Snapshots of Parish Life: A Travel Log of Seminarians on the Road

August 5, 2023

Above: Spokane seminarians Josh Haxton (L) and Christopher Appel (R) were on the road to visit multiple parishes outside of the Spokane metro area as part of their summer assignment to increase the visibility of seminarians in outlying communities and to help them become more familiar with the people of the diocese.

By Josh Haxton and Christopher Appel

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!

Each Summer, we, your seminarians, embark upon various assignments. Designed to provide us with pastoral experience, or deepen an aspect of our formation, these assignments are invaluable to our journey to the priesthood. The most common, which you may have had an experience of in your own parish, is the parish assignment. A seminarian or two are assigned to assist the pastor of a parish with various aspects of the pastor’s ministry over the span of weeks: visits and bringing Communion to the sick, helping serve the various liturgies of the parish, assisting at vacation bible schools or with youth group summer activities – among many others.

For our summer assignment, Christopher Appel and I travelled to parish communities across the diocese that normally don’t have summer seminarians. We helped with liturgies, gave talks on vocations and the Eucharist, got to know parishioners, and witnessed a bit of the life of their priests. We visited the parishes of Connell, Eltopia, and Basin City in the southern part of the diocese; the Pend Oreille County parishes of Newport, Ione, Metalline Falls, and Usk; and the Chewelah cluster of parishes consisting of Chewelah, Jump OffJoe, Valley, and Springdale. Here are some of our experiences.

Trip 1: Basin City, Eltopia, and Connell
We spent four days with the people of Fr. Gus Ruiz’s parishes. Fr. Gus was pastor of St. Vincent parish in Connell, St. Paul in Eltopia, and San Juan Diego Mission in Basin City. His love and devotion to his people is evident in the number of miles he puts on his car each month to be with them however he can. We can’t wait to see the work and love he will bring as pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Pasco.

The biggest challenge for Christopher and myself in our trip to this southern region of our diocese was our lack of Spanish language skills. We were hosted by a retired member of the San Juan Diego Mission in Basin City who generously offered us a room at his home to stay at for the four days we were visiting. Christopher and I knew enough Spanish to express our gratitude to him, but little else. However, he had his young grandson and granddaughter visiting, and they enthusiastically aided us by providing any word in Spanish we didn’t know. We simply pointed at a thing and asked, “Qué es esso?” (what is that?), or “Como se dice?” (how do you say?) and they would give us the word or phrase. It was a fun activity each morning as we waited for Fr. Gus to arrive and lead us on our daily assignments. Eventually, the kids would see Father Gus pull up, and start jumping up and down excitedly saying, “Padre! Padre! Padre!” (Father! Father! Father!). Father would spend a few moments saying “Buenos dias” (good morning) to everyone and visiting with our host. Then we would be off for the day.

We had so many wonderful experiences during our visit, and it was a joy to meet the people of those parishes. At one of the homes we visited for dinner, we met a young man who was a part of a young adult group near Pasco, who had recently returned from a missionary organization. He invited us to meet some members of his young adult group. We spent the evening talking with them about their work with young adults, the challenges they face as faithful Catholics in the world today, and discernment. We also shared a bit about our own journey with the Lord and the work he has done in our lives. This was such an encouraging time for us, as any chance we have to meet young people on fire with love for Jesus and living their faith passionately is great encouragement for us.

Sunday was Corpus Christi Sunday, and Basin City has an annual eucharistic procession, all around the city. The procession begins at the church and goes from home to home, stopping at altars set up for benediction before continuing on. The whole procession was three or four miles, and the faith on display during the procession was a tremendous witness of faith in our Eucharistic Lord.

The Eucharistic Procession for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord (Corpus Christi) begins outside the mission church in Basin City.

The Eucharistic Procession for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord (Corpus Christi) begins outside the mission church in Basin City.

Trip 2: Pend Oreille County
Our second trip was with Fr. James Peak and his parishes of St. Anthony parish in Newport, St. Jude parish in Usk, and St. Bernard in Ione. Fr. Peak is working to build a strong community at all of his parishes, and it shows in the joy his people have and their missionary spirit.

Arriving at St. Jude parish, for Saturday evening mass, it was obvious that this was a church which had been here for a long time. Entering into it though, we discovered that it’s history was much longer than we had thought. The church has a combined sacristy and classroom behind the sanctuary. There the nuns used to teach catechism. Through a narrow set of stairs in the sacristy, one finds three rooms above the sacristy/classroom, for the nuns or possibly for the priest as he would travel from town to town as part of his Mass route. It seems that the Diocese of Spokane has a long history of priests journeying from parish to parish to say mass, give the sacraments, and visit the people.

