The Early Mission Years
Following earlier explorers, the true beginning of the Catholic Church began in the Northwest with the arrival of Fr. Francis Norbert Blanchet and Fr. Modeste Demers from eastern Canada, in 1838. They came in response to requests for priests from retired French Canadian fur trappers. Working north of the Columbia River, the first mission, called St. Francis Xavier, was established at Cowlitz Prairie, in southwest Washington. In 1839, they established the St. Paul mission on the Willamette River. Working out of the St. Paul mission, they proceeded to evangelize the region.
At Fort Vancouver, the Chief Factor, Dr. John McLoughlin, a baptized Catholic, was a generous friend to the Catholic missionaries. He taught catechism to the children of the fort. The first Catholic church was constructed at Fort Vancouver in 1846 by order of the Chief Factor of the Hudson Bay Company, James Douglas. The church was called St. James in honor of the Chief Factor, and of course, the Apostle.
Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart, SP, foundress of the Sisters of Charity of Providence in the Pacific Northwest arrived in Vancouver in 1856, at the request of Bishop Blanchet, with four other Sisters in tow. She established the first Catholic school in Washington Territory in 1857 and the first hospital a year later. She died in Vancouver in 1902.
St. James Cathedral, was completed in 1885 in Vancouver. After Bishop O'Dea transferred his See to Seattle, this church became the parish church of St. James. The church of St. Joseph was originally a mission of St. James Church. The population of Vancouver, WA grew during the boom years of World War II and shifted eastward. As a result of this growth, the membership of St. Joseph became large enough to set out on its own.
St. Joseph Catholic Church
Archbishop Thomas A. Connolly from the Archdiocese of Seattle formally proposed the parish of St. Joseph in 1951. It was officially established on January 18, 1952. Fr. Thomas J. Pitsch celebrated the first Baptism in the parish for Eileen Ellis, daughter of Mr. and Mrs Eugene Ellis in February 1952. A 12 and 1/2 acre plot of scenic forested land was found overlooking the Columbia River and was purchased for $56,000.00. Archbishop Connolly appointed Fr. Pitsch as the first Pastor. A small group of parishioners began clearing the land. A group of Guaminians from a tug crew volunteered to help and cleared the land with machetes. Fr. Pitsch himself, paced out the site and selected which trees to save during the excavation. Wide publicity was given to the project. There was potential for the fulfillment of a dream. Fr. Egan of St. James parish watched as many of his faithful in east Vancouver left St. James to become the founders of St. Joseph.
The old rectory basement was the first setting for daily Mass. Later it was celebrated in a small storage shed located near Andresen Road that old timers referred to as the "chicken coop." The McLoughlin Heights Housing Project auditorium was the original site for Sunday Mass because of the larger facilities.
In May 1951, Bishop Connolly requested that the Sisters of Providence staff St. Joseph School, reaping the rewards of Mother Joseph many years after her passing. In less than three years, local architects and artists had constructed a convent and a fully equipped ten classroom school with a cafeteria, library and the auditorium which was intended to be the gym, but would serve as the 758 seat bona-fide church, at a cost of $301,000 dollars. Initially the parish consisted of 574 families, about 2000 members. The first Mass was celebrated in this new church on July 11, 1954.
On September 8, 1954, St. Joseph School opened with 302 students in grades 1-8. The new school had ten classrooms, a library, a cafeteria, kitchen, four music rooms and a stage. Sr. Beatrice Ann became the first principal. In addition, 168 public grade school students registered for religious education classes.
The convent had facilities for twelve Sisters including a kitchen and a chapel. Sister Beatrice Ann was appointed as the first superior of Saint Joseph Convent.
The official dedication and blessing of the church, convent and school occurred on October 10, 1954.
The parish of St. Joseph has been blessed with a succession of priests. A natural leader with a flair for diplomacy, Fr. Pitsch motivated the initial members of the parish and the community.
Fr. Pitsch was a gregarious man of action and charisma and extremely popular. Originally from Bellingham, Washington he enjoyed playing cards, especially pinochle, reading, swimming, cooking and had a dachsund named Adolph. A local businessman, after a fund-raising dinner with the local business community, was heard to remark, "If all priests are like this, I think I'll join the Catholic Church". Fr. Pitsch frequently could be found on the playground visiting the children. He served at St. Joseph with four able Associate Pastors: Fr. Peter J. Duggan (1957-59), Fr. Joseph Lyons (1959-62), Fr. Theodore Sondergeld (1962-64) and Fr. George Rink (1964-68). With Fr. Pitsch at the helm, the parish population grew and with it a variety of ministries. The Knights of Columbus, Ladies Circles, St. Vincent de Paul, Legion of Mary, Parents' Club, Religious Education Program, Bible study, youth groups, parish choir, CYO athletics and social events all had their start during this time. Also a new wing was added to the north side of the school to accommodate the growing number of students. One of the new rooms was christened the Father Pitsch Room in his honor. St. Joseph's was on its way!
