Print this page

Journey to the little-known

Enrich your summer travels with some Catholic history, quaint churches and camaraderie

Trouble viewing map markers? View on original page.


Hiking wooded trails, exploring an ocean beach or camping beside a trout stream are great antidotes to the rush of daily life. Yes, vacation can be good for the soul — but even more so if you stay connected to your faith. Wherever you’re headed in the archdiocese this summer, you don’t have to look far for a church with an interesting or inspiring story.

Going to the coast? Check out the rustic, 110-year-old chapel a stone’s throw from a Lewis and Clark campsite along the Columbia River.

Planning to hike in the Cascades? Stop in the foothills for Mass in a former logging camp bunkhouse, and pause at an outdoor shrine.

Is a day trip more your speed? Seek out the state’s oldest standing church, overlooking Puget Sound in Washington’s first incorporated town.

Wherever you go this summer vacation, make a special stop to reflect and connect with other Catholics. It can be good for the soul.

Consider visiting these mission churches during your trips around the archdiocese.

St. Mary, Coupeville
St. Mary, Coupeville. Photo: Garry G. Morris

St. Mary, Coupeville
Whidbey Island’s first Catholic church was actually built in 1890 as a Congregational church. In 1932, the Congregationalists no longer needed the church and rented it to the island’s growing Catholic community, which named it St. Mary. The church building was purchased by the Seattle Diocese in 1934.

St. Mary’s is part of a National Historic District as well as the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Stroll down to the scenic Coupeville waterfront and stop at the Alexander blockhouse (next to the Island County Museum). There you’ll see a preserved portion of the large cross that Native Americans erected to greet missionary Father Francis Norbert Blanchet during his visit in 1840.

Mass is celebrated at St. Mary’s (a mission of St. Augustine, Oak Harbor) every Sunday and once during the week. www.staugustineoh.org/smcc

St. John Vianney, Darrington
St. John Vianney, Darrington. Photo: Courtesy Archdiocese of Seattle Archives

St. John Vianney, Darrington
From its front steps, St. John Vianney Mission offers a spectacular view of White Horse Mountain in the North Cascades. The Catholic community here took root around 1915, when the Campbell family convinced a priest to travel from Snohomish each month to celebrate Mass — a trip requiring a train ride, transport by horse and buggy, and an overnight stay.

A mission church was established in 1916. Today’s church was created from a logging company bunkhouse — purchased for $300 by the local Catholic Women’s Club in 1941 — and a portable classroom. In 2009, Campbell Hall was built, named in honor of the early families (a son, Jack Campbell, is in his 90s and still a parishioner).

Parishioners have created much of the church’s artwork and furnishings, including the “Healing Shrine of the Living Water” by Marv Kastning, a bronze artist. The cross-shaped outdoor shrine mixes flowing water with Catholic and native symbols.

The small faith community at St. John Vianney celebrates Mass and hosts brunch (visitors welcome) every Sunday. For current Mass times, check the website, www.stillycatholic.org.

St. Mary, McGowan
St. Mary, McGowan. Photo: Robin Schneider

St. Mary, McGowan
The little church known as St. Mary McGowan sits along the Columbia River on Highway 101, near the Astoria bridge. The site is downstream from a one-time Chinook Indian village and upriver from the spot where Lewis and Clark camped for 10 days in 1805.

A Catholic community was established in 1848; the current church was built in 1904 by P.J. McGowan. Now under the care of St. Mary Parish in Seaview, the chapel has a crucifix, candleholders, picture of Mary and tower bell dating to its early years.

Today, St. Mary is surrounded by an interpretative walking trail, part of the National Park Service’s Lewis and Clark Middle Village/Station Camp site. Mass is offered Sunday evenings from Memorial Day to Labor Day. There is no electricity and no running water (read: no restrooms, so come prepared), but services are available a short distance away. www.stmarysv.org

Immaculate Conception, Steillacoom
Immaculate Conception, Steillacoom. Photo: Courtesy Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Conception, Steilacoom
Immaculate Conception Church, the state’s oldest standing church, served as a headquarters for the missionary priests bringing Christianity to native tribes in the Puget Sound area during the 1850s.

Once called St. Michael the Archangel, the church was actually built twice — the first time in 1855 by Father Louis Rossi and soldiers at Fort Steilacoom, the second time in 1864 when it was moved to its present location. Soldiers and settlers dismantled the building, board by board, and transported the materials 1.5 miles by wagon to the young city of Steilacoom.

After the church was reconstructed at its new site, Bishop Augustin Blanchet erroneously dedicated it to the Immaculate Conception, according to a history from its sister parish, St. John Bosco in Lakewood.

Mass at Immaculate Conception is offered every Sunday morning. www.stjbosco.org

St. Peter, Suquamish
St. Peter, Suquamish. Photo: Courtesy Archdiocese of Seattle Archives

St. Peter, Suquamish
St. Peter Mission was built in 1861 on Suquamish tribal land near Agate Pass, the waterway between the present-day Kitsap Peninsula and Bainbridge Island. The church sat near Old Man House State Park, once the home of Chief Sealth, the leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes (and Seattle’s namesake), who invited priests to establish a mission there in 1840.

Rebuilt in 1870, St. Peter’s was moved to its present site in 1908. The church was remodeled, enlarged and re-dedicated in 1936. It has a hand-carved wood altar that includes depictions of the Last Supper and the Lamb of God.

The adjoining Suquamish-owned cemetery is the final resting place of Chief Sealth, who converted to Catholicism late in life. He died in 1866.

Mass at St. Peter’s (a mission of St. Olaf in Poulsbo) is celebrated Saturday afternoons and once during the week. www.stolafschurch.org

While discovering some of the archdiocese’s hidden gems, don’t overlook a pair of its crown jewels.

St. James times two

Think of them as St. James the elder and St. James the younger — the archdiocese’s first cathedral in Vancouver and the present cathedral in Seattle.

Both are significant in the history and mission of the archdiocese and have worship spaces with awe-inspiring beauty.

Vancouver’s Gothic-style St. James, completed in 1885 in the original seat of the then-Nesqually Diocese, features a vaulted-rib ceiling and an altar carved in Belgium. The church was renovated in 2008.

The newer St. James was completed when the bishop’s chair moved in 1907 to burgeoning Seattle (and was renamed the Diocese of Seattle). Renovated in 1994, the cathedral has a center altar, lit by the oculus Dei (“eye of God”) in the vaulted ceiling.

Today, Vancouver’s church is known as the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater, a title bestowed last year by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain to acknowledge the church’s spiritual and historic significance to the archdiocese.

Both churches are a short distance off Interstate 5, making them easy stops on your summer journeys. www.saintjames-parish.com and www.stjames-cathedral.org.


In Northwest Catholic's radio program, you can hear the Archdiocese of Seattle's pilgrimage coordinator talk about the exploring historic church sites in Western Washington.



Northwest Catholic. All Rights Reserved.