We then went to our host’s house for the night. We had dinner with the family and spent the evening listening to them and Father tell stories about their adventures on ATV’s and snowmobiles. It seems both Fr. Peak and our hosts are outdoor adventurers. Our host family kindly put us up for the night, and Christopher and I had a good night sleep before getting up to be on our way to Mass Sunday morning.

Our hosts gave us a lift to St. Bernard’s Parish in Ione where we met Fr. Peak as he was finishing up confessions. After Mass, which was very well attended, we headed over to the breakfast provided by a member of the parish for the others. Fr. Peak explained that this was an important part of his building of community in his parishes: the offering of some kind of meal or refreshment after mass for the parish. It appears to be working as it was well attended and most of the parish stayed to chat after Mass.

Seminarian Christopher Appel (R) interacts with parishioners at a breakfast hosted at St. Bernard Parish in Ione following Mass.

Seminarian Christopher Appel (R) interacts with parishioners at a breakfast hosted at St. Bernard Parish in Ione following Mass.

Reluctantly, Christopher and I had to be off with Fr. Peak back to Newport for the final Sunday Mass. We got back to St. Anthony Parish in time for Father to drop off his overnight bag and Christopher and I transferred our things to Christopher’s car for our trip back to the seminary. Father went off to hear confessions, and Christopher and I went to the sacristy to vest for mass. We met the sacristan, and joined in the rosary before Mass, led by a young man. Most people joined in the rosary as they arrived. Mass started and Christopher and I were joined by about five or six young men who served with us. After Mass, we un-vested and headed down to the hall beneath the church for the breakfast. There we spent a good amount of time chatting with the parishioners. We meet the fiancé of the young man who was leading the rosary before mass, another recently married couple who are expecting their first child, and a large number of families with young ones running around.

Father Peak, on this particular Sunday, had his parishioners bring water, salt, and oil for him to bless; a tradition both Christopher and I welcomed to see returned to practice.

Trip 3: Chewelah; Jump-Off-Joe; and Springdale
Christopher and I made our final trip of the Summer to see Fr. Vincent Gilmore who serves St. Mary of the Rosary in Chewelah, Sacred Heart in Springdale, Holy Ghost in Valley, and St. Joseph in Jump-Off-Joe. Fr. Gilmore is working to install a 24-hour accessible Adoration Chapel at St. Mary of the Rosary, and his desire to make our Eucharistic Lord available to his people to adore is evidence of his deep love for our Lord.

We had a wonderful dinner with a family and their friends in Chewelah on Friday evening. We had a few games of Corn Hole, great conversation, and excellent food! We had a tour of the church in Chewelah and saw the Adoration Chapel Father is installing in there. It was wonderful to see the effort during this Year of the Eucharist that their pastor was putting in to encourage devotion to our Lord in the Eucharist and promote Eucharistic Adoration. Christopher and I made the promotion of the new Adoration Chapel a part of the talks we gave after each of the Masses.

Saturday morning, Fr. Gilmore had arranged for us to give a vocation talk to the parish, and to share how the Eucharist played a part in our journey to the priesthood. It was a great experience being able to share with others our love for the Eucharist and how it had played into our conversion stories and our call to the priesthood. Later that evening, we had Mass in Chewelah and at Sacred Heart in Springdale.

The sanctuary of St. Joseph Church in Jump Off Joe appears untouched by time. The pastor, Fr. Vincent Gilmore, can be seen in the door leading to the sacristy.

The sanctuary of St. Joseph Church in Jump Off Joe appears untouched by time. The pastor, Fr. Vincent Gilmore, can be seen in the door leading to the sacristy.

Sunday morning, we had Mass in Jump Off Joe. St. Joseph parish is a beautiful church largely unchanged from its original design. It was such a blessing to see the preserved beauty of that Church as well as the parishioners who worship God there. It is always a blessing to see churches full on a Sunday morning; a testament to both their faith and the work of their pastor. We returned later to St. Mary of the Rosary for Sunday Mass.

Some of our experiences were universal no matter where we were. The generosity of the people we met, not simply in how they housed and fed us, but also in their concern for our well-being, was heart-warming. Never did we leave a home without being completely stuffed of delicious food, but also with bottles of water, fruit, leftovers from what we couldn’t finish of our meals, or any combination of those. This was an experience which we had no matter where we visited in the diocese. We have many generous and kind Catholics in our diocese, and we were privileged to meet so many of them.

We want to thank everyone we met on our visits. Your generosity and faith are a great encouragement to us. Thank you for your prayers and know that we will be praying for you all. Keep your eyes open next summer for some seminarians who might be visiting your parish!

In Christ,
Christopher Appel and Josh Haxton

Josh Haxton (Pre-Theology II) and Christopher Appel (Pre-Theology I) are seminarians for the Diocese of Spokane. For the Fall of 2023, they are entering their third and second years of formation, respectively, at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University in Menlo Park, CA