A natural next step for downtown living: a new church

The Seattle Archdiocese bucks a national trend toward closing inner-city parishes, dedicating the new Christ Our Hope parish in a city-landmark building.

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The Josephinum, originally the New Washington Hotel and now a city landmark, will house Christ Our Hope church.

The Seattle Archdiocese bucks a national trend toward closing inner-city parishes, dedicating the new Christ Our Hope parish in a city-landmark building.

The Downtown Seattle Association estimates there are now more than 55,000 people living downtown. In 2008, the Kress IGA Supermarket opened on Third Avenue, adding another piece of needed community infrastructure.

Now downtown is about to get another institution that often helps form a neighborhood or community: a new church. The Archdiocese of Seattle this weekend (Aug. 28-29) will dedicate its first new building-based parish (as opposed to parishes for ethnic or other groups) in 42 years, when Christ Our Hope Parish officially opens in the Josephinum on Second Avenue.

The former high-ceilinged chapel in the building has been remodeled while preserving many of the architectural elements that make the building itself a special place. At the dedication the first pastor, the Rev. Paul Magnano, will be installed by Archbishop Alexander Brunett.

“We’re ready except for a few details here and there,” said Deacon Larry McDonald, one of three deacons assigned to the new parish. “We’re all pretty excited. I know the Archbishop is excited — this has been one of his dreams for years.”

Brunett issued a statement saying, “For some time now it has become clear to me that downtown Seattle needs a Catholic Church to serve the diverse needs of many Catholics in this vibrant and growing neighborhood. Responding to that need, I have created a new parish in downtown Seattle, with a new pastor and pastoral team. The parish will be called Christ Our Hope, the theme that Pope Benedict chose for his pilgrimage to the United States in 2008.”

Magnano, the new pastor, said he hopes “that everyone can come together in this church — the rich and the poor, the old and the young, all the diversity of downtown Seattle, sharing the same place, around the family table, so to speak.”

On Oct. 28, 2009, on the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Christ Our Hope was officially established as a personal parish, a parish that has no geographic boundaries. The new parish may draw downtown workers for daytime services when they are unable to travel to their own parishes during the workday.

The new parish is another signal that downtown Seattle is becoming a true community, changing dramatically from a typical downtown that empties out at 5 p.m. as workers leave to commute to homes elsewhere. With 55,000 people, there is a critical mass of residents now that has changed downtown.

The new parish runs against the grain in some ways and with it in others. Throughout the country, the Catholic Church is closing many parishes and schools in the inner city. So it is unusual for a new parish to be created. The parish also fits in with existing downtown churches such as Plymouth Congregational and the First United Methodist Church, which moved in January to its new site at 180 Denny Way.

First Church, as it now calls itself, also believes that “direct service to the homeless is a cornerstone of spiritual life.” Magnano, a Seattle native with deep family ties to the community, sees the new parish serving the many different populations downtown from high-rise condo dwellers to the homeless.

Magnano was pastor at St. Therese Parish in the Madrona neighborhood. Under his leadership, St. Therese in the summer of 2001 became the first Catholic parish in the area to host a tent city on parish grounds. Speaking of his new parish, he described the church as "downtown's living room."

The building itself is a Seattle landmark. It started as a hotel in 1908 to accommodate the rush of people expected for the Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition the following year. The New Washington Hotel hosted such celebrities as President Howard Taft, Babe Ruth and Elvis Presley. The building was purchased in 1963 by the Archdiocese of Seattle, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace were asked to help with the management of the facility.

The building was renamed the Josephinum after the Sisters’ patron saint, St. Joseph. The building continues now to serve about 220 very low-income residents as part of the Archdiocesan Catholic Housing Services.

The new parish shares the building with those residents and the offices of SHARE/WHEEL, the self-help group that sponsors the region’s tent cities. SHARE (Seattle Housing and Resource Effort) is co-ed while WHEEL (Women's Housing, Equality and Enhancement League) is women-only.

The two are partner organizations of homeless and formerly homeless men and women, and all of their efforts are self-managed by the homeless members themselves. With the arrival of the new parish, the organizations have moved to new offices in the basement of the building — with a separate entrance in the alley between Second and Third avenues off Stewart Street.

Early this week, the offices were still in transition with a clutter of moving boxes. The group tries to keep a low profile in the media — its tent cities draw enough attention — so it has not said anything about its new neighbor.

Joe Martin, a social worker and well-known activist (he is a co-founder of the Pike Market Clinic), said the new parish is a welcome addition to downtown. Martin said SHARE/WHEEL has a policy of keeping a low profile, so he was not surprised that they did not want to comment on the new parish.

“The parish is reaching out and recognizing the many kinds of people who comprise the downtown community,” Martin said. “I think it might even attract some people who are not Catholic but looking for some kind of spiritual home.”

McDonald said the only relationship between the SHARE/WHEEL organization and the parish is that they are both tenants of Catholic Housing Services. “We both have the same mission, serving the poor,” he said, adding that the parish has a strong group of volunteers. Although there is nothing specific to point to as yet, he said the surrounding neighborhood seems positive about the new parish.

“I am sensing a lot of excitement,” he said. “People seem interested in our mission to serve residents of this building, people on the street, tourists, downtown workers.”

Magnano, asked if his role as pastor of a downtown parish would thrust him into downtown politics, said, “The church has to be where the people are and involved in their issues and concerns, hopes and dreams. We have to be courageous in bringing our faith to bear on every aspect of our daily lives, including the public order.”

The Mass of Dedication of the church will be celebrated at 5 p.m. Saturday (Aug. 28). The Mass of Installation for Father Magnano as Pastor will be at 9:30 a.m. Sunday (Aug. 29).


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About the Authors & Contributors

Stephen H. Dunphy

Stephen H. Dunphy

Stephen H. Dunphy writes on business and economic issues for Crosscut. He was a business editor and columnist for a number of years at The Seattle Times.