When Fr. Edmund Kearney replaced Fr. Pitsch in 1964, it was a dramatic change of leadership. He was a compassionate and capable man though sometimes reserved and quiet with strangers. Originally from Limerick, Eire, he was a great fisherman, pheasant hunter, sports fan and had a German short haired hunting dog. Fr. Kearney was a strong advocate for the Boy Scouts of the parish. He also established the Parish Council in 1968.
In the spring of 1971, the School Board was faced with finding a way to raise money or cancel the 7th and 8th grades. With Fr. Kearney's support, the planning committee and many parishioners donated materials, money and time to build booths, obtain supplies and promote the Sausage Fest. The first stage and buildings, built by parishioners, were used for 25 years. The first festival had fresh fruits, vegetables, a chicken wagon, fashion shows and a dunk tank. That first year, a little over $12,000 was raised. The annual Sausage Fest was a huge event for 43 years, which included a carnival, many handicraft booths, food stalls, and varied refreshments.
This was a time of change for Catholicism and it was reflected in the parish. With Vatican II, Rome emphasized the importance of the Lay Apostolate and the St. Joseph laity responded to the call with unselfish service in various ministries. There was some dissention when the Mass went from being celebrated in Latin to the vernacular (English for us) but Fr. Kearney was able to guide the parish through this transition with grace. The Associate Pastors who assisted Fr. Kearney were: Fr. George Rink (1964-68), Fr. David Jaeger (1968-72), and Fr. Donald Werner (1972-75). In addition the Holy Cross Fathers from the University of Portland served Mass on weekends and special occasions when needed.
Fr. Anthony V. Domandich replaced Fr. Kearney in 1974. He was a thoughtful and precise man. He was born in Hoquiam, Washington and was of Croatian descent. He served in the army before deciding to join the priesthood. He liked music and played the bass, French horn, trumpet, and trombone. His main hobby was reading about ancient history. Fr. Domandich presided over the conversion of the convent to the parish administration building and the completion of the new parish rectory.
It was a relatively calm period for St. Joseph with plenty of growth. There was time to plan for the future of the church. The Parish Council now consisted of two boards: School and Religious Education, and four committees: Liturgy, Community Services, Finance, and Building & Grounds. Also, there were special committees: Revenue, Research & Development and joint Staff. It was during this time, at Fr. Suss' suggestion, that the altar in the church was moved from the alcove (stage-like) area on the north side to the center against the west wall. Presumably this was one of the changes related to Vatican II where the Mass became more accessible to worshippers.
In May, 1982, Fr. Domandich and the parish council announced that new quarters for the Pastor and the Associate Priests were needed. Parishioners donated the cost of the architects' fees for the preliminary plan. A parish wide opinion poll in May 1982 indicated that 87% of the parishioners strongly supported construction of a new Rectory. The permit was granted on May 23, 1982, ground was broken on June 27, 1982, an open house was held on December 19th and the Pastor and Priests moved in January 9, 1983, Parishioners donated approximately $250,000 of the budgeted $288,500 needed for the project over a five month period.
Fr. Domandich's Associates Priests were Fr. Donald Werner (1972-75), Fr. G. Barry Ashwell (1975-76) and Fr. Thomas J. Suss (1976-79), Fr. Timothy Sauer (1979-81), Fr. David Becker (1982-86), and Fr. Anthony Ton (1984-88). There were many opportunities for parish members to share their special talents and contribute to the fields of liturgy, music, finance, plant maintenance, education, athletics, communications, social services and more. The parish had become a solid part of the community of Vancouver.
Fr. Kenneth Haydock arrived at St. Joseph in July 1985. He was a voracious reader who enjoyed gourmet cooking, attending the opera and music recitals. Fr. Haydock had the knack for remembering names and faces easily. He was sometimes called a perfectionist. Known as a workaholic and a doer, he organized the drive to build a larger church to accommodate the growing parish community. Fr. Haydock's determination and efforts paid off when the new church was built on the east side of the church property. The plans for the new church were submitted in February 1989 at an estimated cost of $3.2 million. Rising costs, resulted in the building being redesigned reflecting the current church for a cost of $2.4 million. By November 1990, the parish had raised $1.9 million in pledges and on a single day on December 1, 1991, the remaining $500,000 was pledged during a phone fund-raiser. Construction began in July 1991. The first Mass was celebrated in the new church on June 20, 1992.
