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St. Monica Parish celebrates 50 years

Above: Archbishop Thomas Connolly offers blessings at the school and parish around 1960. At right: Fr. John Walsh, St. Monica’s first pastor, talks with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Newark who came to teach at St. Monica School. - Photos from the Seattle Archdiocese Archives
Above: Archbishop Thomas Connolly offers blessings at the school and parish around 1960. At right: Fr. John Walsh, St. Monica’s first pastor, talks with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Newark who came to teach at St. Monica School.
— image credit: Photos from the Seattle Archdiocese Archives

In the years after the Island was settled and the first East Seattle bridge was constructed, Island Catholics attended Mass in Bellevue. As the number of Catholic families grew in the years after WWII, the search was on to build a church of their own. After being officially established, the new St. Monica Parish celebrated its first Mass on the Island in November 1954, in the East Seattle School gymnasium.

But before that, preparations to build a permanent church and school on the Island had already begun. The fledgling parish had purchased eight acres of land on the highest point on the Island on what was known as Lucas Hill, named for Eugene Lucas, who owned and operated a dairy farm there. The Lucas family sold the property to the new parish for $30,000.

In 1958, parishioners purchased a house nearby to act as a temporary rectory as construction began. Mass was first celebrated in the converted double garage of the house on Dec. 13, 1958. At that time, there were 380 families registered in the parish. Construction began the next summer on the church, which included a school and convent for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Newmark who would teach at the new school. Fr. John Walsh, ordained a priest in Ireland, was the first clergy assigned to the Island church. The first Mass in the new church was celebrated the next year on June 26, 1960. The school opened the following fall with 186 students.

St. Monica celebrated its 50th anniversary this past October. The weekend included the formal installation of its new pastor, Fr. Patrick Freitag, at a celebratory Mass celebrated by the Most Rev. Alex J. Brunett, Archbishop of Seattle.

The parish has grown to 1,500 families. According to Fr. Freitag, about 40 percent of those households are from off the Island.

The church facilities have changed and grown along with its congregation. There have been additions to the school, with a new gym, library and computer lab.

For more than 20 years, parishioners have maintained a perpetual adoration chapel where they take turns praying to maintain a continuous vigil at the church around the clock. More than 200 people are on the schedule. The chapel celebrates its 23rd year this year. The parish has long been involved in helping the poor and counts 50 separate ministries supported by its members. Islanders often see the Friends of the Needy van, which is on the street every day except Sunday when volunteers collect food and deliver it to shelters in Seattle.

The program prepared for the anniversary celebration includes the names of 73 Islander families who helped found the parish in 1958.

Jamie North, a 22-year member of St. Monica and the organizer of the anniversary event, noted that the children and grandchildren of those founding members are still part of the school and church.

“It warms my heart,” she said, “to see every day the legacy that those families left us.”

Sources for this story include excerpts from the book “Mercer Island Heritage,” by Judy Gellatly, The Catholic Northwest Progress and St. Monica Parish.

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