In the 1950s, St. Joseph s Catholic Church, located near the downtown area of Yakima, served a blue-collar congregation, many of whom worked at Boise-Cascade Lumber Mill. One of the oldest churches in Yakima and the first Catholic Church in the city, St. Joseph s was considered a mother church to her parishioners and to the citizens of Yakima. The parish has since shifted into an 80% Hispanic population and the church has been a spiritual home for all: a place for baptisms, confirmations, quinceaneras, weddings and holiday celebrations.
Not just a building, St. Joseph s was built by human hands using black basalt stone spewed out of volcanic lava found in Cowiche Canyon, twenty-miles from Yakima. The architecture had influences of Romanesque and Norman Gothic styles in the matching portico towers and spires with a barrel vault over the Baroque hand-carved main and side altars resplendent with carved statues. In the domed ceiling and through-out the church, Jesuit Brother Joseph Carignano, S.J. painted frescos that told visual stories from the Old and New Testaments as well as honoring noted saints. Fr. Neill Meany, S.J. and Robert Hill, famed N.W. artist, collaborated on designs for stained glass windows depicting the Holy Spirit, saints and doctrines of the Catholic Church.
Parishioners felt a sense of jaw dropping awe and wonder at the museum quality of the nearly 100-year-old church s interior before it was consumed in flames on July 30,1999 when a vagrant lit a match to find a shirt in the vestry and ignited a vestment. In panic, he fled the scene. The fire exploded and in the end, the church s interior was charred and destroyed. Only the basalt stones and front doors of the façade remained as well as partial walls and stained glass remnants.
Losing the church was likened to the death of a mother, the matriarch of the family. During the grieving period, Mass was celebrated in an empty Albertson s grocery store. Some parishioners stayed. Some, who could not bear the death of their lifelong church, scattered to other parishes.
Local and northwest architects and construction companies conferred. In this book, the reader will view a story revealed in photographs about a Phoenix literally rising out of the ashes of the past and into a church of renewed hope.
Please join us in viewing:
St. Joseph s Mission at the Ahtanum
The old church altars, frescos, stained glass artwork and ceremonies of parishioners.
The facts about the arsonist
The fire, the damage and the reconstruction
The new stained glass windows and sacred art The mother church has been reborn to spiritually nourish her children, once again.
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Susan La Riviere is a regional novelist who graduated from Arizona State University with a major in journalism. She taught writing and public speaking at Heritage College on the Yakama Indian Reservation near Toppenish, WA and speech at Yakima Valley Community College.
She was a correspondent and photographer for the Yakima Herald-Republic and specialized in features about the cultural significance of agricultural and native people s activities, ceremonies and events in the Lower Yakima Valley in a section of the paper called VOICES. She also worked as an investigative reporter for a local personal injury attorney.
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