St. James Cathedral marks a century of service
Seattle Times staff reporter
In a dim, quiet corner of St. James Cathedral, near the foot of a statue of Mother Cabrini, sits a book heavy with prayers and hopes for the parish, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding today.
The scribbled requests range from the personal to the universal: for healing in a marriage; for a daughter fighting cancer; for those who have trouble believing.
"That our celebration of the parish centennial may bring us closer to the Lord Jesus who is in our midst as one who serves," writes one parishioner, taking a cue from the inscription on the dramatic "Eye of God" skylight that illuminates the central altar.
The Italian Renaissance-style cathedral, which once dominated the skyline from its perch on First Hill, has witnessed the prayers of tens of thousands. Even in mostly secular Seattle — a city that the Rev. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James, fondly calls "Unchurchia" — the cathedral has served as bully pulpit, sacred arts center, refuge for the poor and grief-stricken, and a crossroad for controversies.
"The cathedral, in many ways, is Seattle's gathering place when the news of the day is hard to bear and people need to gather to pray, mourn or speak out on issues of justice and peace," said City Councilwoman Jean Godden, who sponsored a proclamation declaring tomorrow "St. James Cathedral Parish Day."
The parish will celebrate its centennial with special Masses this weekend and a weeklong Cathedral Fair.
For Catholics, the state's largest religious group at more than 716,000, St. James' successes are a salve to such issues as sex-abuse scandals, which this week culminated in the Spokane Diocese declaring it would file for bankruptcy.
"These are difficult, painful times for the Catholic Church," Ryan said. "But in the midst of this pain that people have endured and continue to endure because of the failure of church leadership to live up to its mission, parishioners are deciding, 'Hey, I still want to be a part of this. I want St. James to be a beacon of hope, of light, of caring in our city.' "
Ryan says that a church is people before it's a building. And in his 16-year tenure as the cathedral's pastor, the parish has nearly tripled to 2,600 households, drawing members from 90 ZIP codes and as far as Camano Island and Puyallup. Twenty years ago, St. James was mostly a parish of older people. Now it averages 15 infant baptisms a month.
These are not just folks who come on Christmas and Easter, says Sister Anne Herkenrath, 73, who, although semi-retired, plans to be around until at least 2007. That will be the true centennial of the cathedral, which wasn't completed until 1907.
"St. James is not just a place of worship where people of all faiths, Catholic, non-Catholic, non-Christian, feel welcome," Herkenrath said. "It's a spiritual and cultural leader recognized as a national model for liturgy, music and service to others."
A cadre of 800 volunteers works to keep the parish's social services, music and education programs going. Each evening, the parish's Family Kitchen feeds 150 to 200 people. There is a winter shelter, an English as a Second Language (ESL) program, a rent-assistance program, seven choirs, a chamber orchestra.
Some of the volunteers' connections to St. James date back generations — such as Mike McKay, 78, who grew up less than two blocks away and who, along with his 14 brothers and sisters, attended the Cathedral School. Others are newer, such as Dan Jinguji, an ESL tutor, and Matt Zemek, who works in the Family Kitchen and thinks "Catholicism needs some good publicity."
McKay, a jovial man who often wears his Scottish "bonnet" and family crest, remembers being a "benchwarmer" at age 6 and progressing to candle-bearer, master of ceremonies and driver for Bishop Gerald Shaughnessy in the 1940s. He can even recall his brother falling asleep on a visiting archbishop's robe.
A parishioner through wars and some hotly contested elections, McKay knows that St. James has had a reputation as a "liberal church," partly for welcoming gays, single mothers and other nontraditional parishioners.
"St. James will always mean a place of refuge, a sanctuary for people who are hurting," he says.
Rosario Daza: 206-464-2393 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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