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For 100 years, church’s building has been open for daily prayer

 

Having St. Aloysius Catholic Church on the campus of Gonzaga University open 365 days a year for 100 years has given people the opportunity to enter and pray for more than 36,500 consecutive days.

“It’s our gift to the city,” said Don Weber, parish administrator.

Don Weber, St. Aloysius Church
Don Weber, St. Aloysius Church

Inside are statues, paintings and views of the stained glass windows to guide reflection, reminding people of biblical stories.  Outside lighted crosses on the two steeples are visible from Interstate 90.

Each morning, Don sees people sitting in the sacred space to ponder how their faith and lives intersect.

“Most churches are locked because of security,” he said, but with St. Aloysius on campus, campus security is nearby,” he said.  “There’s always activity in the neighborhood.

“In the Catholic tradition, the church building is where people come to pray,” he said.  “It’s the gathering point for Catholics and others in the community.”

Originally, Catholic parishes were based on neighborhoods, but now people can go to any Catholic church, he said.  Many St. Aloysius parishioners come from outside the neighborhood.  In the last 20 years, many moved to suburbs, but with the freeway, they can come easily.

With the church on the campus and bound to the university by sharing the name of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, there’s collaboration between the two institutions.  The parish includes the faculty, staff and students of the university, as well as the university neighborhood.

St. Aloysius Church offers a Sunday evening liturgy, which many students attend.  It also draws students into its ministry, involving them in liturgy, youth group, Sunday school, the St. Aloysius School and internships, Don said.

“It’s life-giving to have the energy of young people,” he said.

In addition, because many Jesuit priests teach at Gonzaga University, many help in the parish and preside at or help in liturgies.

For college students, Don added, it’s a place to take off headphones and turn off cell phones.

“We live in a noisy world,” he said.  “Young people have little silence.  They wake up to the radio.  They walk around with headphones on, listening to radio or music, or talking with friends on cell phones.

“To ‘be still and know that I am God’ means being quiet and listening, at least for a few moments,” he said.  “Other buildings in our lives are not quiet and lack the sacredness a church has.  I don’t find enough quiet in my life to ask for Jesus’ guidance to help me ponder options to discern what I’m called to do next from the different roads I might take in life.”

“Often answers to our prayers come through people or the common energy of a group,” Don said.

In 2012, the 85th annual Novena at St. Aloysius continues a Catholic tradition of prayer, drawing people for nine days of prayer for what’s in their hearts and minds, he explained.  People pray for their children, their families, their friends, and particularly for health concerns.

“With the Novena, people come together to pray.  There’s something about praying in a group, sharing needs with others.  There’s strength in numbers,” said Don, noting that this year’s Novena is March 10 to 18.

People put prayer petitions in a prayer box and the prayers are read.

Don, who grew up in Havre, Mont., said St. Aloysius draws people who are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Independents, feeling comfortable coming there to gain the tools to discern and make decisions in their lives.

After graduating in business management in the 1970s from the University of Montana in Missoula, he was director of the Big Brothers and Sisters program in Havre until coming to St. Aloysius 27 years ago as youth minister and business manager.

He had attended an ecumenical Young Life high school group, where the churches worked together. Because there was only one of each denomination, the churches did activities together, he said.

He earned a graduate degree in pastoral ministries in the 1980s.

“I felt a call to serve in the church with my degree in business and went back to school at Gonzaga University to gain background in theology,” Don said.

The parish of 1,800 households with about 3,000 individuals includes an elementary school and a preschool, which serve 500 children, including 30 percent of whom are not Catholic.  Don is their administrator.

As a practical person, he’s there to help the church as it struggles with practical matters such as making budgets, paying bills and raising income.

While the building is 100 years old, the parish began in 1890.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, after whom the church and university are named, was an Italian in the 16th century who joined the Society of Jesus—Jesuits—renouncing his title of marquis and the wealth he would have inherited.  As a student in Rome, he went into the streets to care for victims of the plague, which he contracted, dying at the age of 23.

Aloysius was known for his love of prayer and fasting, devoting his time to prayer and austerity.  He was canonized in 1726 and declared the patron saint of youth.

A bronze statue of St. Aloysius outside the church depicts him carrying a victim of the plague.

There is Mass daily and four times on weekends, with Sunday the focus, plus small groups and ecumenical programs also use the building, he said.

Don said the parish used three years leading up to the building’s 100th anniversary as an opportunity to bring the building into good shape so it’s ready for more years of service.  The parish has raised almost $1 million for this purpose.

“The building is an important symbolic part of the parish life and a gift to Spokane,” he said.  “People often come to tour through it, so it’s also important to keep it open and restored for that reason.”

Parishioners support it as a sacred space accessible to the community.  There are about 60 weddings and 55 funerals a year.

St. Aloysius’ community interest extends beyond the building through members’ involvement as a support church in the Families of Promise program serving homeless families.

“We have also been involved with the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference and Catholic advocacy trainings, encouraging people to act for the common good,” Don said.

Beyond this community, the parish has a sister parish in El Salvador and holds a fair-trade sale each year.

Each month, it helps raise funds to benefit different organizations and takes a monthly offering for the needy.

A ramp makes the basement accessible for a senior lunch on Thursdays.

The building is also a gathering point for symphony and choral concerts, ecumenical speakers, group meetings and public lectures.

For information, call 313-5896 or email dweber@dioceseofspokane.org