Archdiocese’s ethnic communities bring their languages, customs to Mass

  • Written by Susan Gilmore
  • Published in Local
Parishioners of St. Ann Parish in Tacoma march to celebrate the feasts of Our Lady of Lavang and St. Joseph the Worker. Photo: Courtesy St. Ann Parish Parishioners of St. Ann Parish in Tacoma march to celebrate the feasts of Our Lady of Lavang and St. Joseph the Worker. Photo: Courtesy St. Ann Parish

KENT – The parishioners marched down the aisle of Holy Spirit Church, swaying to the loud thrumming music and the beating of drums. People crowded in the pews began clapping, the sound bouncing off the ceiling. Father Crispin Okoth greeted fellow Kenyans in Swahili, their native language.

“They sing in their own language and it brings joy and warmth and strength,” Father Okoth said after the Mass had ended.

“It’s a beautiful something that connects you and helps them express their faith the way they do back home,” added Father Okoth, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in North Seattle. He traveled to Kent to celebrate Mass in Swahili for the Seattle-area Kenyan community.

At parishes around the Archdiocese of Seattle, it’s not unusual to find Masses celebrated in a variety of languages: Polish, Samoan, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, Laotian, Chinese and Latin (the extraordinary form of the Mass).

parish monument to Polish victims of the 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre
Society of Christ Father Andrez Galant, pastor of St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in Seattle, joins parishioners in prayer at the parish’s monument to Polish victims of the 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre. The gathering was held to mark the feast of Our Lady Queen of Poland and Polish Constitution Day. Photo: Courtesy St. Margaret of Scotland Parish

These Masses happen when an ethnic community approaches the archdiocese and asks for Mass to be said in their language.

One example is the Eritrean dialect spoken by Catholics in South Seattle. Father Negusse Keleta, parochial vicar at St. Edward Parish, speaks Eritrean and celebrates Masses for that community.

In Tacoma, some 350 families at St. Ann Parish attend Mass in Vietnamese and host religious and social activities every weekend, parishioner Khao Dao said in an email.

“We firmly believe God created each of us with full intent and purpose and that being Vietnamese is not simply a coincidence or chance,” wrote Dao, who came to the U.S. with his family as refugees 23 years ago. “The Vietnamese-speaking parishioners at St. Ann are … playing an important role in developing the parish into a big multicultural family under God,” he added.

In Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, the Polish Mass at St. Margaret of Scotland Church Sunday draws Catholics from miles away. One of those is Paul Kutek, who lives across the street from a Catholic church in Shoreline but chooses to drive to St. Margaret’s for Mass.

“It’s nice to have a Polish church with all the tradition and believers,” Kutek said.

The parish also offers Masses in English, but it’s just one of two in the archdiocese that have Mass in Polish (Sts. Peter and Paul in Tacoma is the other).

“For Polish people it’s very important to respect their own roots and customs,” said St. Margaret’s pastor, Society of Christ Father Andrez Galant, who moved to the U.S. from Poland in 1996 and has lived in Seattle since 2013.

“It’s important to continue the Polish tradition,” he said. “They need it, they want it, they love it.”

Back at Kent’s Holy Spirit Parish, Rose Mwangi said her Catholic faith is strengthened by attending Mass in her native Swahili. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm with the singing and the drums. It makes you feel like you’re back home and share a common language,” said Mwangi, who arrived from Kenya eight years ago.

“We cherish our faith,” said Joseph Kariuki, leader of the local Swahili community, who has lived in the U.S. for 17 years. “It’s very important because we also want our children growing up to keep our traditional way.”

Catholic in any language

Parishes around the archdiocese offer Masses in a variety of languages. Check these parish websites for up-to-date Mass times, or contact the parishes directly:


Our Lady of Mount Virgin, Seattle


St. Paul Chong Hasang, Fife

St. Andrew Kim, Seattle

St. Madeleine Sophie, Bellevue

Sacred Heart, Lacey


Our Lady of Mount Virgin, Seattle

Latin (extraordinary form)

North American Martyrs, Seattle

Our Lady Star of the Sea, Bremerton

St. Augustine, Oak Harbor

St. Joseph, Tacoma


St. Margaret of Scotland, Seattle

Sts. Peter and Paul, Tacoma


St. Ann, Tacoma


Forty-four parishes offer Masses in Spanish. Search by using this link; under “Choose by Liturgy” select “choose language” and then “Spanish.”


Holy Spirit, Kent


Holy Family, Auburn

Our Lady of Lourdes, Seattle

Our Lady of Mount Virgin, Seattle

Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Everett

St. Ann, Tacoma

St. Michael, Olympia

Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater, Vancouver

Vietnamese Martyrs, Tukwila