The 28,000 sq. ft. church includes seating for 750 people with overflow capacity for an additional 400, a large narthex, meeting hall, kitchen, nursery and storage. The old church was converted into a gymnasium/hall for school and parish use and was named Haydock Hall in his honor.
Click HERE for Archbishop Murphy's homily on the Dedication of the Church.
The Multi-Cultural Mass, the Christmas Giving Tree, the St. Joseph Concert Series and the annual school auction were all started up. Fr. Haydock was also responsible for upgrading the music program. He earnestly believed in the importance of modern technology and was one of the propelling forces behind the addition of computers, audio/visual media and the internet in the school and administration building. The Annex building was added on the west side of the parking lot.
The RCIA Program was reformed and the school classrooms were remodeled and updated during this time. The church expanded from 1600 to 2800 families. One of the causes close to Father's heart was the elderly. He instituted the Outreach Program, Widow and Widower dinners, and Golden Fellowship senior luncheons for spiritual and social sharing. Fr. Haydock's Associate Priests were Fr. Gerald Woodman (1979-83), Fr. David Becker (1982-86), Fr. Dennis Wood (1983-84), Fr. Anthony Ton (1984-88), Fr. Kindall (1989-90), Fr. Joseph O'Shea (1990-91), Fr. Lester Avestruz (1991-92), Fr. Dennis Shue, Fr. James Gandrau, and Fr. Tuan Nguyen.
In June 1996, Fr. Hans M. Olson became the fifth pastor of St. Joseph. With a gift for administration and a call to bring the parishioners to a stronger relationship with God, he was responsible for leading the parish into the new millennium. Fr. Olson strove to bring the message of stewardship and sharing of God's bountiful gifts to the community. He was a gifted teacher and proclaimer of the faith who carried out the rich traditions of the Church. During his tenure, Fr. Olson installed the present crucifix, tabernacle, and the Blessed Virgin Mary statue.
In 2000, with the support of a major donor, a large music room was added to the east end of the church.
The children of the parish especially enjoyed the humor and knowledge he had to offer. It was under Fr. Olson's tenure that the Life Teen program came to the parish and fervently supported religious education. Vocations to the Church were another important cause he stressed.
His hobbies included gardening, woodworking, and art, especially graphics (printing icons). Eleven associate pastors have assisted Fr. Olson: Fr. Tuan Nguyen, Fr. Michael Wright, Fr. Bryan Hersey, Fr. Sean O'Loughlin, Fr. Peter Gillette, Fr. Robert Hagan, Fr. Qui-Thac Nguyen, Fr. Roger Blanchette, S.J., Fr. Gary Sumpter, Fr. Crispin Okoth, and Fr. Khanh D. Nguyen.
In July 2008, Fr. Gary F. Lazzeroni became the priest administrator of St. Joseph. Assisting him were Fr. Jose "Junn" Chavenia, Jr. from the Philippines and Fr. Emmanuel E. Iweh from Nigeria.
St. Joseph currently has over 50 active ministries at work and over 1900 families or about 5,000 members. The dream of a spiritual center has become a reality. In January of 2009, a new Parish Hall was completed with Bishop Joseph J. Tyson celebrating the dedication of the new facility.
In 2010, Fr. Joseph Altenhofen was assigned as parochial vicar. In 2011, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain installed Fr. Gary as pastor of St. Joseph parish. With a thriving population and a diverse and faithful parish, St. Joseph has a strong foundation to build on and much potential for the future as the parish celebrated its 60th Anniversary on January 18, 2012.
In July 2015, Fr. Dean Mbuzi was assigned as Parochial Vicar. Also during this time, Fr. Gary's assignment expanded to include being named Pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Camas, WA and Our Lady Star of the Sea mission in Stevenson, WA. Together, Fr. Gary and Fr. Dean minister to all three faith communities providing the faithful celebration of the Sacraments and sharing the Gospel message.
In July 2016, Fr. Brian Thompson joined the parish as Parochial Vicar and Fr. Dwight Lewis as Priest in Residence. Together, these men continue to faithfully serve the community of St. Joseph parish.