier Church here in the Northwest.
There were the Jesuits: Fathers Hoeken, DeSmet, Joseph Joset, James Rebmann, Stephen deRouge, Leopold VanGorp, Aloysius Folchi. And the diocesan missionaries: Fathers John Brouillet, Toussaint Mesplie, Peter Poaps, William Dwyer, Van Holderbeke, and Aloysius Verhagen. The Benedictines also were active in these pioneer days: Fathers Nicholas Frei and Barnabas Held. Only God knows and is rewarding the hundreds of men and women who gave generously of their time, talent and treasure to all the projects of building up the Mystical Body of Christ in the Inland Northwest.
When Bishop Schinner resigned the See of Spokane in December 1925, he remained as administrator of the diocese until the following September, when he retired to Milwaukee. Father William Metz took over the administration until a new bishop could be installed. That same year, Dec. 20, 1926, it became officially known that the Holy See had appointed Msgr. Charles D. White of Grand Rapids, Mich., as the second bishop of Spokane.
The bishop-elect was born in Grand Rapids on Jan. 5, 1879. To finish the last six years of study in philosophy and theology, he was sent to Rome, where he was ordained a priest in September 1910.
Returning to his diocese, he spent most of his priestly activities in the education of youth, particularly as rector of St. Joseph Preparatory Seminary in Grand Rapids. It was from his important position that he was promoted to the bishop of Spokane in December 1926, making him the first bishop to be consecrated directly for this diocese.
Bishop White was installed on March 10, 1927, in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes. Nearly 1,500 people attended. After the papal documents had been read by Father Walter Fitzgerald of Rosalia, Bishop White celebrated his first Pontifical Mass with Fathers William Metz, Theophilus Pypers, Herman Loeffler, John Cronin, Henry Moffatt, and William Condon all officiating in the sanctuary.
By the cooperation of the clergy and laity with Bishop White, great progress was made in temporal and spiritual affairs. In Spokane, he approved the building of St. Anthony School and convent, Sacred Heart School and convent, Sisters of the Good Shepherd Home, Marycliff High School for Girls, St. Charles Parish, St. Joseph Parish in Trentwood, and St. John Vianney Parish.
In the Inland Northwest, Bishop White built the Grand Coulee Dam parish, the nurses' home and school in Colfax, the Tonasket hospital, and for the Native Americans, St. Gertrude Parish in Monse and St. Jude in Usk.
Bishop Charles White was concerned about the Catholic education of children in public schools, so he began the highly successful Confraternity of Christian Doctrine program. He brought the National Catholic Rural Life Conference to Spokane, inaugurated the diocesan newspaper, and encouraged all Catholic priests and parishioners to promote the new Gonzaga Preparatory School.
In 1954 the venerable and much-loved Charles D. White celebrated his 28th year as Bishop of Spokane. The crowning of his memorable years was the Solemn High Mass held Dec. 5, 1954, at the Spokane Coliseum. It was a huge success, with some 18,000 of the faithful present from throughout the Inland Northwest -- the largest crowd ever assembled for a civic or religious celebration in Spokane history.
By April 1955 Bishop White had weakened with age and labor. He entered Sacred Heart Hospital, never to return home.
In August of that same year, Father Bernard Topel of Helena, Montana, was appointed Coadjutor to succeed Bishop White. Father Topel was ordained in June 1927 in Helena. He earned his doctorate degree in mathematics at Harvard, and returned to teach at Carroll College.
At the death of Bishop White in September 1955, Bishop Topel was consecrated the third bishop of the Diocese of Spokane. He continued the growth of Catholicism in Eastern Washington by opening new parishes -- Assumption, Mary Queen, Our Lady of Fatima, St. Peter and St. Thomas More. He also built Immaculate Heart Retreat House, under the direction of Msgr. David Rosage; Mater Cleri Seminary in Colbert; and the collegiate Bishop White Seminary on the Gonzaga University campus. In February 1960, he blessed the new school in Walla Walla in honor of St. Francis DeSales.
Bishop Topel's concern for the faith spread out to all the diocese. He opened parishes for the ever-growing Hispanic populations in Brewster, Eltopia, Connell, and Othello. Realizing the Spokane Diocese was founded by the generous bishops of Eastern Canada and the United States, he himself now generously sent missionaries from the diocese to Guatemala.
Perhaps Bishop Topel will always be remembered as a sort of St. Francis of Assisi of American prelates. He lived in a rather ramshackle old house with no heat, no phone, and little or no food in the icebox. He lived more than the spirit of poverty; he lived it literally, in spirit and in reality. His labors and lifestyle took a heavy toll on his health.
On April 11, 1978, Pope Paul VI accepted Bernard Topel's resignation for reasons of health and age. He stayed on as apostolic administrator until his successor arrived. Five months later, the pope appointed Father Lawrence Welsh of Rapid City, S.D., to be the fourth bishop of Spokane.
Bishop Bernard Topel, third bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, passed to his eternal reward on Oct. 22, 1986, after a prolonged illness.
And thus the Church in the Inland Northwest lives on, valuing the heritage of past years, the giants of Catholicism -- bishops, priests, Sisters and devoted laity -- who pioneered our faith in the area and brought it to blossom in these days. Our present clergy and laity will carry on in their task of bringing the kingdom of Christ ever into the lives of all of us in the Diocese of Spokane.
(When material was being assembled for the 75th anniversary of the diocese, a search by the diocesan archivist found -- or, perhaps more accurately, didn't find -- the original document signed by Pope St. Pius X establishing the Diocese of Spokane. A number of phone calls established that no, the archives at the Archdiocese of Seattle didn't think the document could possibly be there, but yes, they would look for it for Spokane.
The original document arrived in Spokane on Monday, Dec. 5, and was presented to Bishop Welsh.)